Idaho lifts steelhead size restrictions on Snake, Clearwater rivers

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Fsh ladder

Steelhead and salmon make their way up the Snake River through the viewing window at Lower Granite Dam. 

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently lifted steelhead size restrictions on the Clearwater and Snake rivers, allowing anglers to keep B-run fish.

The rule change applies to the Snake River downstream of Couse Creek, the Clearwater River and its South and Middle Forks. Those areas were closed to fishing in the fall because of dismally low steelhead numbers. They reopened in January but were under special regulations that required anglers to release all steelhead longer than 28 inches. The size rule was designed to make sure enough of the larger B-run steelhead returned to hatcheries to meet spawning goals, referred to as broodstock.

“We are now confident that we can allow anglers to harvest all sizes of steelhead and still meet broodstock goals for all hatchery programs dependent on Dworshak hatchery stock,” Clearwater regional fisheries manager Joe Dupont said.

That was anything but assured last fall, when steelhead numbers were down for the third straight year and lower than has been recorded in 40 years. In response, both the state and Nez Perce Tribe canceled all steelhead fishing on the Clearwater and lower Snake rivers. Washington also closed steelhead fishing on the lower Snake River and, along with Oregon, implemented rolling closures on the Columbia River designed to protect B-run steelhead bound for Idaho.

The tribe led efforts to intercept Dworshak hatchery-bound steelhead at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Those fish were then trucked to the hatchery. The tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also operated a trap at Dworshak hatchery last fall. Idaho Fish and Game held its annual program that recruits anglers to catch steelhead from the South Fork of the Clearwater River to be used for spawning.

“We will continue to operate the angler brood program because we still need to collect some more fish to meet our goals, and expect to reach the goal as soon as catch rates on the South Fork Clearwater River are typically highest in mid- to late-March,” DuPont said.

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