Drop in returning steelhead affects Idaho anglers

Credit: Matt Standal / KTVB

Rick Alsager, Nampa Fish Hatchery Manager, shows off a large steelhead near the Glenwood Bridge on the Boise River.

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by Matt Standal

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBMatt

KTVB.COM

Posted on November 22, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 7:15 PM

BOISE -- Bill Ritter is a 79-year-old flyfisherman with a lot of patience and equal amount of humor.

He's also got much less chance of catching a steelhead this year.

Ritter typically lines up with dozens of anglers at the Glenwood Bridge in Boise each November. The crowd shows up when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game releases hundreds of steelhead caught in the Oxbow Hatchery fish trap in the Snake River.

"They'll be 50 people lining the banks here," he told KTVB on Friday. "I call it combat fishing."

Despite their excitement, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says the number of steelhead these anglers will be able to catch is markedly down this year.

The hatchery typically releases about 1,000 of these beautiful, ocean-going trout each fall. However, this year only about 200 steelhead are destined for the Boise River.

That's because the entire population of migrating steelhead in the Snake River has dropped dramatically.

Nampa Fish Hatchery Manager Rick Alsager is in charge of the seasonal releases. Alsager says record-high temperatures in the Columbia River system stopped many fish from swimming upstream to the agency's fish trap.

"They don't want to swim up in there when there's 70-degree water behind the dams," Alsager, adding "It was a terrible hot summer, one of the hottest on record."

Alsager says ocean conditions, natural predation, and migration out into the Pacific likely contributed to this year's drop in numbers as well.

That's not to mention that Idaho is the 'end of the line', so to speak. Fish returning here must pass through the lower sections of both Columbia and Snake rivers, avoiding Oregon and Washington anglers before reaching Idaho.

Alsager says workers from the Nampa hatchery have been stocking steelhead in the Boise River for the past 20 years, and this year marks one of the lowest returns the department has seen.

This will be the only steelhead release this year, because the number of steelhead returning is low and most of them are needed for breeding programs at the hatchery.

Anglers hoping to catch a hatchery steelhead need a $12.75 steelhead permit. They should also know the fall season limit is 20 steelhead on the Boise River, with one fish allowed per day, and three fish allowed in possession.

According to Idaho Fish and Game, all steelhead stocked in the Boise River lack an adipose fin -- the small fin normally found on the back just in front of the tail.

How do you know you caught one? Well, if it's a rainbow trout longer than 20 inches that lacks an adipose fin, you should consider the fish a steelhead.

Don't have a steelhead permit? If you catch a steelhead, you must immediately return the fish to the water.

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