More steelhead on the way

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Photo courtesy of IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME Steelhead have started to show up at Columbia River’s Bonneville dam on their way to Idaho waters making biologists wonder if the decision made earlier this month to close the season to harvest was premature.

By RALPH BARTHOLDT

Staff Writer

The steelhead that are starting to show up at Bonneville Dam are making anglers and biologists antsy.

After closing the harvest season earlier this month because of a lack of fish, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists may take a second look at how to manage this year’s Idaho steelhead season. That means the harvest season could open afterall.

For now, however, it’s too early to tell, said Roger Phillips, IDFG spokesperson.

“Things are in flux,” Phillips said. “We don’t know exactly what will happen.”

The Bonneville Dam is just the first obstacle for steelhead returning to Idaho. Fish must cross seven more dams before finning their way across the Washington-Idaho border at Clarkston and into the Clearwater or Snake rivers inside the Gem State.

The 74,000 fish that have been counted at Bonneville surprised biologists who three weeks ago said a dismal number of returning fish marked the lowest number in 50 years. Because of a poor run last year, expectations were higher for this fall. Fisheries managers estimated 112,100 A-run steelhead, fish that spend one year in the ocean, would pass over the Bonneville Dam.

After poor counts earlier this month, however, the number was downgraded to an expected 54,000 fish, and the Idaho harvest season was closed.

But since then, fish are streaming over in numbers between 2,000 and 4,500 per day and all eyes — including anglers’ — are on the dam counts.

The inbound fish are coming much later than usual.

“Everyone is scratching their heads,” Phillips said. “What does this mean for the big picture?”

Fisheries managers will reconvene Sept. 5 when they could reverse their earlier decision to close the harvest.

“We’re weighing everything right now,” Phillips said. “It’s more a matter of waiting to see what we’ll end up with.”

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