Fishing

‘Damage is already done’: Threat of steelhead season closure hurt business, anglers say

Steelhead fishing on Idaho’s Salmon River

Steelhead fishing is a spring tradition for Idaho anglers.
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Steelhead fishing is a spring tradition for Idaho anglers.

Those who would have been affected by the closure of the steelhead fishery in Idaho came together Sunday to celebrate an agreement reached Friday that will leave most areas in the state open to steelhead fishing.

A parade of 74 boats made their way from the Port of Lewiston to the Southway Boat Ramp on Sunday where a rally was held. The revival of the steelhead season late last week was a reason to celebrate, but anglers voiced their concerns, saying the publicity of the possible closure has already had an impact on business.

“The damage is already done,” said Jason Schultz, co-chairman of the Idaho River Community Alliance. “We’ve done a tremendous solid by getting this pressed back where we got (the season) opened back up, but we’re still going to feel the repercussions of it.”

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An agreement reached Friday night will leave most areas in Idaho open to steelhead fishing, but will close the South Fork of the Clearwater River upstream of the Mount Idaho Bridge on State Highway 14 and the Salmon River from Warren Creek to the Copper Mine Boat Ramp upstream of Riggins.

Litigation by a coalition of conservation groups that threatened to close the season was dropped as part of the agreement.

Schultz, the owner of Hells Canyon Sport Fishing, said he estimates business will be down 50 percent.

The news of the possible closure drove the momentum of the fishery down, Schultz said. Now, a lot of the non-residents who normally would have come to the area to fish have made other plans.

The makeup of those at the Southway Boat Ramp consisted mainly of outfitters, guides, local fishermen and businesses that support the fishery.

The steelhead season has a major economic impact on the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and beyond.

“I think it’s huge,” Schultz said. “I know just in my small company we send hundreds of people to the Red Lion and local hotels here in town. And that’s just our network of five guides that work for Hells Canyon Sport Fishing.”

Tracy Allen, a guide with On the Clearwater, said many of the company’s clients have already canceled their trips. Now, it’s almost impossible to get them to rebook.

“It’s hard to book anything out when there is no season and it’s hard to book for next year when we didn’t know how long this was going to drag on,” Allen said.

The uncertainty of whether the season will remain open is another hitch for the fishing guide.

“We don’t know if next week they’ll say, ‘We are closed again,’ ” Allen said.

For Homer Brown, an outfitter and the mayor of White Bird, he believes the season is safe from another closure. He hopes businesses in the small town in Idaho County that rely on a steady stream of steelhead anglers will rebound.

“It’s a huge industry for us,” Brown said. “The city of Riggins, the city of White Bird, for both of them in the wintertime, it’s kind of the bread and butter. The main staple is the fishing clientele and the people just coming to enjoy the river.”

According to Brown, a small bed and breakfast in White Bird was solidly booked from January to March. Many of those reservations were canceled once the season came into jeopardy.

But now, he says, there is hope.

“I think we’ll be able to salvage the season,” Brown said.

He encouraged others to support the Idaho River Community Alliance, who he said is a voice for the all communities on the river.

“Basically what (the conservation groups) are trying to do is change the entire way we as fishermen and sportsmen recreate in Idaho,” Brown said. “We want to be able to have a voice, and if you want to do that, you have to get involved with the Idaho River Community Alliance.”

Yesterday’s gathering in Lewiston followed one Saturday in Riggins where about 100 people came to celebrate the resurrection of the steelhead season. That event took place just one day after the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to reopen the season that had been scheduled to close Saturday.

Tomtas may be reached at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.
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