Summer Steelhead Return Increases
by Mark Yuasa
Steelhead have been crossing Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River like lemmings and shattered the single-day dam count record for seven straight days.
Daily counts between Aug. 11 and Aug. 17 ranged between 16,626 and 34,053.
The old single-day record dam count was 14,432 steelhead set in 2001 based on records dating back 57 years.
So what does it mean for Idaho?
"Since Idaho hatchery releases are a major component of the run, it's going to be good news for Idaho anglers," said Sam Sharr, anadromous fish coordinator for Idaho FIsh and Game.
To put this year's run in perspective, before this year, daily counts at Bonneville had exceeded 10,000 fish only twice since counting started in 1952.
Daily counts through Tuesday topped 10,000 for eight straight days and counting.
The total run will easily exceed the preseason forecasts of about 350,000 steelhead across Bonneville.
Through Tuesday, 347,576 had crossed the dam, with more than a month to go in the traditional timeframe for the steelhead migration.
No one knows for sure what caused the record-shattering surge over Bonneville.
The Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife news bulletin said the unprecedented counts could partially be caused by a late-July heat wave that topped 100 degrees and warmed the lower Columbia and may have slowed migration and caused a bottleneck of steelhead below Bonneville.
"We've seen that in the past with chinook and to some degree steelhead," said Joe Hymer of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
People in Idaho are waiting to see whether the big numbers make it all the way to Idaho.
Sharr said many of the fish crossing Bonneville are have tags that identify them as Idaho fish, and the ratio of smolts returning as adults is higher than in recent years, he said.
How big the run ultimately will be remains to be seen.
"It's the classic argument, is (the run) early, or is it strong?" he said.
Sharr credits ocean conditions last spring and summer for boosting the runs.
A-run steelhead, coho salmon and jack (juvenile) chinook return after one year in the ocean, and all three are returning to the Columbia in strong numbers this year.
Steelhead have been trickling over Lower Granite Dam into Idaho a few hundred fish per day since Aug. 1.
Anglers are already catching fish in the Clearwater River, and steelhead typically start arriving in the upper tributaries such as the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers in mid to late September.
Bonneville Dam Fish Camera
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