Amid poor runs, Idaho officials propose limited steelhead harvest

Aug. 31—Idaho fisheries managers are proposing to reduce bag limits for steelhead but not close harvest seasons for the sea-run trout in the midst of a dismal run.

Last week the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife closed steelhead fishing on the Snake River from its mouth to Clarkston and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed stretches of the Deschutes, John Day, Walla Walla and Umatilla rivers to steelhead fishing. Both agencies said last week they were in talks with Idaho fisheries managers to make sure regulations are concurrent on stretches of the Snake River where the states share jurisdiction.

Through Sunday, steelhead counts at Bonneville Dam were the lowest ever recorded there. The records date back to 1938.

Despite the terrible numbers, the run looks strong enough to allow some harvest. Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for Fish and Game at Lewiston, said wild steelhead are above a critical threshold that would limit fishing even on hatchery fish, and hatcheries are projected to have a slim surplus.

"We believe that is enough to provide a fishing opportunity."

Idaho Fish and Game officials are proposing to cut the bag limit on a short section of the lower Clearwater River downstream of Memorial Bridge from two hatchery fish per day to one. That season is already open.

The agency is proposing to cut the bag limit from three hatchery steelhead per day to one per day on the Snake, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. The harvest season on those rivers opens Wednesday. Wild steelhead can't be harvested.

The agency did not propose a bag limit change on the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge, nor for its tributaries. The bag limit there is two hatchery steelhead per day, starting Oct. 15.

Through Sunday, 33,906 steelhead had been counted passing Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. The 10-year average for this time of year is 128,843.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will consider the bag limit reductions at a special meeting today. The commission is also considering a proposal to open a coho fishing season on the Snake River from the Idaho-Washington state line at Lewiston to Hells Canyon Dam. The proposal includes a daily bag limit of two adult coho and there would be no bag limit on coho jacks. The commission previously approved a coho season on the Clearwater River.

Barker may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.