Category Archives: Trout and Salmon

Gila Trout

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek
Devastating fire cleared path for rare trout’s return

Craig Springer, USFWS
from The Fishing Wire

Wear and tear on boot soles and a helicopter—that’s what it took to get 1,033 Gila trout safely placed in the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) working with its partner agencies, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service, released two age classes of Gila trout into Mineral Creek ranging up to a foot long. The rare yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring which provides a safeguard for their survival in the wild. The captive fish also purposely face rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These 1,033 trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long-line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked in several miles in the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek.

Mineral Creek is tributary to the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico. Streams in this watershed harbor one of five known relict genetic lineages of Gila trout. The species lives only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, an area of conservation emphasis for the Service. This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, noted Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, based in Albuquerque. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” said Dean. “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and multiple year classes swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout following the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down its course, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek. With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek Canyon is steep to be sure. It’s certainly among the more remote and more difficult Gila trout habitats to reach, but it’s not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn. Another 8,621 Gila trout have been placed in several other waters that advance the species’ recovery and should entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico.

Willow Creek received 3,039 Gila trout; Gilita Creek, 1,022; Sapillo Creek, 2,270; and West Fork Gila River, 2,290. These waters are readily accessible and won’t require shedding lots of boot tread to reach them as is the case with Mineral Creek. These trout—shards of sunshine—lie in dark water behind boulders and in the scour pools beneath log jams, waiting for bugs to come drifting by. They also wait for what anglers may throw their way. Anglers should visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website to learn more about fishing regulations, which requires a free Gila trout permit.

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and through conservation measures it was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years.

To learn more visit www.fws.gov/southwest

Craig Springer, External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Southwest Region

How Do Beavers Engineer Better Fish Habitat?

Oregon beavers engineer better fish habitat, more fish

After four years, scientists recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead

Contributed by Michael Milstein
from The Fishing Wire

An ecological experiment that employed beavers to restore streams in Central Oregon found that the streams produced nearly twice as many juvenile steelhead within a few years after the beavers went to work.

While beavers’ natural engineering abilities are well-known, the project on Oregon’s Bridge Creek is the first to show that their reengineering of streams can yield such pronounced improvements in fish populations. The results suggest that, under the right conditions, beavers can restore the health of streams and their fish, faster and likely at lower cost than traditional river restoration that relies on expensive heavy equipment.

“What was most surprising was how fast we saw changes, and how fast the fish responded,” said Chris Jordan, a fisheries ecologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the research. “Beavers are themselves agents of change and we can see in this case how those changes cascade across the landscape.”

The results of the research on Bridge Creek, a tributary of the John Day River, were published in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports by a team of scientists from Eco Logical Research Inc., Utah State University, NOAA Fisheries, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and South Fork Research. The research was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and NOAA Fisheries.

Large numbers of beavers once coexisted with salmon and steelhead across the Northwest until they were trapped nearly to extinction in many areas. Streams such as Bridge Creek also deteriorated under pressure from grazing and other activities. Many streams became incised, cutting trench-like into the ground. The falling water table left streamside vegetation stranded on high terraces, where its roots could no longer access water.

Such streams provide poor fish habitat. Beavers also struggled because a lack of large wood left them to construct dams with small willows easily washed out by high flows.

“We used restoration as a large scale manipulation to a watershed to determine if and how restoration can improve fish habitat,” said Nick Bouwes, owner of Utah-based Eco Logical Research Inc. and lead author of the study. “We also used a very cheap approach which mainly relied on beavers doing most of the heavy lifting for us.”

In 2009 scientists tested what would happen if beavers got a foothold. The scientists jump-started the beavers’ work by sinking posts (called beaver-dam analogs, or BDAs) into the streambed of Bridge Creek to help the animals build and anchor their dams against the current. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management reduced grazing in wetland areas along the creek, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the watershed to beaver trapping.

Quickly, beavers began building dams using the BDAs throughout Bridge Creek. By 2013 beavers had built 171 dams with help from the BDAs or naturally, eight times more dams than the average of the few years before scientists installed the BDAs.

But the real change was in the stream. Beaver dams anchored to the BDAs raised the water level, creating large pools where sediment was deposited. Soon the trenches began filling in, and water spread out onto the adjacent floodplain, giving rise to streamside vegetation and creating side channels and backwaters. Water temperatures slightly cooled in stretches with beaver dams compared to those without.

“We went from a place where the beavers couldn’t even manage to build dams, to a place where the beavers control the landscape,” Jordan said. “We got it started, but the beavers did the work.”

The changes improved fish habitat, with a deeper more complex stream channel. Over seven years the scientists tagged 35,867 fish with tiny electronic tags to track their movements and survival.

They found that beaver ponds held more juvenile steelhead than adjacent upstream areas. Plus, the ponds created more wetland habitat. Overall in Bridge Creek fish density increased and juvenile steelhead survival jumped 52 percent compared to a control watershed where scientists had not installed BDAs. Only four years after scientists first installed the first BDAs in Bridge Creek, they recorded a 175 percent increase in juvenile steelhead production compared to the control watershed.

While the quality of habitat improved, the quantity of habitat also increased as stream channels and wetlands expanded into the floodplain, Jordan said.

