Anglers should soon know the fate of the 2017 spring Chinook run, and how much longer the spring fishing season will continue.
Fisheries managers plan to re-evaluate the season after seeing how many chinook cross Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which is the first dam the fish cross that are bound for Idaho.
The Chinook run is definitely late and possibly the latest on record, but it’s also now expected to be about half of the original projection of 45,000 spring Chinook at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Through May 18, only 472 Chinook had crossed Lower Granite Dam. The 10-year average is 30,789 for that date.
“This is uncharted territory; we’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Fish and Game’s fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks said. “The question has been is it late or is it low? And now it's looking like it's very late and very low.”
Through May 18, 39,133 Chinook had crossed Bonneville Dam. The 10-year average for that date is 131,707. However, rivers have been flowing high and cold, which typically slows migration, so there’s still hope more fish are heading to Idaho.
But Fredericks pointed out that “late runs usually don’t turn out to be strong runs.”
Fisheries managers will look at the fish counts over Bonneville Dam and get a better idea whether more fish are heading upstream. There was a glimmer of hope when the count at Bonneville jumped to 4,087 on Saturday, which is the third-largest day of the run so far.
So far, few fish have been caught in the Snake or Clearwater rivers. Fish and Game counted the first known Chinook caught from the Clearwater on Friday, then 25 more over the weekend.
Fredericks said there’s concern fishing may have to be closed to ensure enough Chinook are available to replenish hatcheries.
“That’s our first priority before we try to provide harvest,” he said.
Fishing is currently open Thursday through Sunday of each week on the Clearwater River and daily in the Snake and Salmon Rivers. Here are the Chinook Fishing Seasons and Rules.
At the F&G commission meeting on Thursday, May 18, commissioners postponed a decision on whether to open a summer Chinook season on the Clearwater, South Fork of the Salmon River and Upper Salmon River until the department gets a better look at how many of those fish are returning. Counting for the summer runs begins June 1 at Bonneville Dam.
The preseason forecast is about 10,000 summer Chinook to return to Idaho, and about 2,300 of those are needed to replenish hatcheries.