Friday, March 21, 2008

Steelhead counts indicate good fishing

Nearly 150,000 steelhead have crossed Lower Granite Dam since June 1, 2007

Express Staff Writer

Steelhead anglers crowd along the banks of the main stem of the Salmon River near Stanley. Official fish counts conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers suggest Idaho could be in for a good steelhead season this spring. Photo by Mountain Express

While recent interviews with anglers by Idaho Department of Fish and Game personnel indicate steelhead fishing in the uppermost portions of the Salmon River remains slow for now, that will likely change as the waters begin to warm.

Based on official fish counts taken at southeast Washington's Lower Granite Dam, the last of the four lower Snake River dams anadromous fish must cross on their way to Idaho, fishing is expected to be good this year. As of March 11, a total of 149,847 steelhead had crossed the dam, information provided on the Fish and Game Web site indicates.

That compares to a figure of 139,152 steelhead that had crossed the dam by the same date last year.

The majority of steelhead crossing the dam are headed for Idaho streams, the agency says.

Fish and Game's information on numbers of steelhead crossing the Columbia and Snake River dams is taken from data posted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and is updated weekly during the counting season.

The 2007-2008 steelhead counting season at Lower Granite Dam began last year on June 1 and will continue through May 31, 2008. The federal agency suspends steelhead counting on the dams between Dec. 16 and March 1.

According to the Corps of Engineers' counts from the dam from the past 10 years, an average of 148,193 steelhead cross the dam on their way to Idaho during the entire counting season from June 1 through May 31. That means this season's count of 149,847 steelhead has already surpassed that figure with more than two months left in the counting season.

During the past 10 years, the 2001-2002 counting season saw the most steelhead, with 269,130 of the silvery fish crossing the dam. The 1998-1999 season saw the fewest, with just 70,721 steelhead crossing during the entire season.

Steelhead are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean and return to fresh water. For Idaho residents, fishing for these popular sport fish requires both a $25.75 resident fishing license as well as a $12.75 steelhead permit.

Locally, outfitters seem to have high expectations for this year's steelhead run.

On its Web site, Stanley-based Sawtooth Fishing Guides reports that with midday water temperatures on the Salmon River hovering around 35 to 38 degrees, many steelhead may be waiting to enter the upper part of the main Salmon River above its confluence with the East Fork.

However, the official fish counts suggest a large number of fish may begin to arrive once temperatures increase.

"This means we should have some excellent steelhead fishing in late March and all of April," the Sawtooth Fishing Guides' fishing report states.

In anticipation of a busy steelhead fishing season on the upper Salmon, officials with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area have opened four campgrounds along the river. Salmon River, Mormon Bend, Whiskey Flats and Holman Creek campgrounds are downriver from Stanley in close proximity to popular fishing areas.

The campgrounds will be available to the public starting Saturday, March 22.

SNRA acting Deputy Ranger Ann Frost is stressing the need for anglers to use the campgrounds rather than camping along state Highway 75.

"Camp trailers in turnouts along the narrow, twisty Salmon River road create considerable safety hazards due to limited visibility, especially in the vicinity of the Yankee Fork confluence," Frost said.

While outhouses will be open, anglers must carry all garbage to centrally located dumpsters at Sunbeam Dam, 13 miles downstream from Stanley on Highway 75, or the scenic byways rest area off the highway just south of Stanley. Because of the large snowpack, campground tables and fire rings remain buried under snow, so anglers are being asked to refrain from building fires outside of designated fire rings to prevent damage.

For more information on campground openings, call Erica Ellison at the Stanley Ranger Station at (208) 774-3000.

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