Sharp decline in hatchery steelhead concerns L.C. Valley residents

LEWISTON, ID - They say "patience is a virtue" and "good things come to those who wait," but the men and women fishing out on the confluence beg to differ.

People's livelihood, memories, and recreational past times are intertwined in the annual steelhead run we have grown accustomed to here in the L.C. Valley. But, those customs are threatened as the hatchery steelhead runs hit a major snag.

"If you look back at the counts over Lower Granite Dam we haven't seen counts this low since 1999," said Clearwater Regional Fisheries Manager Joe Dupont. "So obviously with so many people that love to fish for salmon or steelhead in this area, this kind of news is of concern to them."

Several conclusions have been made as to the cause of the sharp decline in hatchery steelhead.

"Dworshack hatchery had a major die off from a disease," said DuPont. "In fact about one million smolts died and so that reduced the numbers of fish we released in the Clearwater by a third."

"We know that the wild fires and all this heat have played some role in it," said fisherman Joe Buster. "We definitely don't think it's global warming."

The steelhead population is exceptionally low and the air quality out is less than ideal, but that has not deterred fishermen from flocking to the confluence.

The hatchery steelhead that the thousands of anglers pursue every year have beaten all the odds to stay alive. While many of the smolts perish, these "A" and "B" run steelhead have thrived. Which is why, when that highly anticipated bite occurs and the intense fight begins, it is then that fishermen have now beat the odds, and the reason for the countless hours becomes the clearest.

"It was a pretty good rush," said first time fisherman Sarah Tosch. "It was a bit of a struggle to reel it in."

"This one here is about eight and a half pounds and about 29 to 30 inches long," said avid fisherman Butch McConnell.

"Quite frankly I hope I get one for the smoker," said Buster.

Despite the low numbers, local officials encourage fishermen not to become discouraged as numbers from the dams are fluctuating every day.

If you're planning a fishing trip you might want to check out the fish numbers running through the dam, prior to booking it.