By Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game public information specialist
South Fork of the Salmon River’s Chinook season can be fun and frustrating. The season opened June 18, and anglers play an anxious game trying to time their fishing trips with arrival of the salmon because after the fish arrive the season can be short and sweet.
Fish and Game has to carefully manage the fishery and ensure anglers don’t over harvest, but still catch their share. The season is typically a fluid situation because anglers are fishing before fisheries managers know exactly how many will be available for harvest. Fish and Game strives to keep people informed so they can best decide when to go fishing.
Here are some common questions people have about the South Fork’s Chinook season:
Q: How many fish are available this year?
A: Fish and Game expects about 1,100 Chinook available for sport anglers fishing in the South Fork this summer, which could change based on how many fish cross Lower Granite Dam. The number is similar to last year’s harvest when anglers took 1,084 hatchery adults and 127 hatchery jacks.
Q: How long will the season last?
A: That’s difficult to answer because it depends on daily catch rates and how many people are fishing. Last year, the season opened on June 19 and closed July 3. The timing of the run, fishing effort and catch rates ultimately determine how long the harvest share lasts. Fish and Game tries to give 48 hour notice before closing fishing on the South Fork.
Q: How can a person find out how many Chinook have been caught so far?
A: Signs are posted near the entry points to the South Fork of the Salmon River. You can also get daily catch rates and harvest by visiting Fish and Game’s website at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov. Direct link:https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/harvest. The first two days this season, 68 adults were harvested with 3664 angler hours of effort.
Q: How does Fish and Game know how many fish are caught each day?
A: There’s a daily estimate based on two separate surveys. A Fish and Game crew surveys the river six times daily to get an average number of anglers for that day. Another crew interviews a portion of the anglers to find out how long they fished and how many fish they caught, including jacks and adults, hatchery fish and wild fish (with adipose fins intact). Effort is the average number of anglers multiplied by the 16.5 hours available to fish each day multiplied by catch rates from angler interviews. This provides the daily estimate of how many fish were harvested or caught and released.
Q: How can Fish and Game open the season if it doesn’t know how many Chinook are available?
A: Fisheries managers are constantly watching the number of fish coming through the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to track the run size. A portion of the returning Chinook have PIT tags implanted in them so managers can identify the specific fish returning to the South Fork and estimate the total number of fish. Some fish are being caught in the South Fork while other fish are crossing the dams, so harvest and the run size are closely watched, and the harvest share is adjusted during the season. Typically, by late June, fisheries managers have a good idea of how big the run is and the total available for sport harvest.
Q: Why does the fishing season seem to end right when fishing gets good?
A: The fishing season starts early as fish begin arriving in the fishery area. As the number of fish arriving increases, catch rates also increase. That means as fish arrive, they’re caught in high numbers, and when fishing is good, several hundred fish can get caught each day. The sport harvest share is typically between 1,000 and 3,000 fish, so it can get caught quickly when fishing is good.
Q: When should I go?
A: That’s another tough question. This year could be similar to last year, so use those dates as a general guide, but every year is a little different depending in the timing of the run. But a good rule of thumb is it’s better to be a little early than a little late, because late often means the season has already ended.