“It’s hard to point to any one thing as the most important change,” Jordan said. “It’s all of the changes that makes better quality habitat, and makes more habitat too.”

“Because of the large scale nature of the experiment and the intense monitoring, this study represents one of the few examples of detecting benefits of restoration to a fish population- and perhaps the first to show beavers as the restoration agent to cause such a response,” Bouwes said.

More ambitious efforts to use beavers as agents of restoration are now underway in other parts of the Columbia Basin. An interagency team of scientists has also developed the Beaver Restoration Guidebook to assist landowners and others interested in recruiting beavers as natural engineers.

Additional Information:
NWFSC: Working with beaver to restore salmon habitat

Why Is There A Complete Closure of Yellowstone River?

Montana Imposes Complete Closure of Yellowstone River Due to Fish Disease
from The Fishing Wire

An unprecedented fish kill has brought complete closure of miles of one of America’s greatest cold water fisheries.

(Bozeman, Mont.)—Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is implementing an immediate closure of all water-based recreation (fishing, wading, floating, tubing, boating, etc.) on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries from Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary at Gardiner to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. This significant action on the part of the Department is in response to the ongoing and unprecedented fish kill on the Yellowstone. This action is necessary to protect the fishery and the economy it sustains. The closure will also help limit the spread of the parasite to adjacent rivers through boats, tubes, waders and other human contact and minimize further mortality in all fish species.

In the past week, FWP has documented over 2,000 dead Mountain Whitefish on some affected stretches of the Yellowstone. With that, FWP estimates the total impact to Mountain Whitefish in the Yellowstone to be in the tens of thousands. FWP has also recently received reports of the kill beginning to affect some Rainbow and Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.

Test results from samples sent to the U.S. and Wildlife Service Fish Health Center in Bozeman show the catalyst for this fish kill to be Proliferative Kidney Disease – one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. The disease, caused by a microscopic parasite, is known to occur in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It has been documented previously in only two isolated locations in Montana over the past 20 years. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In trout, research has shown this disease to have the potential to cause 20 to 100 percent mortality. The parasite does not pose a risk to humans.

The effect of the disease on Yellowstone’s fish populations is exacerbated by other stressors like near record low flows, consistent high temperatures, and the disturbance caused by recreational activities.

FWP Director Jeff Hagener says in coming to the decision, the Department had to weigh the totality of the circumstances and risk to the fishery.

“We recognize that this decision will have a significant impact on many people. However, we must act to protect this public resource for present and future generations,” said Hagener.

“A threat to the health of Montana’s fish populations is a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains,” said Gov. Steve Bullock, noting that Montana’s outdoor recreation economy is responsible for more than 64,000 Montana jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity. “We must be guided by science. Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”

FWP will continue to monitor the river and will lift the closure when stream conditions such as flow and temperature improve and fish mortality ceases.

In addition to the closure on the Yellowstone, FWP is asking for the public’s assistance in preventing the spread of this parasite by properly cleaning (CLEAN.DRAIN.DRY) all equipment prior to moving between waterbodies (i.e., boats, waders, trailers). FWP has also set up two Aquatic Invasive Species decontamination stations set up along I-90 near the affected area in an effort to help reduce the chance of this parasite moving to other rivers.

Lake Trout on Lake Michigan

Tips for Targeting Lake Trout on Lake Michigan

By Buzz Ramsey
from The Fishing Wire

It’s no secret that lake troutt have become the most numerous fish in Lake Michigan and you cannot consistently win tournaments without spending most of your tournament and pre-tournament days targeting them.

Although lake trout can position themselves throughout the water column, for example, in mid-level temperature layers where the bait and other sport fish like salmon are found, they spend a large portion of their time on or near the bottom of the lake. This tendency to hug the bottom is especially true during the middle of the day when the sun is bright.

In addition to being drawn to investigate flashers and lures trolled in the bottom-hugging zone lake trout prefer, these fish will positively respond to the stirring up of bottom sediments. It seems the more you can stir up the bottom by occasionally dragging (it’s really more like skipping) your lures and/or occasionally bouncing your downrigger ball on bottom the more lake trout you will catch.

Some avid trollers targeting lakers will extend a short length (18-to-24 inches) of chain or wire from their downrigger ball to help draw these bottom-hugging fish into their gear. The reason adding a short length of chain, such that it will scratch bottom occasionally, is used is that it will accomplish the goal of stirring up bottom sediment without jeopardizing the loss of your downrigger weight. Keep in mind this technique is best used when trolling over flat bottoms and not where bottom structure makes just skipping the bottom difficult or impossible.

Another method used to stir up bottom sediment is to employ a triangular shaped flasher, like an 8 or 10 inch Fish Flash, which will stir up bottom sediment without hanging up or tripping from your downrigger release. Try running near bottom, occasionally touching sandy bottoms, in combination with a 48-to-60 inch leader and spoon, spinner, Spin-N-Glo or spinning bait. You want your gear running fairly close, ten (10) feet behind the downrigger ball, so it will be in or near the sediment cloud.

An all-time-favorite trolling combination used by anglers wanting to target lake trout is to rig a size 2, 4, or 6 Spin-N-Glo in combination with a size 0 or 1 dodger. The dodger’s side-to-side swaying motion adds additional action to the already lively Spin-N-Glo and is the go-to combination for many charter operators and avid anglers. Most rig their Spin-N-Glo 24-to-30 inches behind their dodger. It’s important to place a few plastic beads between your Spin-N-Glo and hook so this lure will spin freely.

