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Spring Chinook Salmon Season a Real Possibility

Biologists up and down the Columbia River are forecasting a higher than average spring chinook run this year.

The run will be composed primarily of hatchery fish. Surplus hatchery spring chinook may be returning to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery on the North Fork of the Clearwater River and the Clearwater Hatchery satellite ponds in the Lochsa and South Fork Clearwater drainages, as well as Rapid River Hatchery in the Little Salmon River drainage. Anglers may recall the 1997 salmon seasons, which targeted surplus spring chinook returning to these areas.

Biologists project that about 27,000 spring chinook will cross Lower Granite Dam and that 24,500 of these fish will be of hatchery origin. If runsize projections hold true, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Department will recommend opening spring chinook salmon seasons in the Clearwater drainage and the Little Salmon River. Just like recent salmon seasons, only hatchery fish missing their adipose fin (fleshy fin near the base of the tail) could be harvested, similar to steelhead. Department staff described their harvest proposal at the recent IDFG Commission meeting in Pocatello. The Commission agreed that more runsize information is needed prior to making a season decision, and they will take up the issue on April 28 via a conference call.

For both the Clearwater and Little Salmon seasons, biologists have proposed bag limits of three daily, six in possession, and 20 for a statewide season limit. The Department may open the salmon season on the North Fork and mainstem Clearwater River (Memorial Bridge upstream to the confluence with the South Fork Clearwater) as early as May 5. Seasons in the Lochsa, South Fork Clearwater, and the Little Salmon River are expected to open the same day as the general fishing season opener, May 27.

Fishing for salmon will be with barbless hook only. In the Lochsa River, only artificial flies and lures with one barbless hook per fly or lure can be used. Fishing hours would be 5am to 9pm PST in the Clearwater drainage and 6am to 9pm MST in the Little Salmon River. A permit from National Marine Fisheries Service is needed for the Little Salmon River fishery, but the department sent in the appropriate paperwork last November.

Actual harvestable numbers will not be known until more of the run arrives, but based on preseason projections, the Department expects to leave fisheries open 7 days a week for several weeks.

For questions about the salmon season proposals, contact Sharon Kiefer, (208) 334-3791, the Clearwater Region at 799-5010, or the McCall region at 634-8137.