Saturday, September 29, 2012

Steelhead run update

September 29th is generally the peak of the steelhead run across the Lower Granite Dam, the last obstacle on the Snake River before steelhead can head up The Salmon River. Steelhead run numbers at Lower Granite begin to trend downward from the end of September until about mid-October.  After mid-October, run numbers plummet.

So far, the 2012 steelhead numbers are 53 percent of the ten-year-average. Wild steelhead are doing a little bit better at 63 percent of their ten-year-average.  The number of steelhead crossing Lower Granite picked up considerably in the last few days with Wednesday's number almost hitting 80% of the ten-year-average.

Fisheries biologists throughout the Columbia River Basin continue to forecast significantly lower steelhead numbers this year, a reality already well known through the multi-state fishing community.  Meanwhile, expectations at IDFG mirror regional perspectives.  Lower steelhead numbers combined with the highest fuel cost ever recorded for a fall steelhead season are expected to cause a noticeable reduction in fishing pressure this year.

The IDFG Salmon Region's Brent Beller will issue the department's first weekly steelhead fishing report on the afternoon of Columbus Day, October 8th.  In a lengthy discussion September 28th, Beller shared his insights on the upcoming fall steelhead season.

First, Beller noted that The Salmon River corridor from North Fork to Corn Creek is is much better shape than IDFG Staff originally feared.  He said the campgrounds and camping areas are all intact and unharmed. "It appears the area burned with a low ground fire," Beller observed, "and we think it's going to come back next year with a lot of new growth and look even better."  However, IDFG Staff expect the first heavy rain will turn the river black with ash for at least a few days before it cleans up again.
Click the USGS Shoup graph above to see a larger version. 

Beller thinks this fall's low water could work to steelhead fishermens' advantage.  "There are going to be smaller areas for the fish to hold," Beller predicted. Today's river flow of 1300 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Shoup is running well below the long term mean of 1680 cfs.  Beller believes fishermen who understand steelhead behavior and know how to read water might have good catch rates.

Beller drove down river to Corn Creek on Thursday and observed only four fishermen during his round trip. The typical peak of the fall steelhead season takes place at the end of October.  This year several factors may affect the number of anglers who make the steelhead trek to The Salmon River.  Media and online publicity about lower steelhead run numbers; public perception of Mustang Fire's affects and high fuel costs could add up to fewer fishermen.  On the other hand, lighter fishing pressure and lower water might offer higher catch rates for those fishermen who decide to make the trip this fall.  Below is a screen clip of the most current steelhead run numbers across Lower Granite.
Normally, we put fishing information and reports on the "Fishing" page link shown under the header for this website.  That's where subsequent updates will be placed in the weeks ahead after we begin regular weekly cover of the fall steelhead season October 9th.

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