It is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (May 3, 2022). So, let’s get right to it and discuss what we have learned since my last update.
The fish continue to roll in at Bonneville Dam. I have updated the graph I shared with you last week so it now shows this year’s daily dam counts of adult spring Chinook Salmon up through May 2 (red line) in comparison to last year’s return (solid black line) and the 10-year average (dotted black line). The daily counts certainly bounced up and down last week, but never dropped below 2,900 fish which is a good thing. In fact the highest count of the year was yesterday at 7,402 fish. This brings the total count for adult spring Chinook Salmon (March 15 to May 2) to 51,480 fish which is the best since 2016, and the fourth best when compared to the previous 10 years. One thing to realize is typically the spring Chinook return over Bonneville Dam isn’t even half complete by this date. So, we want to see these higher counts continue.
One thing I like to do is keep things in perspective. Although many of us (including me) are getting excited about these higher counts, we can’t forget where we have been and what the potential for the spring and summer Chinook Salmon returns are. For example, if we include data from the 2015 return (grey bar in figure below), it is quite apparent that this year’s return is just a fraction of the 2015 return. The 2015 return just exceeded our minimum return goal for hatchery spring and summer Chinook Salmon past Lower Granite Dam (90,000 fish), but fell well short of our wild return goal (127,000 fish). So my message to you is, by all means we should be excited that returns are improving, but don’t be satisfied with this run as our goals are much higher.
OK, now let’s look at PIT tag detections at Bonneville Dam to better understand how many of the hatchery salmon passing over Bonneville Dam are destined for Idaho. I have updated the table below so that it now captures all the new data that has come in this past week. This table shows that the Clearwater River return’s harvest share is projected to be 5,211 fish (darker pink row), 4,119 for the Rapid River return (darker blue row), and zero for Hells Canyon (green row). The harvest share for the Clearwater return has not changed much compared to last week, but the Rapid River return’s harvest share has increased by over 1,000 fish. The Hells Canyon return’s projected harvest share remained at zero adult fish.
We still have not observed any harvest in Idaho, and nobody has called me to let me know that they caught a Chinook. This is not too surprising seeing that daily Chinook Salmon counts at Lower Granite Dam still have not exceeded 35 fish.
Part of the reason we haven’t seen more fish pass over Lower Granite Dam is fish are having a difficult time finding their way past Lower Monumental Dam (second dam up from the mouth of the Snake River). To give you a feel for how significant this delay is, 3,538 adult Chinook Salmon have been counted at Ice Harbor Dam (fist dam on Snake River) and just 876 have been counted at Lower Monumental. That would suggest that there were over 2,662 fish between the two dams (as of yesterday), and that number will continue to grow. Daily counts at Ice Harbor Dam will likely begin exceeding 2,000 fish in the near future making this delay more pronounced.
As I indicated last week, the problem is four of the spill gates at Lower Monumental were taken out of service due to worn or damaged parts. This has changed flow patterns below the dam that make it difficult for the Chinook to find the fish ladder. Right now, the Corp of Engineers is working on the problem and hope to have two of the gates operational later this week, and the other two operational in another week or two. If passage doesn’t improve when these two gates come on line, we (IDFG and Nez Perce Tribe) will push for reducing flows over the dam to see if that will improve passage. What this means to you as an angler is once the fish passage problem is solved, there will be a surge of fish pushing upstream and when they hit our fisheries it could be really good. My advice to you is to keep an eye on the dam counts so you can plan when to be on the river. If there are not additional fish passage issues, the fish should be able to get from Lower Monumental Dam to the lower Clearwater River in 3-5 days.
This weekend I re-spooled all my salmon reels, set up five different rods, tied up a pile of hooks, and restocked my tackle box. You can bet I am watching the dam counts so that when they hit Idaho, I’m ready to go. I hope to see you on the river.