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Ecology and salmon related articles

Steeling Their Way Home

by Phillip J. Gomez
Wood River Journal, April 2, 2003

Record number of migratory fish swim upstream

The steelhead are coming! Thanks to good snow runoff and favorable spillway discharges from the Snake and Columbia river dams in recent years, mature steelhead trout swimming upstream to their spawning grounds in central Idaho are returning in near record numbers, says a fisherman and board member of Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited.

"We're going to have a whopper of a year," said Jason Roth, an ISSU Wood River chapter board member. This year's return of steelhead is the second highest run in recorded history in the upper Salmon River, he said. Last year saw the highest trout return. As well as favorable river outflows for the migrating juveniles, ocean currents and baitfish feeding opportunities for the steelhead were also favorable, he said. the anadromous fish remain in the Pacific Ocean for one to three years before returning with a homing instinct to spawning grounds to spawn and reproduce their species.

"It has to do mainly with trout smolt habitat," he said of the young steelheads' existence in hatcheries and their natural river environment. But high runoff in recent years has been kind to the fish, too, in flushing them out to sea. Predation by larger fish is another factor in limiting the steelheads' success in completing their life cycle, but that is largely uncontrollable, Roth said.

"In essence, the stars all lined up," he said of the record numbers in the past two seasons. But he is concerned about the next few years, due to Army corps of Engineers plans to cut back on spill ways discharges.

All the small towns in central Idaho on the upper Salmon river are benefiting economically by the return of the fish, Roth said. The river corridor from near Grangeville to Stanley will be busy this season with fishermen buying license and tags, visiting tackle shops and restaurants and staying at hotels. Part of licensing and tag fees is returned by the Idaho Fish & Game to provide fishing access ramps and public restrooms for fishermen, he said. The steelhead season closes at the end of April.

"Now is the time for anyone who wants to catch a steelhead trout on the upper Salmon to do so," said Roth. Fishermen wanting to monitor the increasing numbers of steelhead on the Salmon River can visit a Web site,, for angling information.

Once fish hatcheries catch their quota of mature fish for spawning, the remaining ones are trucked down river "so anglers can get another shot at the fish," Roth said.

After the captured fish have spawned, they are distributed to the public free of charge for diner table consumption, he said. The average steelhead caught in the upper Salmon weights from four to eight pounds, with some weighing in at 20 pounds, he said.

Fishing limits have increase from two to three steelhead per day, with a total of nine in possession at one time and a total of 20 for the season with one tag.

Salmon runs don't start until the end of May, June or early July.

"I was up there a couple of days ago and caught a lot of fish," Roth said. As part of the landlocked "Inland Empire," Idaho is the only sate that enjoys angling for steelhead and Salmon, he said.

Phillip J. Gomez
Steeling Their Way Home
Wood River Journal, April 2, 2003

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