Successful Salmon Seasons Wind Down
Chinook fishing thrilled Idaho anglers this summer when the biggest return of adults in years came back to the Clearwater, Lochsa, Salmon, Little Salmon and (with a little help from truck drivers) the Boise and Payette Rivers.
Anglers lined up almost elbow-to-elbow in the most productive spots to enjoy a season some of the old-timers compared to the 1960s. The last general season in Idaho was held in 1978.
Waters were closed to chinook fishing once quotas meant to protect wild fish were met. Most fishing effort now is concentrated on the Boise River, right in the downtown of the capitol city. Once hatchery capacity was reached, chinook from Rapid River and the South Fork Salmon were trucked by Fish and Game to Boise where hundreds of anglers tried their luck with more than 500 chinook. That fishery could last until about Labor Day.
Some older anglers who remember how to fish for Idaho chinook report hooking a dozen or more of the aggressive salmon, releasing many of them so others could enjoy the experience.
These were all hatchery fish in excess of hatchery rearing needs. Idahoís wild chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act and must be returned to the water unharmed. A small number of wild fish are caught and quotas are set so that seasons close when any significant number of wild salmon may have been harmed by fishing. Salmon seasons in Idaho are set up with the cooperation of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that administers salmon recovery programs under the Endangered Species Act.
Hatchery-raised salmon had their adipose fin removed to differentiate the wild fish from the hatchery fish. Hatchery fish are not considered threatened or endangered (http://www.defenders.org/esapage.html) because neither parent was wild, so the fish isnít part of the wild gene pool. Anglers were allowed to keep the hatchery-raised fish, and they took home 434 within 11,000 hours of fishing on the South Fork. The South Fork had not seen a salmon season since 1964.
The hatchery program at the McCall Hatchery Complex was set up in 1980 to provide Idahoans with a salmon fishery, but this year was the first time we were able to reap its rewards. The McCall Hatchery is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Good survival occurring in smolts migrating to the ocean in 1995 because of high run-off, plus strong hatchery productions coincided to produce an exciting salmon sport fishery this year. Biologists believe, however, that this is unusual and low runs of spring and summer chinook to the entire Snake River drainage in 1994 and 1995 mean that few hatchery or wild fish will return as adults in the 1998-2000 run.
All-told, well over 3,000 hatchery chinooks were harvested in this yearís unusual salmon season in Idaho. The Little Salmon River accounted for 2,283 fish before the season closed there, and The Clearwater River saw more than 800 harvested.