These days, good news in the wild steelhead arena is rare. Poor ocean survival, habitat degradation, hydro system mortality, a warming climate with associated increased water temperature — wild steelhead have a lot going against them.
“It is our collective opinion, based on overwhelming scientific evidence, that restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River is essential to recovering wild Pacific salmon and steelhead in the basin.”
So reads a remarkable letter recently sent to the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana by 10 of the finest and most-respected salmon and steelhead scientists in the world.
We’ve all heard stories from our grandparents of unbelievable abundance and sizes in their fishing forays — the salmon so numerous it boggled the mind, and those Lahontan cutthroat trout so big you couldn’t wrap your arms around them. Yet even with these anecdotes it’s still hard to internalize just how different our experience of today is from way back when. That’s just human nature: memory is hard to maintain, especially across generations.
Currently fishery managers are forecasting a steelhead run on the Clearwater that may rank as the fourth best among the ten-year average . With any luck we may be seeing a turnaround from some of the most underwhelming runs on record. We should be cautiously optimistic, though and here’s why.
The ROD adopts the preferred alternative developed through the agencies’ environmental impact statement process. The decision recommends a limited increase in the amount of water spilled over the four dams on the Lower Snake River, but allows the dams to stay in place at a significant cost to salmon, steelhead, tribes, anglers, and communities across the Columbia Basin.
The Clearwater River has seen its fair share of low points over the last five years, from depressed steelhead runs to spring/summer Chinook runs that underwhelm the communities reliant on these runs for their economies. But there is one shining bit of good news on this river: the status of fall-run Chinook.
Last month, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration released the final environmental impact statement for future operations of the Columbia River System, including four dams on the Lower Snake River.
When it finally happens, you’ll know. First, you’ll feel an unmistakable sensation of weight, building and causing an ever-deepening bend in your rod. Then you’ll feel your brain, now infused with adrenalin, on fire with the realization that a steelhead has indeed grabbed your swung fly.
When it comes to the Lower 48, it’s undeniable. The Snake River basin is the last best place to restore salmon and steelhead. And that isn’t just bias coming from an Idaho guy who loves and cherishes the wild landscapes and waters of the Gem State. The Snake River basin was once the preeminent producer of summer steelhead to the …
Eric Crawford is the North Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited and the Wild Steelhead Initiative. Before coming to TU, Eric worked a 25 year career as an enforcement officer with Idaho Fish and Game. He’s based in Moscow, Idaho. It was a fishing trip on a balmy November day, back trolling plugs with an old boss in an even …