By Jaime Robertson, Regional Fisheries Technician
Since 2010, Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has been recruiting volunteer anglers to catch adult steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River. We rely on anglers from around the region, other states, and even other countries to collect steelhead broodstock on the South Fork Clearwater River each year. We depend on anglers to collect these fish because no weirs are operated on the South Fork Clearwater River to trap steelhead. These fish are collected to develop a localized steelhead broodstock for the South Fork Clearwater River. In theory, these fish will develop adaptations that will allow them to return at a higher rate to the South Fork Clearwater River than steelhead collected at Dworshak Hatchery. Ultimately, our hopes are this program will result in more steelhead returning to the South Fork Clearwater River.
As many of you are aware, the steelhead fishery in the Clearwater basin was closed on Sept. 29, 2019 due to low returns and a concern about reaching broodstock needs. Fortunately, added measure were taken, and we are now confident we will be able to reach our brood needs. This is why we able to reopen the steelhead fishery on January 1, 2020. However, we still need your help to collect broodstock from the South Fork Clearwater River. We will be out on the river from dawn to dusk seven days a week distributing tubes at popular fishing holes and signing up anglers interested in participating in the program.
We will begin the angler broodstock collection program on February 8 and will continue until we meet our broodstock goals or the first week of April, whichever comes first. The goal is to collect steelhead every day unless weather conditions become unsafe to collect and transport fish back to the hatchery. Anglers who would like to participate in the program are required to sign a volunteer form that IDFG personnel will be carrying with them. This will allows anglers to handle steelhead with an adipose fin as they put them into a tube. We will be driving up and down the road and should be easy to track down if we don’t come to you first.
The tubes we will be using to hold steelhead are large white PVC pipes with holes in the side (pictured below). We are asking anglers to place any steelhead they catch in these tubes that they would like to include in the broodstock program. Fish and Game staff will be distributing PVC tubes each morning in areas where anglers are fishing, where steelhead can be safely transported from the river to the hatchery truck, and where IDFG has permission to access. Anglers are asked to please leave the PVC tubes at the site when they leave the area.
All steelhead that anglers catch can be placed within one of the provided PVC tubes. When Hatchery staff stop to pick up the fish, they will determine whether the steelhead is a hatchery or wild fish and of the appropriate size. Wild fish and fish under a certain size will be released back into the river. We ask that you only put one fish in a tube, and the tube should be placed in the river with the fish’s head facing into the current. This will ensure the fish receives ample oxygenated water until it can be collected by hatchery staff.
We are estimating that around 1,500, 2-ocean hatchery steelhead will be returning to the South Fork Clearwater this year. This will be one of the smaller returns that we have seen in some time. However, we are confident that if anglers continue to participate in this program like they have seen in the past, we will be able to collect the broodstock we are looking for.