Chinook Salmon update for the Middle Fork Clearwater River (6/13/19)

Hi Everybody.  My weekly Chinook Salmon updates are back on!  The reason for this is we have decided to reopen a section of the Middle Fork Clearwater River to Salmon fishing.  If this is of interest to you, read on.

I’m sure many of you are wondering why we are opening the Middle Fork Clearwater River to salmon fishing.  The reason for this is because a over 1,200 hatchery spring Chinook Salmon are destined for the Selway River where we have no ability to trap them and use them for brood stock.  Typically, we intercept these fish in our main river fisheries, but in a year like this with no fisheries, this has not happened.  Because harvesting these fish will not affect how many fish we collect for brood, we decided it only makes sense to allow people to fish for them.  The Nez Perce Tribe will also be holding a fishery on these returning fish in the Selway River.  On top of this, we are estimating another 200 hatchery summer Chinook Salmon will be returning to the Selway.  As an extra bonus, the hatchery salmon returning to the Selway River have both clipped and unclipped adipose fins so we are going to allow you to harvest any salmon you catch.

The portion of the Middle Fork Clearwater River that is open typically receives little fishing effort during a normal season, so it will be interesting to see just how many people fish it and how many fish are caught.  Because we think harvest will be light as people learn to fish this section of river, we are going to provide a lot of opportunity for people to learn.

As such, the commission approved the following rules this morning (6/13/2019)

  • Salmon fishing is allowed on the Middle Fork Clearwater River from the Nez Perce Tribal reservation boundary (near mile post 79 US Highway 12) upstream to the confluence of the Selway and Lochsa rivers.
  • Fishing is allowed 7 days a week starting immediately.
  • The daily limit is four (4) Chinook Salmon, only two (2) of which may be adults.
  • The possession limit is twelve (12) Chinook Salmon, only six (6) of which may be adults.
  • Adipose clipped AND unclipped Chinook are LEGAL to harvest.
  • Adults are 24 inches or greater in length.
  • Legal fishing hours are 4:30 AM to 9:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time.

Here is my advice to you if you decide to fish the Middle Fork Clearwater River.  These fish will be migrating fast and in deeper water especially with flows dropping.  However, adult Chinook Salmon usually stop migrating at night and will rest in deeper slower waters.  Target this holding water early in the morning and in the evenings.  Bobbers and jigs and/or bait often works good in these areas.  Outside of these periods, look for areas that will concentrate where fish will travel.  This can be shallow areas with some deeper slots through it or it can be areas with real fast water with sections of slower waters.  If you find these areas, plunking can be quite effective. 

A good tool to search out areas to fish can be Google Earth.  For example I copied off a picture of the Middle Fork Clearwater below (this area is not open by the way), and I included likely paths of travel salmon could take (red arrows) as they migrated up river.  In this case, a wide shallow bar across the river would likely cause salmon to swim up a side channel where it would be much easier for anglers to target them.

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Joe DuPont


Obviously, nothing beats getting on the water and searching it out in person.  I hope some of you do so and find this opportunity rewarding.


Good luck and have fun.