Some of the more productive Spin-N-Glo colors for lake trout are Luminous Spot, Stop N Go, Luminous Green, California Watermelon, and Red Hot Tiger. These finishes are now available with glow-in-the-dark wings. So, in addition to the phosphorescent bodies the wings also glow. To see them visit www.yakimabait.com or ask your local dealer.

And it’s not just dodgers that are used in combination with Spin-N-Glo. Take last year’s Salmon-A-Rama “Yakima Bait Rewards Program” winner who trolled a Spin-N-Glo in combination with Fish Flash to take home real money – it could be you this year.

Managing Chinook Seasons in Idaho

Managing Chinook Seasons Is A Constant Work In Progress

By Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish and Game public information specialist
from The Fishing Wire

Idaho Chinook

Idaho Chinook

Spring Chinook fishing opens April 23, and anglers often wonder how many salmon there will be and how long the season will last. It’s a challenging question to answer because unlike most Idaho fisheries, salmon seasons are dependent on how many fish return from the ocean each year.

That number varies wildly from year to year, and Fish and Game must balance the wants of anglers with ensuring enough Chinook are available to keep hatcheries operating, protect wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, and abide by agreements with other states and tribes to share the harvest of hatchery Chinook.

It’s a tricky mix of management that can complicate the answer for folks who just want to know how long salmon season will last.

The good news

Idaho has had an unprecedented run of chinook fishing seasons. This year will be the 16th straight year Fish and Game has provided a season, which is the longest unbroken streak dating back to 1954. Before then, salmon fishing was largely unregulated.

Chinook fishing kicks off with the spring run, and there’s fishing in the Snake River, Clearwater River and Salmon River and several tributaries. Over the last 20 years, spring chinook runs have averaged 54,160 fish annually. The previous 20 years (1976-95), the spring runs averaged 17,646, and fishing seasons were sporadic and often short-lived.

Last year, about 95,300 hatchery chinook crossed Lower Granite Dam about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston. Non-tribal anglers in Idaho harvested 22,075 of them during the spring and summer seasons.

The forecast for this year is 66,100 hatchery fish to cross Lower Granite, which means about 24,000 will be available for sport anglers to harvest. But biologists won’t know how exactly how many can be harvested until fish start reaching Idaho, and the run has just started.

Forecasting the season

Each winter, Fish and Game biologists predict the upcoming run based on the return of jacks from the previous year. Young salmon, known as smolts, migrate to the ocean each spring at about two years old. Those smolts grow in the ocean and return over the next three years.

Some chinook return to rivers after spending only a year in the ocean. They’re known as “jacks” because they’re almost all males, and younger than most other salmon returning. Most chinook that return to Idaho spend two years in the ocean, so the number of jacks is an indicator of how many “two-ocean” chinook will return the following year.

Finally, a small percentage returns after three years in the ocean, and on rare occasions, four years.

Biologists use last year’s jack salmon return to forecast the size of this year’s run, and that information allows Fish and Game to set a salmon season before the first Chinook arrives in Idaho.

Biologists also monitor the run as fish move past fish counters at the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and they use fish embedded with tiny electronic tags known as PIT tags to determine where the fish are headed.

“We’re able to make the forecast of fish returning to each hatchery or river section based on PIT-tagged fish,” Fish and Game’s anadromous fish manager Pete Hassemer said.

Spring run

Chinook start crossing Lower Granite Dam in April, but the peak usually hits in May. That’s when Fish and Game closely watches the number of fish arriving in Idaho, where they’re heading, and how many fish anglers are catching.

Since the seasons and limits were based on a forecast, it’s important to track the actual return and harvest by anglers. Small daily bag limits help keep the harvest within quotas and spread the fishery over a larger area and ensure enough fish are available for anglers farther upstream.

“We’re catching fish in the early part of the run without knowing exactly how many fish are coming back,” Hassemer said. “Fishing can be really good, and there’s a limited number of fish available to anglers, so they can catch those fairly quickly.”

How’s fishing?

It’s more than a curious question – it’s how Fish and Game determines how many fish are caught each day and how long the season lasts. Fish and Game personnel count anglers and interview them throughout the fishery to see how many fish they’re catching.

“Our creel program has been designed to ensure we conduct enough angler counts and interview enough anglers to have a good understanding of how many fish are caught each day,” Hassemer said.

Fish and Game communicates weekly with the other states, tribes and federal agencies during the season to share information. By Tuesday of each week, biologists have a good idea if there are enough fish remaining to sustain fishing through the following weekend.

Fish and Game posts updated information on its web page so anglers can see how many have been caught. They can find that information at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ by looking the under “Chinook Salmon” under the Fishing tab. (Direct link: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/fish/?getPage=114).

The goal is to provide good information for anglers so they have a better understanding where fish are being caught, how good the fishing is, and when closures might occur.

“We generally avoid closing on Friday because we want to give anglers as much opportunity as we can,” he said.

Different rivers, different fisheries

But anglers should remember that their portion of the Chinook return can be caught very quickly, especially when fishing is good and the harvest share is modest.

That’s often the case during popular river stretches. On the Lower Clearwater River, the season typically lasts about 15 days after the first fish arrive. On the South Fork of the Salmon River, the harvest share can be caught within a few days of the peak run arriving.

