For the first time in 27 years, anglers have rushed to the upper Salmon River to take advantage of a chinook salmon season announced last Friday by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
But the salmon apparently have their own ideas about getting hooked on the somewhat historic event.
By Thursday morning, a total of 666 anglers had caught only 38 chinook—21 hatchery and 17 wild—since the season opened Saturday, July 9. Of the hatchery fish landed this season, 14 have been harvested, or kept. Only hatchery fish—marked by a clipped adipose fin—can be harvested. All other salmon must be returned to the water immediately.
"Certainly the catch has been relatively slow, and the weather is not cooperating," said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. "The water temperatures are climbing more rapidly, and that may be affecting the catch."
The stretch of the upper Salmon River open to fishing runs from the mouth of the Pahsimeroi River at Ellis to the Iron Creek Bridge 17 miles downstream.
The season was announced unexpectedly Friday, July 8, and will last until the quota of harvested salmon is reached—somewhere between 150-450 fish—or the first week of August, when it must close to accommodate spawning.
Fish and Game was able to open the season this year—the first since 1978—for two reasons: there was a surplus of chinook returning to the Pahsimeroi hatchery; and Fish and Game was granted a federal permit.
According to Kiefer, filing for a permit is an annual battle.
"We literally started working on it last year," Kiefer said. "Every permit application is different. It requires new information and it's very lengthy."
The Pahsimeroi hatchery also experienced a surplus of chinook in 2004, but Fish and Game couldn't secure a permit.
"Last year, the federal folks were unable to get all of the paperwork done," Kiefer said.
The game of guessing how many salmon will return on a given year is difficult, as this roller-coaster season has shown.
In March, Fish and Game was predicting large returns. By May, they realized returns would actually be at about 30 percent of initial projections. But late last week, the Pahsimeroi hatchery was apparently nearing capacity, and with a permit in hand, the Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to open a season.
Kiefer said the state's surplus for chinook salmon this season appears to be about 300 fish. Earlier estimates were as high as 900. Those statewide figures are split with indigenous tribes and determine harvest limits.
Salmon season rules
Anglers can not keep more than one salmon per day, and are limited to three in possession, 10 for the season.
Fishing hours begin a half hour before sunrise each day and end at 7 p.m. All fish kept must be taken to a check station by 8:30 p.m. the day they are caught. Check stations are set up approximately five miles upstream and downstream from the fishing boundaries.
Barbless hooks measuring no more than 5/8 inch from the tip to the shank are required.