Summer Steelhead Making Their
by Eric Barker
Good old reliable steelhead are already making their way back to Idaho and a few anglers have started to fish the Clearwater River for the sea-run trout.
They can expect an overall return that is pretty similar to steelhead runs of the recent past. The A-run, made up of fish that generally spend one year in the ocean, is predicted to nearly match the recent 10-year average. The more elusive B-run -- fish that generally spend two years at sea -- is projected to return at a pace well off last year's showing and below the 10-year average.
Joe Hymer, a fisheries manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Vancouver, said he and his colleagues throughout the Columbia River basin are calling for 312,700 A-run fish to return at least as far as Bonneville Dam this year. About 120,500 of those will be wild fish that are protected by the Endangered Species Act and can't be kept by anglers. The B-run is expected to number 54,100 at Bonneville and include about 12,900 protected wild fish.
From 2000 to 2009, the average return to Bonneville was 315,600 A-run steelhead, including 85,100 wild fish, and 64,400 B-run steelhead, including 12,800 wild fish. In 2010, 381,100 upriver steelhead returned to Bonneville Dam, including 304,000 A-run fish and 77,100 Bs.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist Alan Byrne said about 50 percent of the smaller A-run steelhead counted at Bonneville Dam will pass Lower Granite Dam and about 70 to 75 percent of the larger B-run fish will make it from Bonneville to Granite. Based on those conversion rates, anglers can expect 156,000 A-run fish to make it at least as far as Granite and 37,800 to 40,000 B-runs to return to the Clearwater and Salmon river basins. The A-run has a smaller conversion rate because those counted at Bonneville are destined for rivers all over the Columbia basin, where as the bigger fish are mostly bound for tributaries of the Snake River in Idaho.
As of Tuesday (July 19), 956 steelhead had been counted at Lower Granite Dam since June 1. The 10-year average is 2,441. During most years, the earlier-returning A-run steelhead will pull into the lower Clearwater River to escape the warmer water in the lower Snake River. On Tuesday, the lower Clearwater was 57 degrees and the Snake River at Anatone was about 65 degrees.
Each summer, water is released from Dworshak Reservoir to both cool the lower Snake River and increase its flows to help migrating juvenile fall chinook. Those drawdowns have begun. Steve Hall, water manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said he expects the dam to release about 14,000 cubic feet of water per second through August, when agreements call for the reservoir to be 60 feet below full pool. The reservoir will be lowered an additional 20 feet in September.
The Clearwater River opened for catch-and-release fishing July 1.
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