BOISE, Idaho — So far more spring chinook salmon have made it to the Bonneville Dam than the ten-year average creating a promising outlook for the season in Idaho.
While the numbers are much lower than past decades, 51,480 fish have made it to the first dam on the Columbia River and that is the most since 2016.
"Salmon are a lot of fun to catch," said Chris Sullivan of the Idaho Fish and Game. "They are big fish, they are in a powerful river and it really makes for some exciting times."
The spring chinook season is also a really important time for fishing communities like Riggins who rely on tourism.
Idaho News 6 asked Sullivan what changed this year to make the salmon numbers higher than normal.
"The conditions out in the ocean have really changed over the last five or six years," said Sullivan. "We had a period where there was a lot of warm water creating unfavorable conditions for our smolts and that is what contributed to low returns from 2017 to 2021."
The salmon have experienced a delay on their journey back to Idaho that includes eight dams, four on the Columbia River and four on the Snake River.
The count at Ice Harbor Dam, the first on the Snake River, is at 3,538 fish, but only 876 have made it to Lower Monumental Dam because of a mechanical problem at the spill gates. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to resolve that issue.
Idaho Fish and Game and the Nez Perce Tribe will push for reduced spill levels if the problem persists, but once the salmon make it to Lower Granite Dam to spawn, the final dam on their journey back to Idaho, that is when anglers need to start gearing up.
"It’s really exciting for anglers in Idaho," said Sullivan. "We are hopefully going to have one of our better chinook seasons that we have seen in the last six or seven years."
After the salmon pass Lower Granite Dam it will take them a few days to reach the Clearwater. It will take another week to reach the Lower Salmon, and an additional week to reach the Rapid River just south of Riggins.
Idaho Fish and Game has set the bag limits at one fish on the Clearwater and Snake Rivers near Lewiston, and a bag limit of two on the Lower Salmon and Rapid River. Those numbers could change depending on how the journey goes for these fish, but that is a higher bag limit than years past.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department works to keep anglers up to date and their website is an outstanding resource to plan a trip and catch a fish.
"We have all of our season and rules information that’s updated based on the changes that occur in season," said Sullivan. "We also have our regional managers and our staff producing blogs during the season to give anglers updates on where the fishing is getting good."
The season has technically started but there are no reports of any anglers harvesting a fish as they have to wait for the salmon to return to Idaho.