Since 2010, Idaho Fish and Game has been recruiting volunteer anglers to catch adult hatchery steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River. Hatcheries rely on anglers from around the region, other states, and even other countries to collect steelhead broodstock on the South Fork Clearwater River each year. The goal is to capture just over 500 adults to meet the 1.4 million juvenile release target for the South Fork Clearwater River.
Last year, volunteer anglers participated from Feb. 5 through March 24 and met the entire broodstock goal. Fishing and Game relies on volunteer anglers to collect these fish because no weirs are operated on the South Fork Clearwater River to trap steelhead. These fish are collected to develop a localized steelhead broodstock for the South Fork Clearwater River. In theory, these fish will develop adaptations that will allow them to return at a higher rate to the South Fork Clearwater River than steelhead collected at Dworshak Hatchery.
Once again, we need your help to collect broodstock from the South Fork Clearwater River this year. Since February 4, 2022, we have been out on the river from dawn to dusk seven days a week distributing tubes at popular fishing holes and signing up anglers interested in participating in the program. We will continue until we meet our broodstock goals or until early April, whichever comes first. The goal is to collect steelhead every day unless weather conditions become unsafe to collect and transport fish back to the hatchery.
Anglers who would like to participate in the program will sign a volunteer form that IDFG personnel will be carrying with them. This form allows anglers to handle steelhead with an intact adipose fin as they put them into a tube. We will be driving up and down the road and should be easy to track down if we don’t come to you first.
The tubes we will be using to hold steelhead are large yellow or orange PVC pipes with holes in the side (pictured below). We ask anglers to place any steelhead they do not harvest in these tubes to include in the broodstock program. IDFG staff will distribute PVC tubes each morning in areas where anglers are fishing, where steelhead can be safely transported from the river to the hatchery truck, and where IDFG has permission to access. Anglers are asked to please leave the PVC tubes at the site when they leave the area.
All steelhead that anglers catch can be placed within one of the provided PVC tubes. We ask that anglers fill the smaller orange PVC tubes first and reserve the bigger yellow PVC tubes for large steelhead that will not comfortably fit inside the orange PVC tubes. We ask that you only put one fish in a tube, and place the tube in the river with the fish’s head facing into the current. This will ensure the fish receives ample oxygenated water until it can be collected by hatchery staff.
IDFG staff will check in with anglers throughout the day and relay to hatchery staff where steelhead are waiting to be collected. When hatchery staff stop to pick up the fish, they will determine whether the steelhead is a hatchery or wild fish and of the appropriate size. Some adipose-intact fish that appear wild are actually hatchery fish. This is why we ask anglers to tube any steelhead they catch even if it has an intact adipose fin. Truly wild fish and fish under a certain size will be released back into the river.
We are estimating that around 3,500 2 and 3-ocean hatchery steelhead will be returning to the South Fork Clearwater River this year. We are confident that if anglers continue to participate in this program like they have in the past, we will be able to collect the broodstock we are looking for and do all we can to ensure that steelhead will continue to return to the South Fork Clearwater River. The success of this program ultimately depends on the aid of anglers like yourself. Hope to see you out there!