June 3: Update on Chinook Salmon fishing on the Clearwater, Lower Salmon and Little Salmon river fisheries

Hi Everybody.  It is time for the weekly spring Chinook Salmon update for the fisheries in the Clearwater River Basin and in the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers (Rapid River Run) 

There is no sugar coating this update because, to tell you the truth, it is very disappointing and it is going to bum people out or just make them downright angry.  Fishing for spring Chinook Salmon in the lower Salmon and Little Salmon River has closed for the remainder of the year.  Please read on to understand why. 

Run Update

The number of PIT tagged spring Chinook Salmon destined for the Clearwater River and Rapid River that have passed over Bonneville Dam has not really changed from last week as their migration over this dam essentially ended last week.  However, we have completed our analysis of the genetic data collected from salmon trapped at Lower Granite Dam, and this has changed our harvest share considerably (for the worse).  As a reminder, this genetic data gives us a more accurate estimate of how many Chinook Salmon will eventually make it to Idaho.  I have provided this new data in the table below.  Because this data is new, I will spend some time explaining how we used it. 

The second column in the table below (Bonneville PIT estimates) represents the PIT tag run estimate, which is what I have been providing you in previous week.  The third column (Bonneville estimate corrected with genetic data) represents what we believe is a more accurate run estimate for each of the release sites.  As we all know, not all fish that are not harvested will show up at a trap where they can be collected for brood stock.  For this reason, it is important to apply a buffer to the actual run size to make sure we meet brood needs. 

For example, if we think 2,000 fish will make it to Idaho, we could provide a 45% buffer (subtract 900 fish from the total) before we calculate harvest shares.  The amount of buffer we decided to apply this year is based on multiple years of data.  Believe me, we have learned the hard way that if you don't apply enough buffer we will end up short on brood stock.  This leads me to the fourth column (Genetic run estimate with buffer applied) which represents the Genetic run estimate with the buffer amount applied to it.  For the Clearwater River release sites, we applied a 50% buffer, and for the Rapid River run releases, we applied a 45% buffer.  This seems like a lot, but this is what we have found needs to occur on small runs like this to insure we reach our brood needs.  After applying this buffer, you can see it greatly decreased our run estimate which in turn decreased our harvest share when compared to last week. 

As you can see from the last column, our harvest share for the entire Clearwater River Run is well short of meeting brood needs (619 fish short), and the harvest share for the Rapid River run is only 651 adult fish.

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Joe DuPont

Clearwater River Run Fishery

All Chinook Salmon fishing was closed last week in the Clearwater River basin.


Rapid River Run Fishery

Last week, we observed harvest in all river reaches open to fishing except upstream of Shorts Creek (see table below).  Catch rates were decent (15 hrs/fish) in river sections 2 and 3 of the lower Salmon, but fishing was tough in the Little Salmon (41 hrs/fish).  When you add this week’s harvest total to last week’s, you come up with a total of 622 adult salmon being harvested for the year.  With a harvest share of only 651 fish, that leaves only 29 fish.  This is why we have elected to close down all salmon fishing in the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers for the year.

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Joe DuPont

I’m not going to argue with you that this fishery was way too short, the closure was unexpected, it's not good for the economy, and people who like to fish the Little Salmon River got “…….” (you can put whatever word you want here).  Unfortunately, using the best data we have, we think the right thing to do is shut this entire fishery down so we can meet brood needs.  Hopefully, the adults we collect for this year's brood stock will make a difference in future fisheries.

I know many of you are unhappy about this, but in closing I just want to leave with some positive remarks.  I was actually able to get out and do some fishing this weekend, which isn’t always easy with kids in sport and other family obligations.  I have to say I had a good time even though I didn’t catch a fish.  I had a good time because of the people I fished around.  I was amazed how good of spirits people were in despite fishing being more difficult than usual.  People were laughing, telling stories, and tolerant of each others mistakes.  

Everywhere I went I saw garbage bags out to help keep the river bank looking good and helping to insure we maintain access at these sites in the future.  Finally, I have to tell you the highlight of my trip.  While I was fishing with a group of fairly experienced anglers, I notice this young boy who was casting a bobber off to the side trying desperately to catch his first salmon ever.  He never gave up and just kept on casting throughout the day.  Towards the end of the day, suddenly the boy shouted “Dad I think I’ve got one!”.  Everybody stopped what they were doing and turned to see who would win the battle - the boy or the fish.  After some intense moments, the father netted the fish, and hoots and hollers rang out across the river congratulating the boy on his achievement.  I don’t think that boy ever stopped smiling for the rest of the day. 

To top of off, when the fish checker came by asking if anybody caught a fish, he stood proudly and let her know that he caught one.  I still smile thinking about it.

On that note, I am going to bring this update to an end.  I will still provide at least one more update sometime in this month to give you my forecast for next year.  

Many people are asking, so I thought I'd let you know that our commission will likely be meeting next week to determine what type of Chinook Salmon fishing opportunities can be provided in South Fork Salmon and upper Salmon rivers.



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Joe DuPont

Chinook Salmon head