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Fishing for bigger numbers

Anglers capture steelhead for hatchery program
Posted: 5:25 PM, Mar 27, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-27 23:26:21Z

It may sound counter-intuitive, but here on the South Fork of the Clearwater River, the more fish anglers catch, the more there are.

People come from all around the world to fish for world class steelhead on the Clearwater River. It's a beautiful and challenging escape for anglers like Grant Moore.

"Oh, it makes me forget about my back," said Moore."Oh man, it's something to say about catching a fish this size in this small of water."

Most of the fish returning to the Clearwater system are around twice the size of average steelhead.

With steelhead numbers at historic lows, anglers will spend hours just trying to hook one of the trophy fish, and when that happens, there's no guarantee of landing one.

But many anglers on the Southfork who finally do get one of the large fish in the net choose not to take it home, instead putting it into a PVC tube, and back into the river, where it will stay alive and healthy.

Every day fish and game technicians gather the tubes and race them to a tanker truck where they measure, scan for tags, and mark the fish.

These angler captured fish then go to a hatchery where they are used to spawn future generations. The program started nine years ago, and Stan Hawkins, who has been part of it from the beginning says it is working.

"It has increased the numbers," said Hawkins.

And it is great PR. Hawkins says anglers have embraced the program and he says anglers who might otherwise be happy taking fish out of the river have become proud of how many fish they can keep in the river to provide eggs and sperm for the hatchery program.

"Some of the people who are just not even friends of fish and game are very avid fishermen for this project," said Hawkins. "They see the benefit next year of having more fish and more fish. So we've recruited some people who i thought would never help us on this project, and they've become some of my best fishermen."

One of those best fishermen might just be Grant Moore, who says he has tubed hundreds of fish, and goes the extra mile, running his own catch to the truck.

He says he gets great satisfaction knowing that his fishing skills will provide fishing opportunity to future generations.

"If I didn't have kids or wasn't worried about future generations, I wouldn't even worry about tubin' em' but that's the whole core of it," said Moore. "I want to be able to preserve it for the future."

Fishing has been slow and anglers haven't met the goal this year, but Hawkins says the department will use fish trapped downstream to supplement this year's run.