Salmon fishing starts soon on the Snake River

Spring chinook salmon are returning to the Snake River in Hells Canyon, and anglers can start casting for the fish on Friday. (Baker City Herald File Photo/S. John Collins).


The crappie is a fine fish, to be sure.

They're plentiful and easy to catch.

Their flesh is firm yet flaky, the flavor mild and not too, you know, fishy.

But even the stoutest crappie isn't likely to set an angler's heart to racing as he or she wonders whether the line will withstand the strain.

Plus there are finger-slicing spines to contend with.

Salmon, on the other hand (or fin) are sleek and smooth.

And big.

The spring chinook salmon that return each year to the Snake River in Hells Canyon can run 15 pounds or so. It'd take quite a mess of crappie to match that.

Starting Friday, anglers can try to land one of these salmon, which have undertaken a round-trip journey which spans two great rivers and the concrete obstacles of eight dams and both fresh water and salt.

The fishing season for hatchery-raised spring chinook will be open on 24 days total Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from May 11 through June 18. Anglers can fish for salmon on the Snake River between the boundary just below Hells Canyon Dam and the boat ramp at Dug Bar, more than 40 miles downstream near the mouth of the Imnaha River.

Anglers must use barbless hooks, and can keep one hatchery salmon per day. Hatchery fish have a clipped adipose fin. Salmon with an intact adipose fin are wild chinook; anglers who hook one must release the fish, preferably without removing it from the water.

Tips for recognizing hatchery fish, plus other information about the salmon season, are available in the Oregon fishing regulations, or online at

This is the fourth straight year and sixth in the last seven that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has opened that reach of the Snake River to fishing for hatchery chinook. During most of the 1990s salmon fishing was banned on the Snake and other Northeastern Oregon rivers because so few chinook returned from the Pacific Ocean.

In 1993, 30,046 spring chinook climbed the ladders at Lower Granite dam on the Snake River below Lewiston, Idaho, the first dam downriver from Hells Canyon.

The next year, though, just 5,077 spring chinook reached Lower Granite dam. The year after the total plummeted to 3,702.

Salmon have returned in greater numbers every year since 1995, though, reaching a peak of 210,381 fish in 2001.

This year fishery managers predict 38,500 chinook will migrate over Lower Granite dam 25,400 hatchery salmon and 13,100 wild fish.

However, Brad Smith, a biologist who works at ODFW's Enterprise office, said this morning that based on the number of chinook that have passed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia this year, the actual run at Lower Granite could be 10 percent or so below the estimate.

In any case, almost all of those salmon will exit the Snake and swim to their spawning grounds on a tributary, which include the Clearwater and Salmon rivers in Idaho, and the Grande Ronde and Imnaha in Oregon, Smith said.

Most salmon don't stay in the Snake because there's a shortage of suitable spawning habitat upstream from the Imnaha, Smith said. Besides, the absence of fish ladders at Hells Canyon Dam makes it an impassable impediment for even the most athletic chinook.

However, biologists estimate 383 hatchery-raised chinook and maybe a few andquot;strayandquot; wild salmon, as Smith puts it will arrive over the next month or so at the fish trap at the base of Hells Canyon Dam.

Biologists will grab some of those hatchery salmon and haul them, appropriately, to a hatchery, where workers will glean eggs from the females and sperm from the males to start a new generation of chinook.

But officials won't need all of the hatchery salmon for reproductive purposes.

andquot;Half of the 383 returning fish have been identified as surplus to Oregon and Idaho hatchery program needs,andquot; said Scott Patterson, hatchery coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Northeast Region. andquot;We're hoping that opening this fishery provides anglers the experience of landing one of these magnificent fish.andquot;

Smith said this year's chinook run is too small to allow for a sport-fishing season on the Imnaha River. When salmon runs skyrocketed earlier in this decade, ODFW opened sections of the Imnaha and of Lookingglass Creek to salmon anglers.

ODFW officials won't release any surplus hatchery salmon in the Powder River this year, either, as they did in June 2004.

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