“Once fish start arriving in the smaller streams and the water is low and clear, anglers are quite successful,” Hassemer said.

Fishing seasons on the Lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers tend to last longer and are a little more predictable.

Snowpack and spring run-off influence the timing of the runs. Spring chinook tend to follow peak spring run-off, so when the Salmon River starts receding, usually in late May, early June, it’s time to go salmon fishing.

Biologists also carefully watch tag data to ensure fish bound for hatcheries in the Upper Salmon aren’t overharvested lower in the river system. Long-term data shows about 90 percent of the chinook harvested in the Salmon River around Riggins and White Bird are bound for the Rapid River Hatchery.

A moving target

Considering forecasts rarely predict the exact number of fish, biologists keep a watchful eye on the actual return. Sometimes late-returning fish will allow them to keep the season open a little longer. Other times, fewer fish than expected return, and the season is cut short.

But Fish and Game’s goal is to ensure anglers get an equitable share of the available harvest.

“We really try to make sure we don’t close too early and have anglers off the water when they could be fishing for these prized salmon,” Hassemer said.

High-Water Trout on the White River

River Rigging for High-Water Trout on the White River

White River Trout

White River Trout

Winter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using.

by Jeff Samsel

The flooded signs at the Wildcat Shoals access made it immediately clear that this trip to Arkansas’ White River would be unlike any other I had experienced. With all eight turbines at Bull Shoals Dam running around the clock and 10 floodgates open, the river was rocking, to say the least.

Winter is an outstanding time to catch big trout from the White River, and high water normally lends itself to casting lures like the Rebel Tracdown Minnows that we would be using. When you’re talking about floodwaters, though, the fish tend to hold tight to the bottom in any eddy they can find, and they won’t move very far to feed. Even with sinking lures, traditional casting strategies simply don’t get the lures down enough in the strong current.

Guides on this highly dynamic tailwater must continually adjust for conditions, and long-time guide Donald Cranor figured out exactly how to cope with the excessive water. For three days our group drifted over gravel bars and along the edges of grasslines and pulled Tracdown Minnows on “river rigs,” which kept the lures swimming just off the bottom and among the fish.

“That’s where the trout are when the water is like this, so that’s where you want your lure,” Cranor said.

A river rig is essentially a three-way rig, pegged with a 3/8-ounce bell sinker. White River guides routinely use this rig to drift with bait, but Cranor proved that it also works exceptionally well for delivering a minnow-style lure just off the bottom. Guides use an Albright knot to attach a leader to the main line so one end drops about a foot to the weight, and the other end, which is about 3 feet long, leads to the bait or lure. A small three-way swivel and two sections of leader could also be used.

We had excellent success with 2 ½- and 3 ½-inch Tracdown Minnows, including slender-profiled Tracdown Ghost Minnows, mostly in trout color patterns and in blue back/orange belly.

The TD47 Tracdown Ghost Minnow comes with barbless hooks, so it was the main tool we used for fishing a highly productive special regulations area, where only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. A good strategy, if an angler wants to spend some time in the special regs area and some time in general waters, is to have two rods set up with river rigs and a barbless Tracdown Ghost Minnow on one and a regular Tracdown Minnow on the other.

Cranor suggests a simple presentation for dragging a minnow lure on a river rig. “You can work it a little with tugs, just to make the lure flash, but often the best thing to do is just hold the rod still let the lure do the work,” he said.

As the White River gradually settles, casting the same Tracdown Minnows to the shore and working them with jerks and pauses will be extremely effective for brown and rainbow trout.

The Bull Shoals tailwater offers approximately 100 miles of trout water and year ’round action, with two distinctive trout fisheries. Rainbows are managed as a put-and-take fishery, with year-round stockings of nearly 1.5 million fish annually.

Brown trout enjoy excellent reproduction, and the population is managed as a trophy fishery. The daily limit is one fish, with a minimum size of 24 inches, and anglers mostly release trophy browns that would be legal to keep. Spawning areas are also protected with special regulations, including a total seasonal closure of the most important spawning area, immediately below Bull Shoals Dam.

Fishing with minnow-style lures produces excellent numbers of brown trout measuring from the mid-teens to low 20s, and any fish that grabs a lure in the White River could turn out to be a brown trout that weighs 10 or 20 pounds (or much larger).

Planning Information:

Guided Fishing, Cranor’s Guide Service – www.whiterivertroutfishing.net
Riverside Lodging, Cedarwood Lodge – www.cedarwoodslodge.com
Rebel Lures, www.rebellures.com

Idaho Steelhead and Salmon are Heavyweights

Big Idaho Steelhead

Big Idaho Steelhead

Steelhead and Salmon are Idaho’s Heavyweights

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature comes to us courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game. We’d all like to skip “Super Tuesday” and go fishing for super salmon.
from The Fishing Wire

Want to catch big fish? Of course you do, and if you want to consistently catch them, steelhead and salmon are your best bets. Let’s look at the tape, scale and ticker.

The average Idaho rainbow trout is around 10-14 inches and weighs about a pound. A trophy- size rainbow is about 20 inches and weighs in the 4-pound range. A 30-inch rainbow is probably a once-per-lifetime fish that weighs in the 10 to 15-pound range, although several northern Idaho lakes consistently grow trout that large and larger.

