Spring Chinook Salmon Fishery Update (6/28/2022): Clearwater River Return, Rapid River Run, Hells Canyon and Lochsa River Fisheries

Spring Chinook Salmon Fishery Update (6/28/2022)

Clearwater River Return, Rapid River Run, Hells Canyon and Lochsa River Fisheries

by Joe DuPont

Hi everybody, it is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (6/28/2022). We have one final closure coming up for the Rapid River run fishery, so please be sure to read that section if you plan to fish there.

Run Update

Now that Idaho’s spring Chinook Salmon run past Bonneville Dam is over, I created the two figures below to give you a feel for how the return of fish to the Clearwater and Rapid River fisheries compared to returns since 2009. It should be noted that these figures were developed using PIT tag detections which are not as accurate as the run estimates we produce later in the year using genetics. The first figure below is for the Clearwater fishery, and it shows this year’s adult return (yellow portion of bars) was the second best we have seen since 2009. The only year we saw a larger return during this time span was 2015. It is important to point out that in 2016 we began releasing 45% more smolts into the Clearwater River basin (increased from about 4 million to about 5.8 million), and the adults from these increased releases began returning in 2018. If we had released similar numbers of smolts prior to 2016 as we did after, I suspect this year's return would have ranked about the 7th best out of this 14 year time period. 



The figure below shows how Rapid River Chinook Salmon returns past Bonneville Dam compares to returns since 2009. This data shows that over the past 14 years, this year’s adult return would rank as the 7th best in this time frame (similar to the Clearwater). Smolt releases from Rapid River hatchery have been fairly consistent during this time period. The message I’d like to relay based on this data (and the Clearwater data) is that it is good to see returns improving, but we can do much better.


Almost all of Idaho’s spring Chinook Salmon have made it to Idaho, so the table below that displays our estimated harvest shares now is based on PIT tag detections at Lower Granite Dam. If you look at this table, you will see that the Clearwater River return’s adult harvest share (darker pink row) is projected to be 5,670 fish which is about 500 more than we estimated last week. The reason for this big change is many of the PIT tagged fish that we thought had died all of a sudden started being detected passing over the Snake River dams. Many of these salmon had spent over a month behind the Snake River dams before they resumed their migration. To give you a feel for this, in the last seven days over 1,600 Clearwater bound adult hatchery fish passed over Lower Granite Dam. The previous 9 days we estimated only 55 Clearwater adult hatchery fish passed over Lower Granite Dam. Interestingly, not near as many fish Rapid River fish displayed this behavior and is why the harvest share for this fishery did not change much from last week. We now estimate the Rapid River adult harvest share will be 3,630 adult fish (blue row) whereas last week it was 3,588. The harvest share for Hells Canyon (green row) is still zero. The harvest share displayed below for the Lochsa summer run fishery shows it at 35 adult fish. However, remember this table is now based on fish detected at Lower Granite Dam. Summer run fish migrate later than spring fish meaning more fish are on their way, and this harvest share will go up. It will likely end up somewhere between 110 and 150 fish.




Clearwater River Basin Fishery

Over 500 adult fish were harvested in the Clearwater River basin for the third week in a row (see table below). Catch rates were really good (under 10 hrs/fish) almost everywhere except section 4. We also observed the first fish being harvested from South Fork Clearwater River (sections 7 and 8). Most of the fish being harvested in the South Fork were actually jacks which is not too surprising seeing the jack return to Red River is good this year. As of June 26, we estimate 4,408 adult fish have been harvested from the Clearwater River basin which leaves 1,262 in our harvest share. For those following my weekly updates, you will know that we will allow more fish to be harvested in river sections 2, 3, 5 than our goals state because we will not be able to reach our harvest goals in sections 4 (Orofino Bridge to Kooskia Bridge) 7, or 8 (South Fork). What this means is there will be no additional closures this week in the Clearwater River basin (section 1 will remain closed). The next time we will look at harvest data and contemplate closures will be next Tuesday (July 5).


Rapid River Run Fishery

Last week, we estimated over 1,500 fish were harvested from the Rapid River run fishery which was the most we have seen in a week this season (see table below). Catch rates were great in section 3 of the lower Salmon (7 hrs/fish) and in the Little Salmon River (6 hrs/fish). This brings our total harvest for the season to 3,247 adult fish leaving only 383 fish in our harvest share. The entire lower Salmon River closed at the end of fishing hours last Sunday (June 26), meaning only the Little Salmon River remains open to salmon fishing. However, with the high catch rates we were experiencing last week, we are concerned that if we keep the Little Salmon River open through the weekend (a holiday weekend), we will overshoot our harvest share. As such, we will be closing the entire Little Salmon River to all salmon fishing at the end of fishing hours on July 1, 2022 (Friday). That means on Saturday July 2, 2022 the entire Rapid River run fishery will be closed. 

The high water this year certainly made it hard to predict when the fishing would be good; however, it definitely prolonged the fishery. Before the season started, we warned people that the Rapid River Run fishery could only 2 to 3 weeks once the fish got there. Because of the high water, the fishery lasted 5-6 weeks in most river sections once the fish got there. I guess you could consider the high water as a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective.


Hells Canyon Fishery

After 10 weeks of opening this fishery, we finally observed the first adults being caught below Hells Canyon Dam. We estimated that 19 adult Chinook were harvested last week. Interestingly, we did not see any jacks being caught. Your guess will be as good as mine on what we might see this week.


Lochsa Summer Run Fishery

We didn’t see a few people fishing the Lochsa River last week, but nobody we talked to had caught a fish. Over 300 adult fish destined for the Lochsa River passed over Lower Granite Dam Last week. Some of those fish should reach the Lochsa River by this weekend. If you are spending any time in this area over the Fourth of July weekend, you may want to give salmon fishing a try.


Fourth of July weekend is about here! If Salmon fishing is your passion, there still are many opportunities available around the state. Enjoy yourself and safe travels.


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Joe DuPont

Two Chinook landed on the Salmon River