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Idaho Fish and Game

Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Update 5/13/2020


Hi everybody, it is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (5/13/2020).

For those of you interested in fishing the Clearwater River, a closure is occurring so be sure to read through the entire update.


We finally documented the harvest of our first spring Chinook, and I bet many will be surprised where we saw it.  It was caught near the mouth of the Little Salmon River last Thursday.  It seems that every year we get one salmon that makes it to Rapid River Hatchery way before the rest.  It looks like this year a lucky angler caught that early fish.  The entire rest of the week we did not document another fish harvested in the Salmon or Little Salmon rivers.

In the Clearwater River we estimated that anglers caught 18 fish, seven of which had to be released because they had an adipose fin.  That means 11 fish were harvested, all of which came from the river reach from Lewiston to Cherrylane Bridge.  Fish were caught from boats as well as from shore. 

Obviously, the big questions is, “how is the run looking?”  To answer this, I have displayed the same graph as I have in my previous updates showing the number of Chinook Salmon passing over Bonneville Dam this year (red line) compared to previous year’s runs.  As you can see from this graph, there has been three peaks of daily counts of around 3,000 fish over Bonneville Dam this year.  These are not the types of peaks were hoping for, and at this point it is very doubtful that we will see a large peak to follow.  Flows and water clarity have not been to the level that they should be delaying migrations below Bonneville Dam as occurred in 2017.  In addition, slow catch rates in sport fisheries below Bonneville Dam suggest there are not a lot of fish stacking up.  Finally, I want to point out that the total run past Bonneville (March 1 to May 12) has dropped below what we saw in 2019 for this same time period.  As you know, with these types of counts last year we were not able to provide many spring Chinook Salmon fishing opportunities in Idaho.


When we look at the PIT tag data that helps us evaluate where the fish passing over Bonneville Dam are destined, it does not suggest anything better than the dam count data.  In fact, if you look at the data below, it suggests not enough fish will make it back to fish traps in the Clearwater River basin to meet brood needs.  This data assumes that the run is late (somewhere between the timing of what we saw in 2019 and 2017).  In addition, this data suggests the harvest share for the Rapid River run will be 548 fish.


So what does this all mean?  Our first priority is meeting broodstock needs at our hatcheries, and when returns are not high enough to fill our hatcheries, we have to close down the fisheries.  For this reason, the Director singed an emergency order earlier today that closes down all spring Chinook Salmon fisheries in the Clearwater River and its tributaries starting immediately.  Regarding the fishery in the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers (Rapid River return), our commission will be meeting tomorrow to discuss whether modifications need to occur to the seasons and areas open to fishing.  Stay tuned for their decision.

Typically, I try to say something upbeat at the end of my blogs, but today it is difficult and I don’t think people what me to sugar coat what is going on.  There is no doubt that these last four years have been very depressing.

Take care everybody.