Now let’s look at steelhead. Steelhead are rainbow trout that leave Idaho in the spring as juveniles known as “smolts” and migrate to the ocean, then spend about a year or two there before returning as adults much larger than trout.

The average-sized “A” run steelhead is between 23 and 26 inches and weighs 4 to 6 pounds. “A” run steelhead are most common in the Snake and Salmon rivers. Their larger cousins, the “B” run steelhead, are found mostly in the Clearwater River system, although some are also in the Salmon and Snake rivers. The fish have a different life history. “B” run fish spend two or three years in the ocean and return much larger, typically 31 to 34 inches and 10 to 13 pounds, but some are upwards of 20 pounds.

Big fish, big numbers

Over the last five years, an average of about 141,000 steelhead have returned to Idaho annually.

Adult steelhead start returning to Idaho in late summer and “winter over” in rivers before making their push to the upper tributaries to spawn in late winter and early spring. That gives anglers roughly seven months to fish for them, and the most popular times are during October and March.

Chinook salmon are even larger than steelhead. They’re typically in the 12 to 15-pound range, but chinook over 20 pounds are common. Over the last five years, chinook returns to Idaho have averaged about 134,000 fish. The first chinook typically return to Idaho late March and early April and are segregated into three categories: spring, summer and fall runs.

So let’s do some quick math. In recent years, Idaho got about 275,000 steelhead and chinook annually, although run sizes vary from year to year. Steelhead and chinook dwarf your average trout and likely will exceed the largest trout you catch in a given year, and possibly in your lifetime.

Got your attention?

Unlike a once-per-lifetime trout, steelhead and chinook are plentiful, reliable, predictable and not difficult to catch. You need to have the right gear, know a few basic fishing techniques and know when to go.

You also need to know the basic rules. A full set of rules and seasons can be found in the current Idaho Fish and Game fishing rules booklet, or online at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/. But a critical thing to know is that only hatchery steelhead and chinook can be harvested. You can identify a hatchery fish by the clipped adipose fin on the fish’s back directly in front of its tail. If the full adipose fin is intact, you have to release the fish unharmed. You will also need a permit to fish steelhead and salmon in addition to your fishing license.

Timing is (almost) everything

March is prime time for spring steelhead fishing and one of the best times for novice steelhead anglers to give it a try. The fish migrate into the smaller tributary streams, which means there’s easy river access along highways and lots of fish in the rivers. Some favorite steelhead spots are the South Fork of the Clearwater River upstream from Kooskia, the Little Salmon River along U.S. 95 between New Meadows and Riggins, and the upper Salmon River along Idaho 75 and U.S. 93 between Salmon and Stanley.

While you can be assured there will be ample steelhead in these rivers during March and April, river conditions can vary wildly depending on rain or snow melt. Rivers can go from low and clear to high and muddy within a day or two.

As a rule of thumb, most anglers prefer to fish for steelhead during spring when river temperatures are in the mid-30s to low-40s. Stable weather and consistent river flows tend to produce the best fishing. But even if conditions are imperfect, the fish are still there, and you can catch them. It’s just going to be more challenging.

Chinook start returning from the ocean in the spring and typically reach Idaho during, or shortly after, peak spring runoff. Fishing usually starts lower in the Snake and Clearwater rivers around Lewiston in late April and May. Anglers follow the spring and summer chinook upstream through their migration all the way to the headwaters of the Salmon River near Stanley.

Fall chinook have a different life history. They start arriving in late summer, and unlike spring and summer chinook that spawn in headwaters, fall fish spawn in the lower river systems, mostly in the Snake River.

Gearing up to go

If you’re not used to tackling large fish, you will probably need to invest in some new gear. There’s a variety of steelhead and salmon rods available, and you need a reel with a good drag. Both steelhead and chinook fight hard, and they are often hooked in strong river currents, so you will want line suitable for the battle. Use 10 to 15 lb test for steelhead, and 15 to 20 lb test for chinook. You may want to go heavier if you’re fishing strong current.

Check with your local tackle shop or sporting goods store to find suitable tackle, and employees there can usually show you how to rig for steelhead and salmon. You can also watch several “How To” videos on popular methods used for both steelhead and salmon, at Fish and Game’s website on the pages for steelhead and chinook under the “Fishing” tab.

Etiquette

Steelhead and salmon fishing are popular in Idaho, and when the fish reach those smaller tributary streams, the banks can get crowded with anglers. Good etiquette means respecting other anglers’ space, and also not being a “hole hog” who takes over a popular fishing spot and excludes others. Be assured there will be competition for prime spots, but in most cases, anglers have a good track record of working with each other so everyone gets a fair chance at hooking a fish. An educational video – Angler Etiquette: Fishing with the Crowd – is available on Idaho Fish and Game’s website athttp://fishandgame.idaho.gov/fishing/etiquette. The video covers commonly held practices in the fishing community on fishing around others and how to avoid potential conflicts.

The insider intel

There are several online tools anglers can use to time their fishing trips during the prime times when fish are there and conditions are best:

Columbia Research Station’s “Dart”: http://www.cbr.washington.edu/dart

This website compiles data about steelhead and salmon and also tracks fish as they pass through the Columbia and Snake River dams. You can get daily counts at each dam, and also historic timing when the runs typically go though each dam.

