Steelhead Run is so Bad, it's Catch-and-Release
by Eric Barker
In the face of a dismal steelhead run, Idaho canceled its harvest season this fall and instead will implement rules allowing only catch and release.
Washington is expected to announce similarly restrictive measures in the coming days, likely marking the first time in decades that catch-and-keep steelhead fishing will not be allowed on the Snake River and its tributaries. The move is a gut punch for fishing-related businesses from outfitters and guides who make their living helping people catch fish to businesses, like tackle shops, hotels and restaurants that count on an influx of anglers and their cash each fall and winter.
"I just lost 70 percent of my income for my year," said Toby Wyatt, owner of Reel Time Fishing at Clarkston. "It's probably the biggest blow I've ever had in my career as a guide."
The Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce announced it canceled its annual Snake-Clearwater Steelhead Derby that serves as both a fundraiser and a way to showcase the fishing opportunities and other amenities of the valley to people who come from out of town to participate in the weeklong event. Chamber President Kristin Kemak said the chamber will look to hold an alternative event that highlights other outdoor opportunities.
Kemak and Wyatt both said they understand why the states are moving to restrict harvest and believe it's the best way to protect the health of future fishing seasons.
"I 100 percent agree with it," said Wyatt. "I know it's not the states' fault at all. It's just a combination of drought conditions and 'The Blob' in the ocean."
Riggins Mayor Glenna McClure was less understanding and said she would have liked fisheries managers to wait before implementing restrictions that are sure to hurt small towns like hers.
"For the economy of Riggins, that will just kill this little town," she said. "People don't come here to catch and release. They come here to catch and keep."
This fall will mark the second year in a row that A-run steelhead have performed poorly. Last year the run comprised of fish that generally spend just one year in the ocean tanked. Biologists blamed low flows in the Snake and Columbia rivers when the fish migrated to the Pacific Ocean as juveniles, and "The Blob" -- a strange mass of warm water that enveloped the near coastal waters off of Oregon and Washington.
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