Oct. 9: Idaho steelhead update from fisheries manager Joe DuPont

With steelhead harvest season opening Oct.15 on the Clearwater River, anglers are reminded that Idaho Fish and Game is continuing the one-fish bag limit for hatchery steelhead until Dec. 31 in order to continue reduced harvest on hatchery steelhead and protect wild steelhead. 

The lower bag limit applies in the mainstem Clearwater River, Middle Fork Clearwater River, North Fork of the Clearwater River, South Fork Clearwater River, Snake River, Salmon River and Little Salmon River. 

Steelhead returns continue to be below average, and Clearwater Region Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont provides an update on this year's return. 

Salmon and Snake River Returns

The story for the Idaho hatchery steelhead returns to the Salmon and Snake rivers is the same as I reported back in August.  These returns are down and as low as we have seen since 1978.  I put together the graph below to give you some feel for how this year’s steelhead returns to the Salmon and Snake rivers compare to the previous 8 years.  Although these returns are poor, enough steelhead are projected to make it back to our hatchery traps to allow some harvest opportunities.  This is why the steelhead rules were changed to one fish a day on September 3.

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Joe DuPont


Clearwater River Steelhead Return

The run of hatchery steelhead over Bonneville Dam that are bound for the Clearwater River is just about over.  In fact, by October 9, typically 95% of run should be complete.  This means we now have a very good idea of how many hatchery steelhead will make it back to the Clearwater River.  To give you a feel for how this run is doing, I have put together the graph below that compares what we are projecting will ultimately pass over Bonneville Dam this year compared to the previous eight years.  As you can see, this year’s run is below the eight year average (dotted white line), but it is better than what occurred last year and in 2013 when rule restrictions were required to insure we met brood needs (indicated by white circles).  What is very different about this year’s return when compared to last year is the majority (96%) of the return is represented by fish that spent two years in the ocean (2-ocean fish).  This is good news and bad news.  It’s good in that most of the steelhead you will be catching this year are the larger fish that draw so many people to this fishery.  In fact, we are getting many reports from anglers that these fish are bigger than they have seen in past years with some fish in the 15-17 pound category being caught.  These 2-ocean steelhead are also the fish that we want to collect for brood stock and enough will be returning to allow some harvest on them.  The bad news is with so few 1-ocean fish returning this year, it suggests that next year’s 2-ocean return won’t be very good.

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Joe DuPont


Steelhead Rules Starting October 15

In my August steelhead update, I mentioned that we would monitor the data and let you know by the first week of October what the steelhead rules would be in Idaho starting October 15.  Although the returns are down, enough steelhead will make it to Idaho to provide some harvest opportunities for all these fisheries.  We want to be cautious in the beginning because if we don’t reduce harvest rates below what typically occurs, we could find ourselves short on the brood stock needed to fill our hatcheries.  As such, we have elected to stick with a daily limit of one (1) steelhead for the entire state (Clearwater, Salmon and Snake) for the rest of the year.  For all these fisheries, there will be no size restriction meaning you can keep whatever size steelhead you catch.  However, remember, once you harvest your one fish you must stop fishing for steelhead for the day.  We will evaluate steelhead harvest and brood stock collection through the year and decide sometime around mid-December what the rules will be starting January 1.  So, stay tuned.

Good luck fishing.