A late Chinook salmon return prompted Fish and Game commissioners on May 10 to postpone a decision on setting summer fishing seasons on the Clearwater, South Fork of the Salmon and Upper Salmon rivers.
Spring chinook fishing is currently open on several rivers, but fish have been slow to return and by Monday, May 14, less than 800 spring Chinook had crossed Lower Granite Dam about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston. That’s less than 5 percent of the 10-year average for that date.
However, more than 46,000 spring Chinook have crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River since May 13, which is the first dam the fish cross after leaving the Pacific. Some of those fish, and more behind them, are bound for Idaho.
A few summer Chinook bound for the South Fork of the Salmon River have already crossed Bonneville Dam, but it’s too early to tell how many more are coming. The preseason forecast is for enough summer Chinook to return to provide for a fishing season.
“We’re waiting to see what’s going on with the fish before open the summer season up,” said Lance Hebdon, Fish and Game’s anadromous fish manager.
The spring Chinook run is running late and was late last year, too. Hebdon noted that typically about 50 percent of the spring Chinook have crossed Bonneville Dam by mid May, but last year, it was closer to May 20 that half the fish had crossed Bonneville.
Hebdon said it’s hard to tell what portion of the spring run has already crossed Bonneville considering it’s a late return.
He noted a late return of spring fish does not necessarily mean the summer return will follow suit, but fish managers need a better understanding of how many are coming before proposing a summer season.
Last year, summer Chinook fishing was open on the Clearwater, Lochsa and Upper Salmon Rivers, but a season on the South Fork of the Salmon River was canceled because of a smaller-than-expected return.
Fisheries managers expect to know more by late May or early June after more summer fish enter the Columbia and Snake rivers. If the run appears to be close to forecast, managers will likely propose a season to the Fishing and Game Commission.