Steelhead Streaming Past Fish Counters/H2>by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 2, 2001
Numbers are way ahead of averages
Now it's the steelies' turn at rush hour.
Steelhead counts at Snake and Columbia River dams continue to be impressive. Some daily counts at Bonneville Dam, the first dam returning adult salmon and steelhead encounter on the Columbia River, are setting records.
Through Tuesday, 225,128 steelhead had been counted at the dam. The 10-year average for this time of year is 58,335 steelhead and the average dating back to 1975 is about 69,000, according to Sharon Keifer, anadromous fish coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.
"It will be interesting to see where it all ends up. We think it's early but we also think it's higher (than forcasted)."
The preseason forecast calls for a return of 249,300 steelhead to the dam.
Daily fish counts at Bonneville have exceeded 10,000 steelhead a day for the past six days with a high of 13,579 Saturday, the most counted in a single day since Bonneville dam was built in 1938.
"They are jaw-dropping daily counts, and there is a pretty good component of wild fish," said Joe Hymer, a fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Vancouver.
About 40 percent of the steelhead have been wild, according to Hymer.
At Lower Granite Dam, about 30 miles west of Clarkston, 7,859 steelhead have been counted between June 1 and Tuesday. The 10-year average for that time span is 1,513.
Kiefer said it's possible the run could exceed the 1989-90 run, the last really big run of steelhead. More than 131,000 steelhead were counted passing over Lower Granite Dam between June 1, 1989, and the end of May 1990.
The department has not yet completed its annual forecast of the steelhead run. That report is expected to be delivered to Idaho Fish and Game commissioners at their August meeting in Driggs next week.
Kiefer said cold water released from Dworshak Dam is helping to draw the steelhead up the Snake River. She and other biologists are worried low flows and high temperatures in the Snake River could stall the steelhead run when the Dworshak water is turned off in late August.
"The mouth of the Snake looks to be about the warmest spot around, and we are going to be watching it. You wouldn't want to see those temperatures rise much higher," she said. "So far I don't think we have had the conditions set up that would be a significant impediment to fish passage."
The steelhead run can stall at the mouth of the Snake River when water temperatures in the Snake rise more than five degrees warmer than the Columbia. When that happens it's not uncommon for 30,000 to 40,000 steelhead that pass over McNary Dam to fail to show up at Ice Harbor Dam, the first dam on the lower Snake River.
"They just disappear," said Ed Buetter, a fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston.
Frequent cool spells this summer are helping to keep temperatures under control, according to Buettner. But low flows in the river have left it vulnerable to overheating.
"All we can hope for is that every other week in the month of August is cool. If that happens, Katy bar the door, it's going to be a good one," said Buettner.
The catch-and-release steelhead season in the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers officially began Wednesday. Anglers must have valid fishing licenses and steelhead cards, and barbless hooks are required. Catch-and-release steelhead fishing is not allowed in the middle or south forks of the Salmon River.
The catch-and-keep season for hatchery steelhead on the Snake and Salmon rivers opens Sept. 1.
On the Clearwater River, anglers can't keep hatchery steelhead until Oct. 15.
Wild steelhead, which can be identified by an intact adipose fin on their backs, cannot be kept at any time.
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