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Migrating Steelhead Back in the Swim Again

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 23, 2001

Cooler temps aid progress of adult fish

What a difference a week makes.

Adult steelhead appear to have resumed their migration up the Snake and Columbia rivers after a heat wave broke late last week.

"The water temperatures have come down and the fish are coming up," said Bill Horton, salmon and steelhead manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.

Water temperatures dropped from a high of 76 degrees last week down to 71 degrees Monday.

During the hot spell, steelhead passage at Lower Granite Dam slowed to a low of four last Thursday. But the number jumped to more than 1,000 Saturday and Sunday.

Fisheries biologists consider extended exposure to temperatures above 70 degrees to be harmful and potentially fatal to salmon and steelhead.

Although the water in the lower Snake River reservoirs is still at or above that threshold, Horton said it's much better than the mid to high 70-degree water of last week.

"It was just ugly," he said.

Cooler temperatures at higher elevations and the shorter days should help to keep temperatures under control.

But at the end of August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will stop the release of cold water from Dworshak Dam near Orofino and another heat wave could play havoc with the run, according to Horton.

Some 405,000 steelhead have been counted passing over Bonneville Dam through Tuesday and more than 14,700 at Lower Granite Dam, about 35 miles west of Clarkston.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission likely will meet soon to decide if the daily bag limit on steelhead will be raised for the upcoming season.

The catch-and-keep season for steelhead opens Sept. 1 on the Snake, Salmon and Grand Ronde rivers and Oct. 15 on the Clearwater River.

Already this year, more steelhead have crossed Bonneville Dam than have ever been recorded.

"We have never seen numbers like that in the history of Bonneville Dam," said Horton. "It is somewhat moderated ... by the fact most of those fish are hatchery fish and not wild fish."

Oregon recently raised its daily bag limit to three steelhead per day and the commission could follow suit, according to Horton.

Eric Barker
Migrating Steelhead Back in the Swim Again
Lewiston Tribune, August 23, 2001

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