Steelhead

Orofino fishing guide Jim McCarthy relishes the moment after netting two Clearwater River steelhead hooked simultaneously in 2015.

Rich Landers/Spokesman Review.

Idaho will keep in place its special steelhead regulations on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and the lower Snake River north of Couse Creek for the spring season that starts Jan. 1.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted recently to extend the rules it adopted last fall when anglers were required to release all steelhead more than 28-inches long on the rivers and bag limits were reduced to two per day statewide. Washington is also keeping its rules in place that limit harvest on the Snake River north of Couse Creek to smaller steelhead only.

The rules were adopted in the face of an unusually poor return of larger B-run steelhead and designed to ensure enough of those fish return to hatcheries to meet annual spawning goals.

Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said hatcheries on the Clearwater easily met their goal of collecting 400 adult B-run steelhead in the fall, and continuing the regulations will ensure spring collection goals are met.

Idaho and Washington canceled fall steelhead harvest seasons last summer when it became clear the run would not meet preseason forecasts. Following a late surge by A-run fish, harvest seasons were restored but the special regulations were adopted.

DuPont said fishing effort last fall was about one third of what occurs during a normal run and harvest was off, as well.

“Since 2012, this is the lowest effort we have seen and the fewest number of fish kept and the fewest number of fish caught and released,” he said.

For example, during the fall season, the agency recorded about 30,000 hours of fishing by anglers on the Clearwater River between its mouth at Lewiston and the Orofino Bridge. Last year — a good one for steelhead fishing — anglers logged about 86,000 hours on the same stretch. In 2013, another poor year in which size limits were in place on the Clearwater River, steelhead anglers logged about 57,000 fishing hours.

Harvest was also down. DuPont said anglers harvested less than 300 steelhead on the lower Clearwater River last fall. That compares to nearly 3,800 last year and about 900 in 2013.

On the bright side, catch rates were high during much of the season. DuPont said that isn’t uncommon when many anglers choose to stay home during poor runs.

“Effort is way down, fish are less educated, plus bigger fish are released, they are not yarded out of the system,” he said. “It keeps catch rates up.”

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