Skip to main content

Idaho Fish and Game

Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Update 5/18/2023: Rapid River Run, Hells Canyon, and Clearwater River Fisheries


by Joe DuPont

Hi everybody.

The first thing I want to bring to your attention is that our commission met today and lowered the daily limit to 1 adult for the Rapid River run fishery (lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers) which will take effect on Monday (May 22, 2023). For more details on the Chinook regulations, please visit our website (chinook seasons and rules). I will provide more details below on why the commission made the change they did.

Run Update

For the first time in nine days, Chinook counts at Bonneville Dam dropped below 4,500 fish (see figure below). It was nice to see counts stay up for this long as this certainly improved our harvest shares. However, don’t assume that the spring run over Bonneville is done. Yesterday, not only did adult Chinook Salmon counts drop but so did jacks, steelhead, and shad. Additionally, when looking at PIT tags, both spring Chinook and summer Chinooks counts dropped. This tells me something likely is going on at Bonneville that influenced fish passage. Discharge from Bonneville did pick up yesterday which might explain for this. Let’s hope that means we will get another surge over Bonneville of fish destined for our fisheries. 

daily chinook counts at bonneville 5-18-23

Now, let’s take a look at PIT tag detections at Bonneville Dam so we can evaluate how many of the fish passing over Bonneville Dam are headed to Idaho. If you look at the figure below, you can see that daily counts (based on PIT tags) since May 8 for fish destined for the Clearwater has been fluctuating mostly between 800 and 1,600 fish which is great. On the other hand, for the Rapid River return, we have only seen one day over 600 fish in that same time period. This certainly influenced the harvest shares differently for these two fisheries.

Bonneville Idaho Chinook PIT counts 5-18-22

All right, let’s look at what these PIT tag detections tell us about our harvest shares. I have updated the Table below, so it now captures the most recent data (through 5/17/23). This table shows that the Clearwater River return’s harvest share is projected to be 3,345 adult fish (darker peach row) which is up from last week’s estimate (1,922 fish). The Rapid River return (darker blue row) is projected to have a harvest share of 1,789 which is also up from last week’s estimate (1,382 fish). Finally, Hells Canyon’s (green row) projected harvest share is 336 fish which is also up from last week (260 fish). These harvest shares have remained relatively constant for the last 3-4 days which suggests we are homing in on what the actual return and harvest shares will be.

Spring Chinook estimated harvest shares 5-18-23

Now that we think we are closing in on what the harvest shares will be for the season, some things are apparent. First, it looks like the harvest share for the Clearwater return will end up between 2,000 and 4,000 fish which means the seasons and limits set back in March are appropriate based on the harvest matrix that was developed for the Clearwater (Chinook update 4/20/23). On the other hand, the harvest matrix developed for the Rapid River return (see table below) suggests that when the harvest share is between 751-2,000 fish, the season and limits should change to 4-days a week (Thr – Sun) with a 1-adult daily limit. At this point, this is where it looks like we will end up. 

Chinook seasons and limit proposal table for the Rapid River Run fishery.
Rapid River run harvest matrix

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the commission lowered the daily limit today to one adult but kept the season open seven days a week. So, I expect the question many of you may have is why didn’t you follow the guidelines presented in the table above (provide a 4-day a week fishery) especially since this is what anglers have said they want to prolong the season. The reason we did not do this is because the Sawthooth Hatchery fish have began mixing in with the Rapid River earlier than usual. This is likely due to the late run timing of the Rapid River return. Typically, we have a two-to-three-week period where we can harvest Rapid River fish without having a significant effect on Sawtooth fish. Now we have a one-to-two-week period. For that reason, we wanted to give people more fishing opportunity in the lower Salmon River while we are in that one-to-two-week window before we have to start shutting down sections of the lower Salmon River. Once harvest starts picking up around Riggins and in the Little Salmon (areas where few if any Sawtooth fish are caught), we can revisit whether it makes sense to reduce the fishery to four days a week to help extend the season.



Last week we observed the first Chinooks of the year being harvested. All fish were caught in the Clearwater River near Lewiston. We did not observe any fish caught from the lower Salmon River or Hells Canyon.

Now that people are catching fish, I have included a table below that shows where and how many fish are being harvested. As fish begin being harvested in the lower Salmon or Little Salmon rivers, I will also provide a similar table for the Rapid River run fishery. For those new to this table, I will explain how the data is presented on it. The area in yellow is what I will update each week. The top yellow box shows what the current adult harvest share is (3,345). Each week I will enter how many fish we estimate were harvested in the different river sections. For example, you will see that in the first three weeks (first three rows in yellow) all the values are zero meaning we estimated no fish were caught in any of the river sections during those weeks. Then you will notice during the week of May 8-14 (4th interval) there is a 13 in the first yellow column. This means we estimate that 13 fish were caught that week from river section 1. If you are wondering where all the river sections occur, just look at the bottom of the table for descriptions. Each week the table will be updated to show how many fish have been harvested for the season and how much of our harvest share is remaining before we have to close the fishery down (last column). Another thing you will want to pay attention to is the section in blue. This shows what our harvest allocation goals are for each river section and how many fish are remaining to harvest before we reach this goal. As the number remaining gets close to zero, you can expect that river section to close shortly.

Weekly chinook harvest in the Clearwater 5-14-23

One thing we talked about in our public meetings is that in recent years the number of fish being stocked into the North Fork Clearwater River has more than doubled. This means a lower proportion of the return (when these allocation goals were developed) will be heading to river sections upstream of Orofino (sections 4-8). For this reason, if we follow the guidelines specified in the blue section of this table, we may not be able to reach our entire harvest share. As such, if it seems apparent that the upriver sections are not going to reach their harvest allocation, we will likely keep sections 1-3 open longer to ensure these fish are utilized. This harvest allocation issue will be revisited and possibly changed during next year’s public meetings.

Chinook counts at Lower Granite Dam are starting to increase, and as a result, harvest should pick up in the Clearwater. Right now, flows are holding steady at around 50,000 cfs in the lower Clearwater and are forecasted to stay around that level for the next few days. Although these flows are higher than average, this will concentrate fish more towards the shoreline which often increases success rates.

I did hear a report of one fish being harvested in the lower Salmon River this week, but if you go there this weekend, don’t expect much success. The river is high (60,000 cfs) and climbing. At flows this high, not many fish will be getting past the Slide Rapid which occurs downstream of the fishery.


Good luck fishing!