It looks like anglers will be able to bag steelhead in Idaho after all this year, despite mixed public opinion.
Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners signed off on opening up a steelhead season starting Sunday with a two-bag daily limit. Those fishing on the Clearwater and parts of the Snake will also have to throw back any steelhead more than 28 inches long.
The move comes after state officials implemented a catch-and-release-only policy due to initial low fish counts at the Bonneville and Lower Granite dams.
Those numbers have rebounded, with an expected 25,000 hatchery fish to return to the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers.
Fish and Game received more than 1,000 comments on the proposal, something Director Virgil Moore calls "very unusual."
Those against it say it’ll put too much stress on the fish and reduce future runs, while proponents argue those concerns won’t come to pass.
Commissioner Daniel Blanco of Moscow tried to restrict daily bag limits to one fish per day on the Clearwater as an attempt to bulk up the steelhead population, noting it had been done in 2013.
"It’s a conservative approach, but if you err on the side of conservatism you come out pretty well," Blanco said.
Fish and Game staff say current counts show more than enough of the trout returning to the Clearwater to assuage any worries of overfishing. Blanco's fellow commissioners unanimously opposed the measure before adopting the new regulations.
Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore says the forecast looks good for next yea ras well, but warming waters make that hard to predict.
“Based on the [ocean fish] that we’re getting back, we think that we’re going to have a stronger B run next year. But all of those factors . . . we don’t know what next summer is going to look like,” Moore said.
Fishing opens Sunday and runs through the end of December.
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