Steelhead smolt transportation and release season is underway in Idaho

  • Magic Valley Steelhead Transport
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    Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Spring is officially here and with that comes a lot of water in Idaho’s rivers. High runoff is critical to help flush Idaho’s out-migrating steelhead smolts to the Pacific Ocean. Idaho steelhead enter fresh water in one year and spawn the following spring.

Idaho has A and B strains of steelhead that are classified based on life history characteristics. Generally A-strain steelhead spend one year in the ocean and return to freshwater during the summer. The B-strain steelhead commonly spend two years in the ocean before returning to freshwater in late summer or autumn. The broodstock collection facilities for steelhead produced in the Magic Valley Region include Oxbow, Pahsimeroi, Sawtooth, East Fork Salmon River and Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game operates four out of the five steelhead production hatcheries in the state. These four hatcheries produce over 5,750,000 smolts on an annual basis with nearly five million of those being produced right here in the Magic Valley Region at the Niagara Springs, Magic Valley and Hagerman National Fish Hatchery.

All of the smolts must be transported back to the broodstock collection facilities for release each spring. The smolts will return to these locations in one to two years as adults to spawn. If you have seen the fish transport tankers heading North up Highway 93 or West along Interstate 84 they are hauling the next generation of steelhead back to their natal waters for release. We anticipate nearly 220 semi-truck loads of fish to be transported for release by the end of April.

Steelhead fishing season for returning adults is open in the upper Salmon River through April 30, 2019. Conditions remained good through last week. The river was clear upstream of the Pahsimeroi River with water temperatures stable in the 40’s. Anglers upstream of the East Fork Salmon River in location code 19 averaged six hours per steelhead caught. If you are in the Stanley Basin on a Monday or Thursday swing by the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery and watch the steelhead being trapped and spawned. If you time it perfect you will also be able to watch the transport tankers arrive to release the smolts.