Is steelhead peak run already past?
(Updated 9/17/12 @ 10:45 am) After waiting seemingly forever for the thermal block to equalize, steelhead finally began running past Ice Harbor Dam.  Their numbers surged briefly and now already appear to be falling back.  While it's too early to tell if the peak of the run is past, the numbers themselves are once again discouraging.  As you can see in the screen clip below, the numbers picked up shortly after Labor Day and may have had a two-day peak on September 10-11.  Recent day-to-day numbers have generally been 40-45% below the 10 year average numbers.  Overall, so far, Ice Harbor run numbers for steelhead at 52% of the 10 year average and wild steelhead are slightly better at 55% of the 10 year figure.

Meanwhile, in the lower screen clip you can view the Lower Granite numbers for the same time period. Steelhead run numbers picked up there on September 10 but have struggled to come close to the 10 year averages.  Wild steelhead numbers exceeded the 10 year avg. on September 10th and 12th.  Percentage-wise, overall steelhead numbers at Lower Granite are better than Ice Harbor.  As of the September 16th data, Steelhead at 66% of the 10 year avg at Lower Granite while wild steelhead are 68% of the long term average figure. Click on either graphic to see a more readable version.  Ice Harbor is the top graphic--Lower Granite is the second graphic.

Steelhead A-run #'s could be lowest since 1999
(Updated 9/11/12 @ 4:15 pm)  IDFG just put out a news release today shortly before 4 pm about the A-Run Steelheads.  It's a pretty grim assessment.  here in italics is what they have to say:

"The good news is that water temperatures are finally starting to cool down in the Snake River and higher numbers of steelhead are now starting to pass over Ice Harbor Dam (first dam on the Snake River).  You should expect those fish to start entering Idaho in about a week, so get ready if you like to fish the lower Clearwater or Snake Rivers. 

Now for the bad news.  Based on the number of steelhead we are seeing come over Bonneville Dam, it appears that the A-run steelhead (generally one-ocean fish that come in earlier) will come in lower than expected.  We are projecting that about 68,000 hatchery A-run fish will enter Idaho.  If you are wondering whether this is good or not, I can tell you that we have not seen this low of return since 1999.  Right now it is too early to project the B-run (generally two-ocean fish that come in later), but it doesn’t look good for them as well.  Early models are projecting that about 12,000 hatchery “B” fish will enter Idaho, but this could change considerably as it is still early.  If this comes true, it will also be the lowest B-run we have seen since 1999.  We aren’t sure why these runs are coming in so low as it seemed that river conditions were good during their out migration and ocean conditions when they entered salt water didn’t seem to be poor.  I obviously have much more to learn about steelhead survival.    I hope that this forecast won’t discourage you from fishing as often what you will see in these types of situations is lower fishing pressure which often results in higher catch rates.  In fact, I can recall one of my most memorable steelhead fishing days occurred in the 1990’s when steelhead numbers were down. 

On a good note, it appears the Fall Chinook are coming in as projected (over 18,000 to lower Granite Dam) which is good.  So, if you are having trouble catching steelhead, give Fall Chinook a try.  Most of these fish will be less than 15 pounds,  but every year we see several come over Lower Granite dam that exceed 45 pounds.  Those people who seem to be successful are fishing deep (using a downrigger or heavier weight) with a flasher and a super bait or plug cut herring.  Good numbers of Fall Chinook should start hitting Idaho in about a week as well.

Have a great Fall, and I will talk to you later.  - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager"

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Steelhead numbers surge at Ice Harbor
(Updated 9/7/12 pm)  We got pretty excited yesterday when we saw an strong "uptick" in the numbers of steelhead finally crossing Ice Harbor Dam.  When we checked the numbers today, we got REALLY excited!  The steelhead have finally broke on through this long thermal block that's been holding them tight in Lake Wallula.  Today was the first day this season when daily steelhead numbers for both categories topped the ten year average.  Steelhead for today was up nearly 1,000 over yesterday's robust number.  Let's hope and pray these number continue for as long as possible to make up for lost time during the recent heat wave that never seemed like it was going to end.  Below is the screen clip from today's Columbia DART website.  Today's numbers say it all--the steelhead are finally running up past ice Harbor Dam.  (The DART numbers are always a day late--we won't get today's actual numbers until tomorrow.)  Now we can finally start looking at the other Snake dams to see how the run is progressing.  Seeing numbers like these late this afternoon sure makes for a great TGIF!  The Happy Hour lamp is lit!

Steelhead passage picks up at Ice Harbor

The Ice Harbor numbers have been so dismal for so long, we stopped bothering to look at them every day--it  was too depressing.  Sure enough, once we stopped looking, that's when the steelhead started swimming out of Lake Wallula and picked up their pace in crossing Ice Harbor.  Meanwhile, McNary number look like they've peaked.  Below are three graphics.  The top one is Ice Harbor.  These aren't expecially exciting numbers--the news is that the daily number has picked up considerably.  it sitll has a long way to go to reach the 1-year-avg.  The middle graphic is McNary going back to the last day when the number were equal to or above the 10-year-avg.  Since then it's been declining.  The bottom graphic is the part we could capture with the first screen shot.  Anyway, that's a minor little ray of sunshine.  I've been unable to find the McNary and Ice Harbor water temperature but the fish must have figured it out--they don't need no thermometers.

