Monday, November 21, 2011

Catch and Release

We are in the thick of Clearwater B-Run steelhead return. Fishers are lining the banks of the Clearwater River from Lewiston east to Kamiah presenting every imaginable variety of fly, lure, or jig trying to catch the “Steelie” of their life. It is fun to watch people from all walks of life come together to fish; exchanging stories about the “one that got away,” and sharing in the excitement when someone’s line goes tight and their reel starts zinging. Making sure there are stories to tell and fish to show off are some of the many reasons I love my job. Seeing a child bring in his or her first fish is an affirmation for what the National Fish Hatchery System does: working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

An angler lands a respectable steelehad. / USFWS

In an effort to conserve and enhance the Clearwater River B-run, the Idaho Fishery Resource Office is utilizing a mark re-capture strategy to determine if early returning B-run steelhead remain in the area throughout the run. This is being accomplished by PIT tagging early returning steelhead, releasing them to the river, and tracking where they go. The concern is that the earlier returning fish are in the river longer and therefor are exposed to more fishing and harvesting pressure. Dworshak National Fish Hatchery strives to get even representation throughout the B-run by collecting adult steelhead as they begin arriving in October. Collections continue throughout the run, which typically ends in April. The consequence of this impressively long run time is an equally long holding time for early run fish. If the PIT tagged fish return to the Hatchery later in the run then we will have a good idea that early run steelhead are staying near the hatchery and we can achieve the run representation we are looking for without opening our ladder early and holding fish for several months.

B-run steelhead making the final leap up the fish ladder at
Dworshak National Fish Hatchery. / USFWS
Other valuable information is being gathered from these PIT tagged adults. PIT tag detection sites located along the South Fork Clearwater River and Lolo Creek have recorded some of the tagged fish indicating the fish will stray to other areas. There have also been a small number of fish detected at Lower Granite Dam indicating kelts (adult steelhead that spawn and return to the ocean) returning to the ocean. Everything that is learned from this project will further our understanding of this incredible species and will enable biologists to make sound management decisions. In turn, the remarkable steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River will continue, the even more remarkable fishing stories will be told, and “the one that got away” will never be forgotten.

USFWS employees PIT tag an adult female
 steelhead that recently returned to the Hatchery
 in the early part of the B-run. / USFWS

PIT tags give unique identification number
to the fish allowing them to be tracked wherever
there is a detection site. / USFWS

"There is certainly something in fishing that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit, a pure serenity of mind."

~by Washington Irving~

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