The dismal steelhead return on the Clearwater River has prompted the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s commission to close the season.
On Friday, the commission voted to close the season when the number of returning adult hatchery fish was less than the number needed for broodstock, leaving no surplus for anglers.
The closure goes into effect at midnight Sunday and covers the river to the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork and along the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork tributaries, Fish and Game said in a news release. Also, the section of the Snake River downstream from the Couse Creek boat ramp to the Idaho-Washington state line will be closed to protect Clearwater-bound steelhead.
“Consistent with existing rules that prohibit targeting steelhead or salmon where there is no open season, anglers will not be allowed to fish for steelhead in the Clearwater River drainage after the fishery is closed, even catch-and-release,” the news release said.
A steelhead fishing season continues on the Salmon and Snake river basins.
Biologists estimate about 1,158 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River have passed Bonneville Dam through Sept. 18. The fish are tracked by tiny, electronic tags embedded in the body.
On average, 50 percent of the fish pass the Bonneville Dam headed for the Clearwater River by Sept. 18.
“Based on average run timing, we estimate that this will result in approximately 2,300 fish crossing Bonneville Dam by the end of the season,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fishery manager for Fish and Game. “The result for Idaho anglers is that only 1,700 hatchery steelhead destined for the Clearwater River will make it to Lower Granite Dam by the end of the season.”
Hebdon said the Clearwater River hatcheries will need 100 percent of the returning fish to meet its broodstock needs.
“Early in the fall, many of the steelhead in the Clearwater river basin are actually fish destined for the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers, which have pulled into the Clearwater until water temperatures in the Snake River start to cool off,” Hebdon said. “The main component of the Clearwater River steelhead run starts arriving in the middle of October.”