Fish Rap: It’s good times for chinook fishing, so enjoy it

I have salmon on the brain, which is interesting because it’s one of the few fish in Idaho I don’t actively chase, but I still pay close attention to salmon runs.

We’ve seen amazing things in Idaho regarding salmon in the past 20 years. We’ve had chinook fishing for 16 years straight, which is the longest consecutive streak dating back to the 1950s.

Previous to the 1950s, Idaho had year-round salmon fishing, and harvest was all wild fish. Idaho’s salmon fishing is now tightly regulated and harvest is exclusively hatchery chinook.

Depending on how you define “modern times,” many records have been set for salmon returns and harvests in the past 20 years.

I tend to think of modern times as since the 1970s, when Lower Granite Dam was completed and we started shifting from fishing for wild salmon to hatchery salmon.

The 70s through the 90s were lean years for salmon fishing and closed 14 of those 30 years. Total sport chinook harvest was 47,300 over those three decades, and the annual harvest never topped 10,000 fish.

Then things turned, and between 2000 and 2001 alone, sport anglers harvested more than 50,000 chinook, and anglers have caught more than 10,000 chinook nearly every year since.

Not only has spring chinook fishing been reliable, we usually have summer chinook fishing, and the fishable waters have been expanded so salmon fishing is available from Lewiston to Stanley. We’ve also had excellent returns of sockeye, fall chinook and coho, enough of the last two to support fishing seasons.

But the future isn’t as bright. Jack counts, which are a predictor of next year’s run, is second-lowest in a decade and a smaller-than-average chinook run is expected next year.

Salmon are notoriously unpredictable, but enjoy the salmon fishing now because signs are pointing to fewer chinook in the coming years.