A-run steelies piece together a late rally

Idaho Fish and Game has limited steelhead fishing to catch and release only this year.

The return of A-run steelhead to the Columbia River basin is still dismal but the sea-run trout made a late push in the past several days that prompted fisheries managers to upgrade their run forecast.

State, tribal and federal fisheries managers now expect 97,100 A-run steelhead to return at least as far as Bonneville Dam. The preseason forecast called for 112,100, a poor number compared to recent years and the long-term average. But the run started with a sputter and the forecast was downgraded to just 54,000 on Aug. 14.

In response, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials canceled the harvest season for steelhead in all Idaho rivers but will allow catch-and-release fishing. The move is designed to ensure enough steelhead return to hatcheries to meet annual spawning goals.

Washington and Oregon also closed steelhead harvest on the Snake River but both states will allow limited harvest in Snake River tributaries. Bag limits on the Grande Ronde, Tucannon and Touchet rivers in Washington were slashed from two fish per day to just one. In Oregon, anglers will also be allowed to keep one steelhead per day on the Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers. The season opens today.

Jeremy Trump, district fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Dayton, said PIT tag detections at Bonneville Dam indicate there will be enough steelhead returning to hatcheries on Snake River tributaries to allow harvest. A percentage of all hatchery fish are implanted with the tags as juveniles, allowing fish managers to track run strength to individual hatcheries when they return from the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s looking like we should be OK to allow some harvest in our tributaries but we are trying to be sensitive to Idaho’s needs,” Trump said. “They went to catch-and-release and we try to keep rules the same on the main stem (Snake River).”

Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said he and others at the department are watching the run and will consider allowing harvest in some areas if the trend continues and there is good evidence that individual Idaho hatcheries will meet their spawning goals. But the numbers are not yet strong enough for that to be considered.

“We are still a long ways from any previous years so we don’t want to make any rash decisions.”