F&G Commission approves modified steelhead bag limits for Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake Rivers

During their meeting on Aug. 20, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved modifications to the steelhead season in the Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake Rivers for the fall 2020 season, reducing the bag and possession limits to 2 and 6 fish, respectively.

Other than the modifications to the bag and possession limits, Anadromous Fisheries Manager Lance Hebdon said that no additional changes to fall 2020 steelhead seasons would be needed at this time.

Fisheries managers proposed the modifications in light of forecasted steelhead returns to Idaho that are well below the 10-year average.

“We need to make it clear to steelhead anglers that this is not a strong run by any measure.  However, it is an improvement over the last couple years and will provide some harvest opportunity,” Hebdon said. “We expect steelhead returns to hatchery trap locations to meet broodstock needs in the Salmon and Snake rivers.”

The number of hatchery-origin fish returning to these trap locations is crucial, because these traps are where Fish and Game collects broodstock for the majority of the Salmon and Snake rivers hatchery steelhead programs in Idaho.

“We are aiming to be on the conservative side with these limit adjustments, to ensure that we have a little bit of breathing room to meet our broodstock needs,” Hebdon said. “But because we’ve now had some years of experience with managing sport fisheries during low steelhead returns, we have a good understanding of what it takes to ensure enough fish reach our trap facilities. This means we don’t have to be quite as conservative as we had been in the past when more aggressive restrictions were implemented.”

Hebdon added that while the hatchery steelhead return to the Snake and Salmon rivers is forecasted to be one of the lowest in the last two decades, returns of wild-origin steelhead are a bright spot. Fisheries managers are forecasting that around 17,000 wild-origin fish will pass over Lower Granite Dam this year, which would be the highest number since 2016.

“This run is still, overall, going to be a low return,” Hebdon said. “But the bump in the wild steelhead returns is definitely good news.”

Fisheries managers will continue to monitor Clearwater River returns

Steelhead returning to the Clearwater River typically arrive later than those returning to the Salmon and Snake rivers. Hebdon told the commission that Clearwater-bound steelhead are just starting to arrive at Bonneville Dam, and it’s too early for fisheries managers to make any predictions for the fishery at this stage. Hebdon said that fisheries staff would update the commission at a later date, when they have a better idea of what those returns are looking like.

For a more in-depth look at the 2020 the steelhead run, check out this blog post from Clearwater Region Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont.

More information on steelhead fishing, including season dates, is available on Pages 41-46 of the 2019-21 Idaho Fishing Seasons and Rules Brochure, and on the Steelhead Seasons and Rules page on Fish and Game’s website.

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Marika Dobos