Fishing

Idaho anglers will get a steelhead season after all — on hatchery fish

Long Live the Kings, a salmon and steelhead restoration group, will stage a competition in May that allows people to bet on 48 tagged steelhead migrating from the Nisqually and Skokomish rivers to the Pacific Ocean.
Long Live the Kings, a salmon and steelhead restoration group, will stage a competition in May that allows people to bet on 48 tagged steelhead migrating from the Nisqually and Skokomish rivers to the Pacific Ocean.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Friday approved a plan to allow anglers to fish for ocean-going steelhead returning to hatcheries in this state.

The rule allows anglers to keep two steelhead a day that have their adipose fin clipped, which are destined for hatcheries. Anglers on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and the Snake River downstream of Couse Creek would have to release all steelhead longer than 28 inches.

The season will open Sunday and last through next spring.

The size restrictions are designed to protect the larger “B-run” steelhead bound for the Clearwater Basin. Those are the most coveted prize of sport anglers and an important supplier of special oils to Northwest Indian tribes. But they’re in trouble — state fisheries officials have previously said this year will be among the worst for wild steelhead returns to the Columbia and Snake rivers in half a century.

The state says about 25,000 steelhead going to Idaho hatcheries have crossed Lower Granite Dam, the final of eight dams along their route between the Pacific and Idaho.

Of that, 17,000 are destined for the Snake and Salmon rivers, which are expected to have 13,000 above the needs for broodstock in hatcheries. The state expects 7,300 hatchery fish and about 1,400 wild B-run steelhead to make it back to the Clearwater River.

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