USGS Streamflows: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/id/nwis/current/?type=flow

This website gives you real-time stream flows for most rivers in Idaho and water temperatures at some gauging stations. You can also find annual hydrograph charts that show when rivers typically get peak spring run off.

Pit tag data: http://www.ptagis.org/

This website provides information about fish that are embedded with “pit tags,” which are small transmitters. There are pit-tag detectors in some Idaho streams, and anglers can use them to track the steelhead and salmon as they move upstream.

— Roger Phillips

Phillips is a Public Information Specialist for Idaho Fish and Game

Missouri’s March 1 Trout Opener

Remedy for Fishing Fever is Missouri’s March 1 Trout Opener

Today’s feature comes to us from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
from The Fishing Wire

Thousands of anglers flock to trout parks around the state for opening day of catch-and-keep trout fishing.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the wintery season winds down, anglers throughout the Show-Me State are beginning to show some signs of trout fever. Symptoms include: tying flies, putting new fishing line on reels, checking waders for holes, and practicing casting. Most anglers who get trout fever get rid of it by doing one thing—visiting one of Missouri’s four trout parks to participate in the catch-and-keep trout season.

Tuesday, March 1, marks the opening of catch-and-keep trout fishing at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking, Roaring River State Park near Cassville, and Maramec Spring Park near St. James.

“This year’s trout opener should be good and comparable to previous years,” said MDC Fisheries Unit Chief Bruce Drecktrah.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) operates trout hatcheries at all four parks. To help predict angler turnout on opening day, hatchery staff rely on permit records going back more than 70 years. Montauk, Bennett Spring, and Roaring River hatchery staff expect crowds of about 2,000 anglers at each location and Maramec Spring staff are planning for a crowd of about 1,500. Based on these predictions, hatchery staff will stock three trout per expected angler on opening day for a total of more than 22,500 fish averaging around a foot in length. The hatcheries will also stock a mix of “lunkers” ranging in three to 10 pounds.

Trout Season Outlook

Due to the heavy rain and record-breaking flood that took place this past December, MDC crews have been inspecting flood damage and evaluating the impact these floods may have on hatcheries, fish production and fish numbers.

“We have plenty of fish for this year’s trout season,” said MDC Fisheries Division Chief Brian Canaday. “But due to the heavy rains and flooding our trout stocking will be slightly reduced throughout the season. We will stock approximately two fish per trout tag sold at each trout park instead of our usual 2.25.”

Canaday added that MDC staff will continue to evaluate hatchery fish inventories, stocking plans, and make adjustments throughout the season as appropriate.

Permits

It’s important to know anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri’s trout parks. Daily trout tags can only be purchased at each of the four trout parks. Missouri residents 16 through 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag. Nonresidents 16 and older also need a fishing permit.

Economic Outlook

Trout hatcheries are just one way that conservation pays in Missouri. MDC stocks more than 800,000 trout annually at the state’s four trout parks and approximately 1.5 million annually statewide. Trout anglers’ spend more than $100 million each year in the Show-Me-State, which generates more than $180 million in business activity, supports more than 2,300 jobs and creates more than $70 million dollars in wages. About 30 percent of Missouri trout anglers come from other states, so a substantial portion of trout fishing expenditures is “new money” for the state’s economy.

March 1 marks the opening day of catch-and-keep season at Missouri trout parks, including Montauk State Park pictured. MDC expects thousands of anglers for opening day and will stock more than 22,000 trout for it.
For more information on trout fishing in Missouri, visit https://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/where-fish/trout-areas.

REMINDER TO TROUT ANGLERS: To prevent the spread of the invasive alga called didymo or “rock snot,” the use of shoes, boots or waders with porous soles of felt, matted or woven fibrous material is prohibited at all trout parks, trout streams, Lake Taneycomo, and buffer areas. Go online for more information to http://on.mo.gov/1V6qc6W.

Streambank Restoration on Private Land

Streambank Restoration on Private Land is Putting More Brookies in Your Favorite Fishing Hole

Today’s feature comes to us from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

By Ariel Wiegard, TRCP
Why CRP works for trout and other freshwater fish
from The Fishing Wire

The national Conservation Reserve Program is 30! The CRP was signed into law by President Reagan as part of the Farm Bill on December 23, 1985, to help agricultural producers to voluntarily conserve soil, water, and wildlife. The TRCP and our partners are celebrating the 30th anniversary of CRP throughout 2016, by highlighting the successes of this popular bipartisan program—regarded by many as the greatest private lands conservation initiative in U.S. history. Here on our blog, we’re devoting a series of posts to the critters that have seen tremendous habitat benefits: upland birds, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and freshwater fish. CRP works for wildlife, and it works for sportsmen.

On this blog, we’ve written a lot about the Conservation Reserve Program and how it benefits wildlife. Because the program incentivizes landowners to use their land for conservation instead of for crops, it makes sense that a lot of the program’s results would visible on the landscape itself, where pheasants, turkeys, ducks, and the other wildlife benefit from upland and wetland cover. But CRP is also working beneath the surface, and improved water quality downstream is giving brookies and other fish a serious boost.

CRP enhances the watershed

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, anglers are counting on a CRP initiative known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which targets high priority conservation projects on a local, rather than a national, level. Federal resources for CREP are often augmented by the state where the project takes place, meaning more funding is available for landowners to implement conservation.