Steelhead run forecast reduced

Early this afternoon, columnist Rich Landers at the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane posted up an article on the Steelhead "A" run from Washington State officials.  Here's what he had to say:

FISHING — Uh-oh.  Not only have the steelhead been slow to come up the Columbia River and in to the Snake — many of the fish we thought would be coming won't be coming at all.
Fish managers from Washington and Oregon have downgraded their forecast of A-Run steelhead moving up into the Columbia system.
Despite that, there's a bunch of steelhead already in the system and many of them are ready to start pouring over Lower Granite Dam any day.
But here's the not-so-great news just released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met Monday August 27 to review steelhead stock status.  TAC updated the forecast for Group A upriver summer steelhead to 191,000, or 61.3% of the 311,800 fish preseason forecast. 
  • The 191,000 Group A steelhead return would be the lowest since 1999 (176,500). 
  • TAC agreed it was too early to update the Group B run size, but recognized Group B passage was tracking less than expected, indicating the Group B run may also be less than forecast.
 Here's the link to Rich's article:
  • Working with chinook salmon at the Sawtooth Hatchery, August 2012

As of 7:30 pm, 8/18/12 we received permission from the author of the above video to post it here.  Many of you reading this have visited the Sawtooth Hatchery when they clear their fish traps and count  and document the chinook salmon and other fish.  There's a lot of hard work that goes on afterwards "in the trenches" of the raceways you see at the Hatchery.  The women and men who perform this work are at the front lines of fisheries biology.  It takes a huge amount of hard labor and concentrated effort to process the chinooks so that their progeny can swim far and free some day soon.  This is totally "hands on" work with the chinook salmon of The Salmon River.  Thanks, Ryan L.  We sure appreicate being able to use your awesome video. Keep up your great work!

Lower Granite steelhead numbers vs. Bonneville 10-year-average

(Updated @ 3 pm 8/18/12)  Lost in the dismal numbers of steelhead crossing Ice Harbor Dam is an interesting factoid.  Everybody knows steelhead numbers crossing Bonneville are way down this year.  How far down are they?  Well, the screen shot of the last three days plus the total run so far tells the tale.  Steelhead are at 67% of the 10-year-average and Wild Steelhead are at 74% of the 10-year-average. (Narrative continues below graphic.)

So, let's skip Ice Harbor for the time being and take a look at Lower Granite.  As everyone knows, that's the last dam on the Snake the fish have to clear.  At first glance the numbers look pretty paltry.  But let's run the numbers and see what happens.  Surprise, they are very close to the trend at Bonneville.  Steelhead are 61% of the the 10-year-average vs. 67% at Bonneville.  However, Wild Steelhead crossing Lower Granite are 79% of the ten year average, 5 points above Bonneville. (Narrative continues below graphic.)

Yes, things are bleak but maybe they at least in line with each other.  If we focus solely on Ice Harbor we might be getting the wrong impression.  Steelhead crossings at Lower Granite mirror the close to the same percentage trend as has been seen as Bonneville.  OK, now we will show you Ice Harbor.  Be forewarnedm the most recent daily numbers are truly bad.  YIKES!  McNary is below Ice Harbor and some more comments below both graphics.

Steelhead crossing McNary are still running well above the 10-year average, as has been the case for days and days.  Ice Harbor on the other hand continues to log dismal data--only 12 Wild Steelhead yesterday vs. a 10-year-average of 131.  Mind you, 131 fish for a long term average is pretty low but 12 is just downright dismal.

So, the comparison above between Lower Granite's percentages and Bonneville's percentages is interesting. We thought you all would like to see this comparison today.

Happy Fishing!  John Parsons.

Thermal block continues to stall steelhead
 Update @ 8 pm 8/16/12) Steelhead numbers crossing Ice Harbor Dam are totally dismal.  There's appears to be no break in the thermal block affecting the fall run fish.  Each day's numbers are not posted until very late in the day.  We keep checking for some kind of a glimmer of positive news but there is none.  The fish simply aren't swimming up the Snake.  They are staying in Lake Wallula behind McNary Dam.  Numbers crossing McNary are good, right about the ten year average.  The Ice Harbor numbers are downright depressing! Click here for our "longread" on the subject.  It's complete with lots of graphics.  We plan to update this story daily so check back often.

This Fishing Page is undergoing a major design revision. To date, we have used this page only to post and update a chronological fishing report for the 2012 chinook salmon season which ended August 5th.

We've moved that entire report to a new and separate website called "Salmon River Fishing." Click here to read how we produced our 2012 Chinook Season report. 

Our idea is to keep the notes brief on this page. Longer versions of some stories will be hosted on the Salmon River Fishing site. Once we settle into a final design here, readers ought to be able to skim our fishing stories and pick and choose which ones they want to read in a longer version.

 For example, on August 9th, we wrote a very long article on the thermal block that's currently stalling the steelhead run below Ice Harbor Dam. We plan to continue to actively report on that story and all aspects of the developing fall steelhead run.

Incredibly long stories really don't fit well in our limited space on the Salmon River Idaho website. That doesn't mean they don't deserve coverage. Far from it.

We really welcome your comments about how to organize our fishing news.  We want to make the fishing news as user-friendly as possible without being cumbersome or confusing.

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