By Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game public information specialist
Fishing for spring and summer chinook will probably happen in the same places as last year if pre-season forecasts are correct, but the run size is expected to be smaller than last year, and anglers could see shorter seasons and/or lower bag limits.
Idaho Fish and Game anticipates 59,000 chinook bound for Idaho hatcheries to cross Lower Granite Dam about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston. Lower Granite is the last dam fish cross before reaching Idaho, and hatchery chinook with clipped adipose fins are salmon anglers can harvest. Last year, 81,700 hatchery fish returned to Idaho.
Fish and Game officials will continue to monitor salmon returns as the fish cross the dams, and the commission is scheduled to set spring fishing seasons at its March 10 meeting in Boise.
While numbers are down, last year was the third-largest spring/summer return to Lower Granite since 1975 when fish counting started at the dam. When coupled with a near-record return of fall chinook (1,387 fish shy of the 2014 record), 2015's total chinook return was the second-largest since 1975 at Lower Granite.
If the 2016 forecast is correct, this year's run will also rank among the top 10 returns for spring/summer chinook at Lower Granite.
That would provide enough hatchery fish to allow fishing from Lewiston to Stanley including the Snake River and Salmon and Clearwater rivers and many of their tributaries.
Fish and Game's goal is to have as much area as feasible open for salmon angling to allow anglers to have good access to them. Last year's season set a record for angling effort with anglers logging 325,000 hours fishing for chinook and harvesting about 20,000 fish.
The department is hosting a series of open houses to discuss the upcoming chinook season. The meeting locations and dates are as follows:
- Orofino: February 22, (5:30 Pacific Time) IDFG Clearwater Hatchery, 118 Hatchery Roe Drive, located northwest of Ahsahka Bridge
- Riggins: February 23 (5:30 p.m. Mountain Time), Salmon Rapids Lodge, 1010 S. Main Street
- McCall: February 24, (6:00 Mountain ) Idaho Fish and Game Office, 555 Deinhard Lane
- Lewiston: February 24, (5:30 Pacific Time) Idaho Fish and Game Office, 3316 16th Street
Those unable to attend a meeting can provide comments to Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fisheries Manager, either by phone (208-799-5010), mail (3316 16th Street, Lewiston, ID, 83501), or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Salmon forecasts are educated guesses based on several factors, including the number of juvenile "jacks" that return the previous year. Jacks only spend a year in the ocean, and they are indicators of the run of chinook to follow that spend two years in the ocean.
Biologists forecast the total return of wild and hatchery salmon to Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Forecasts tended to be conservative in recent years. In the last five years, forecasters underestimated the total run* four times and overestimated it once.
- 2011: Forecast, 57,600; actual 90,800
- 2012: Forecast, 123,900; actual 79,500
- 2013: Forecast, 36,600; actual 42,800
- 2014: Forecast, 80,400; actual 90,200
- 2015: Forecast, 89,400; actual 116,900
(*Total spring/summer chinook that returned to Lower Granite Dam including hatchery and wild fish)