The various Chesapeake Bay watershed states each have their own version of CREP, but they share a goal of helping to “Save the Bay,” which has been degraded over time by runoff from agriculture, industry, and cities. All throughout the watershed, landowners are voluntarily enrolling thousands of acres along waterways large and small to help make the Bay fishable and swimmable.

When it comes to agricultural land, one of the most important things the CREP can do is keep cattle out of farm streams by paying farmers to build fences. When they wade around and into the water, cows eat the plants that shade banks and provide cover for critters and insects. Plus, cattle hooves quickly erode stream banks, allowing farm nutrients and sediment to flow into the water. Cows also defecate in the water, further affecting the biology of the stream.

Free Flowing Stream

Free Flowing Stream

Image courtesy Scott Robinson/Flickr.

The end result is terrible for native fish like brook trout. Lack of shade can dramatically raise the temperature of the water, which, aside from generally causing fish stress, lowers oxygen levels. Where trout spawn, heavy sediment and cow pies turn gravelly stream beds to muck, making it impossible for fish to lay their eggs. Brookies need consistently cold, clear water with a high level of dissolved oxygen to live, feed, and reproduce, but cow pasture streams tend to be hot, muddy, and suffocating.

That’s why groups like Trout Unlimited have rallied around a special CREP effort in the headwaters of the Potomac River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. The resources that TU can deliver to farmers through CREP are often greater than what other state or federal conservation programs can offer, which means the infrastructure these projects create, like fences and bridges, is often higher quality and has a long shelf life—often as long as a 10- to 15-year CREP contract. And because CREP offers a rental payment for each acre of land taken out of agricultural production, farmers can afford to commit more acres of streamside land to the program and place cow fences further back from the stream bank—at least 35 feet, but sometimes as much as 300 feet on both sides. Given this room to breathe, floodplains can replenish the natural ecosystem over time.

Aside from fencing for cattle, TU’s dedication to this program has helped farmers to plant mature trees and native grasses along waterways, stabilizing the banks and providing the shade that is absolutely critical to regulating water temperature. Cooler streams are more fishable. And Chesapeake Bay farmers want that as much as anglers do.

Healthy Systems, Not Just Healthy Pools

Many farmers have inherited land from family, and they remember their grandfathers teaching them to fish on a particular bank—they want to be able to teach their grandchildren to do the same, and maybe reclaim a little bit of their own childhood in the process. To date, tens of thousands of acres of stream buffers have been applied throughout the watershed, and brookies are returning as a result. Of course, privately-owned stream banks, no matter how well restored, may not be accessible for most anglers in the region. But every step in conservation is incremental, and the impacts multiply both upstream and downstream.

Brook Trout

Brook Trout

Image courtesy USFWS.

Restored headwaters, even if they are private, serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for the entire river system. Work that has been done over the last twenty years has helped to restore large, healthy populations of native brook trout to the system, greatly reducing the need to stock the streams each spring. These native trout tend to grow larger, live longer, and travel farther than their stocked cousins. In fact, they have been tracked swimming from their West Virginia headwaters to popular public fishing areas like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Potomac River flowing straight through Washington, D.C. Of course, each restored acre will ensure that those downstream waters will be cooler and cleaner, too, thanks to the fast-flowing, gravelly headwaters upstream.

Programs like CREP incentivize healthy systems, not just isolated healthy pools, and brook trout are an indicator of that health. If a headwater stream has brookies, the top-level native aquatic predator, its river banks will also have good habitat for a variety of wildlife and be full of fish food like frogs, mayflies, and crickets. There will be sufficient shade from mature trees, and the stream bed will be gravelly and have places for young fish to hide. The CRP, with its local habitat enhancement program, can’t accomplish this alone, but it is certainly an important tool for helping farmers and landowners to do the right thing for fish and sportsmen.

Ariel Wiegard

Ariel Wiegard joined the TRCP in November 2014. As Director of the Center for Agricultural Lands, she works with TRCP’s partners to enact policies that both balance the needs of production agriculture with the needs of fish and wildlife, and that sustain and enhance recreational access to wildlife habitat locked up in private lands. Outside of the office, you’ll find Ariel and her husband hiking, upland hunting, foraging, and cooking what they find in field and forest. She is usually accompanied by her German Shorthaired Pointer, Argos.

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon: A Species in Need of a Spotlight

NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

“The coincidence, at least, in the erection of the dams, and the enormous diminution in the number of the Alewives, and the decadence of the inshore cod fishery, is certainly very remarkable. It is probable, also, that the mackerel fisheries have suffered in the same way, as these fish find in the young Menhaden and Alewives an attractive bait. The same remarks as to the agency of the Alewives in attracting the deep-sea fishes to the shores and especially near the mouths of rivers, apply in a proportional degree to the Shad and salmon.”

-Marshall McDonald, 1884.

Atlantic salmon are an iconic New England species. In addition to the ecosystem role these fish play, they have been an important indicator of economic health in our region. Atlantic salmon once supported lucrative commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as the small bait shops, gear stores, and amenities for fishermen that contributed to the economy. Before this, Atlantic salmon were important to Native American tribes for historical and cultural reasons. Tribes relied on watersheds and their natural abundance of sea-run fish, including Atlantic salmon, for physical and spiritual sustenance.

