Fish and Game Opens
by Roger Phillips
An unexpectedly large return of fall chinook prompted Idaho Department of Fish and Game to open the first fall chinook fishing season in more than 30 years.
F&G commissioners Wednesday approved the season, which will run Friday through Oct. 31 on the Snake River from Southway Bridge at Lewiston to Hells Canyon Dam.
"This is something I didn't expect in my lifetime," said F&G commissioner Fred Trevey of Lewiston. "We're pretty darned excited about the opportunity."
Wild fall chinook in the Snake River are still a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The season is for hatchery fall chinook only.
F&G officials said the intent of the season is to allow steelhead anglers who have a salmon permit and who incidentally catch a fall chinook to be able to keep one. The limit is one chinook per day and three in possession. Anglers may keep only the fall chinook without an adipose fin - the fin between dorsal fin and the tail - which indicates it is a hatchery fish.
The 10-year average return over Lower Granite Dam downstream of Lewiston is about 7,800 fish.
This year's run has already surpassed the largest run of 14,900 in 2001. Counting at Lower Granite started in 1975.
About 15,550 chinook had crossed the dam by Wednesday, and F&G expects the total run will be around 21,000 fish. Those fish are bound for both the Snake and Clearwater rivers. F&G did not approve fishing for chinook on the Clearwater.
The large fall chinook run comes on the heels of nearly 900 sockeye salmon over Lower Granite during summer, which also was a record sockeye return over Lower Granite Dam.
Steelhead numbers also are tracking well above the 10-year average at Lower Granite Dam, including a larger-than-normal percentage of endangered wild steelhead.
F&G officials attribute the increased runs to a combination of factors, including more young fish released into the rivers, good migration conditions when the young fish migrated to the ocean and excellent feeding conditions when they got there.
The 500,000 fall chinook smolts released into the Snake River in 2006 by F&G now are returning adults. The Nez Perce tribe also releases fall chinook smolts.
While the news is good, it won't mean a bonanza for salmon anglers. F&G fish managers expect up to 6,500 hatchery fall chinook to return to the Snake River above Lewiston.
F&G is expecting fewer than 1,000 hatchery chinook will be harvested, and according to F&G fisheries bureau chief Ed Schriever, it may be a one-time deal.
Fisheries managers do not expect the season to attract hordes of anglers like those who turn out for spring and summer seasons on the Little Salmon River and the South Fork of the Salmon River.
The Snake River has very limited bank access, which makes it difficult for anglers to reach the fish unless they have a boat capable of navigating the river and its rapids. Idaho anglers can not bank fish on the Oregon side because that state does not have an open season for fall chinook on the Snake River.
Many of the hatchery fish available for harvest in the Snake River were released as part of an effort to mitigate effects of the Snake River dams, which stopped salmon from their natural migration upstream from Hells Canyon.
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