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Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Update 4/20/2022: Rapid River Run, Hells Canyon, and Clearwater River Fisheries

Hi everybody.

The spring Chinook Salmon season starts this Saturday (April 23, 2022), so I figured it was time to start providing my weekly spring Chinook Salmon fishery updates. In this case, I will be providing updates on the Rapid River Run fishery that occurs in the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers, the Hells Canyon fishery and the Clearwater River basin fishery.

My plans are to provide weekly updates on these spring Chinook Salmon fisheries from now until they close. These updates will provide information on what the run is looking like, what our harvest share is, how many fish have been harvested, where people are catching fish, and any changes in the rules or seasons that might have or will occur. I will try to get these updates out by at least Wednesday each week.  

For those of you who are unsure of what the seasons and limits are for this year, you can click on this link (Chinook seasons and rules) to get all the details on what river reaches are open, when the fisheries occur, and what the limits are. Because changes in the fishery can occur quickly, before going out, please be sure to check in on this website, contact IDFD staff, or follow the blogs I put out to get an up-to-date status on the different fisheries.

To start off, I figured it would be good to let all of you know what we are forecasting for this year’s spring and summer Chinook Salmon returns to Idaho. The adult forecasts we put together each year are based on the number of jacks that returned the previous year. You may recall that last year I mentioned that things were looking up as the jack return was better than we had seen the previous five years. As such, it should not be a surprise that this year we are forecasting the adult return to Idaho will be better than the previous five years – around 36,000 fish. To give you a feel for how this forecast compares to previous returns to Idaho, I have included a figure below that shows the number of hatchery adult spring and summer Chinook Salmon that have passed over Lower Granite Dam (last dam fish pass over before entering Idaho) since 1980. This figure does include some fish that are destined for Washington and Oregon, but typically over 90% of the fish passing over Lower Granite Dam are destined for places in Idaho. The general take-home message is we are forecasting that the return will be better than the previous five years which is good. However, don’t misinterpret this to mean that we will be satisfied with this return if the forecast is accurate. Goals we are striving to achieve are considerably higher than this forecast.

So, let’s talk about what the return is looking like now, and whether you should be getting your fishing gear organized so you can try to catch a salmon this weekend. To best understand what the run is looking like right now, we need to look at fish counts and Bonneville Dam. I have put the graph together below that compares this year’s return (red line) to last year’s return (solid black line) and the 10-year average (dotted black line). As you can see, we are still very early in the return so a lot can change from now. That being said, counts are tracking above what we observed last year and the total count of 2,929 (from March 15 to April 19) is higher than we have seen since 2016 for this same time period. This all aligns up with our forecast, so there is nothing alarming or exciting to point out. I will mention that in late March we observed a little surge of adult and jack spring Chinook Salmon passing over Bonneville Dam that got us really excited. If counts had continued to build from there, we would have been in for a really good return. Unfortunately, counts dropped back down. We aren’t sure what caused this early surge, but some speculate it was related to that short warm spell we experienced back then.

Counts are Lower Granite Dam show that 56 adult spring Chinook have passed up through April 19. That certainly is not many fish to get excited about. However, it seems that every year a few anglers head out to fish around Lewiston on opening weekend, and occasionally somebody catches a fish. The weather is supposed to be good this weekend, so it might not be a bad idea to spend some time on the water to work out all the kinks in your gear.

After returns pick up, I will provide a table in my updates that shows how many fish we are projecting will return to different areas in Idaho based on PIT tag detections at the dams. This information will not only indicate areas you may want to fish, but we also use it to set our harvest shares.

As we start documenting harvest in our creel surveys, I will also include tables in my updates that will show where and how many fish we estimate have been caught. Not only will these tables show where the fishing is good, but it also will give you a feel for how long a river reach will remain open before it achieves is harvest goal. 

That is all I have for you until next week’s update.  I hope the rest of your week goes well.