In the 1900s Atlantic salmon from Maine were so highly valued that for more than 80 years, the first one caught in the Penobscot River each spring was presented to the U.S. President. The last Presidential salmon was caught in May 1992 by Claude Westfall, who presented a 9.5 pound Atlantic salmon to President George H.W. Bush. Westfall’s was the last presidential salmon because there are now too few adult salmon to sacrifice one even for the President.

Because of significant declines in returning Atlantic salmon, the Atlantic salmon commercial fishery closed in 1948, and the recreational fishery closed in all Maine waters in 2008. In 2000, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The fish, which were historically native to almost every river north of the Hudson, had only remnant wild populations in 11 rivers, all of them in Maine. In the 15 years since their 2000 listing, Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon have not shown signs of improvement.

To draw attention to this iconic species and our plan for saving it from extinction, NOAA Fisheries recently launched the “Species in the Spotlight—Survive to Thrive” initiative. Atlantic salmon are one of the eight highly at-risk species in the nation that we have identified as needing special attention. These endangered species have declining populations, but also have a high probability of survival if we can marshal the resources to turn their trajectories around.

As part of the Species in the Spotlight initiative, we developed a five-year roadmap to aid the recovery of Atlantic salmon. The plan, which will be released in early 2016, outlines specific actions to save this species and will involve our regional partners in conservation. The primary focus of the plan is to restore access and quality to river habitat in Maine and work to better understand and address threats in the marine environment.

SALMON IN RIVERS ARE LIKE CANARIES IN A COAL MINE

Atlantic Salmon at dam

Atlantic Salmon at dam


Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish which means they spend a portion of their lives in freshwater and a portion in the ocean. Anadromous fish are indicators that the links between freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems are clean and well-connected. The connections within the ecosystem are so strong that many of the factors that are impacting salmon’s survival are also affecting other species such as American shad, alewives and even some marine fish stocks such as Atlantic cod. Healthy anadromous fish populations support important marine food webs, providing a forage base for commercially important species like striped bass, cod, and haddock. When river systems are blocked or are too polluted to support these fish populations, the effects are felt throughout the entire ecosystem. The return of Atlantic salmon, along with other anadromous fish, would indicate the return of a healthy and connected system.

FROM RIVER TO SEA: TOO MANY DAMS

“The principal decline in the New England salmon fishery considerably antedated 1880, however, and was coincident with the erection of dams or other barriers to the passage of fish” – C. Atkins (1894).

One complicating factor for Atlantic salmon is that they are anadromous fish. When they return from the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland to the rivers to spawn, hundreds of dams block or impair their ability to reach the critical freshwater habitats that are still capable of supporting spawning. As noted in the quote above, this problem was created over many, many years and so, it will take time to restore connectivity for this species.

Listing Atlantic salmon as endangered in 2000, and expanding the listing to include large rivers like the Penobscot and Kennebec in 2009, helped spur 35 fishway constructions and dam removal projects in Maine, including the removal of two major hydroelectic dams (Great Works and Veazie) as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project. Since the Penobscot River is home to roughly 75 percent of the adult Atlantic salmon returns in the U.S., restoring access to this river is particularly important. In the Penobscot River basin alone, there are still more than 130 dams that block or impede access to approximately 90 percent of salmon’s historic spawning and nursery habitat. There is still much work to be done.

REMOVALS LEAD TO RETURNS

Dam removals can bring back fish to habitat that was previously inaccessible. After the removals of the Fort Halifax Dam (2008) and the Edwards Dam (1999) on the Kennebec River, alewife and blueback herring (collectively called river herring) returns increased from less than 100,000 in 2006 to more than 2,150,000 in 2015. Similarly, on the Penobscot River, after the Great Works (2012) and Veazie (2013) Dam removals, along with improved passage at other upstream dams, documented returns of river herring increased from 2,000 in 2011 to an estimated 585,000 in 2015. Roughly 1,800 American shad passed the Milford Dam (now the first dam on the Penobscot River) for the first time in 100 years. Additionally, in Fall 2015, researchers found three endangered shortnose sturgeon in habitat upstream of the Veazie Dam remnants for the first time in a century. In 2015, biologists counted 731 Atlantic salmon at the Milford fish lift. (See map of Penobscot River Restoration Project).

STEPS TO RECOVERY

Our five-year action plan outlines specific actions to stop the decline of this species and put it on a path towards recovery, including restoration of the ecological connections between the freshwater and marine environment and restoration of habitat quality. Among the pieces of the plan are to: review hydroelectric power plant dams up for licensing to ensure that they have effective fish passage; encourage removal of dams and other barriers to fish passage where possible; work with other countries to limit Atlantic salmon catch in the ocean; and, continue research and monitoring of Atlantic salmon.

You can help by encouraging or participating in programs to conserve and restore land and water resources that benefit migratory fish and promote abundant, suitable and accessible habitats for Atlantic salmon. This can include working with communities to remove or provide passage around blockages such as round culverts or dams that block or impair movement of Atlantic salmon, maintaining forested riparian areas around rivers and streams, and implementing land use practices that protect streams from pollution and excessive erosion.

For more information on this initiative and what you can do to help Atlantic salmon, please contact Kim Damon-Randall, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources at Kimberly.Damon-Randall@noaa.gov.