Q&A: Unraveling mysteries of Chinook fishing on the South Salmon

South Fork of the Salmon River’s Chinook season can be fun and frustrating. The season opened June 18, and anglers play an anxious game trying to time their fishing trips with arrival of the salmon because after the fish arrive, the season can be short and sweet.

Here are some common questions about the South Fork’s Chinook season:

Q: How many fish are available this year?

A: Fish and Game expects about 1,100 Chinook available in the South Fork this summer, which could change based on how many fish cross Lower Granite Dam. The number is similar to last year’s harvest, when anglers took 1,084 hatchery adults and 127 hatchery jacks.

Q: How long will the season last?

A: That’s difficult to answer because it depends on daily catch rates and how many people are fishing. Last year, the season opened June 19 and closed July 3. The timing of the run, fishing effort and catch rates ultimately determine how long the harvest share lasts.



Fishing for Chinook salmon on the South Fork Salmon River will close at the end of fishing hours (10 p.m. Mountain Daylight time) Monday, July 4, 2016.

Weekly angler surveys indicate that sport anglers will have harvested the non-tribal share of hatchery Chinook salmon returning to the South Fork Salmon River by this time.

Chinook fishing continues on the Clearwater, Upper Salmon and Boise rivers.

Anglers are reminded that changes to the Chinook seasons and limits may occur on short notice. Anglers can stay current on the changes by visiting Fish and Game’s Salmon page at, or by calling the Salmon Hotline at 1-855-287-2702.


Q: How can a person find out how many Chinook have been caught so far?

A: Signs are posted near the entry points to the South Fork of the Salmon River. You also can get daily catch rates and harvest by visiting Fish and Game’s website at

Q: How does Fish and Game know how many fish are caught each day?

A: There’s a daily estimate based on two separate surveys. A Fish and Game crew surveys the river six times daily to get an average number of anglers for that day. Another crew interviews a portion of the anglers to find out how long they fished and how many fish they caught, including jacks and adults, hatchery fish and wild fish (with adipose fins intact).

Q: How can Fish and Game open the season if it doesn’t know how many Chinook are available?

A: Fisheries managers are constantly watching the number of fish coming through the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to track the run size. A portion of the returning Chinook have PIT tags implanted in them so managers can identify the specific fish returning to the South Fork and estimate the total number of fish. Some fish are being caught in the South Fork while other fish are crossing the dams, so harvest and the run size are closely watched, and the harvest share is adjusted during the season. Typically, by late June, fisheries managers have a good idea of how big the run is and the total available for sport harvest.

Q: Why does the fishing season seem to end right when fishing gets good?

A: The fishing season starts early as fish begin arriving in the fishery area. As the number of fish arriving increases, catch rates also increase. That means as fish arrive, they’re caught in high numbers, and when fishing is good, several hundred fish can get caught each day. The sport harvest share is typically between 1,000 and 3,000 fish, so it can get caught quickly when fishing is good.

Q: When should I go?

A: That’s another tough question. This year could be similar to last year, so use those dates as a general guide, but every year is a little different depending in the timing of the run. But a good rule of thumb is it’s better to be a little early than a little late, because late often means the season has already ended.

Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game