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600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

This document is provided for archival purposes only.
Archived documents do not reflect current WDFW regulations or policy and may contain factual inaccuracies.

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October 31, 2000
Contact: Glen Mendel, (509) 382-1005

Snake River steelheaders reminded to release salmon

Steelhead trout fishers are reminded to release any salmon accidentally caught in the Snake River and its tributaries.

Fall chinook salmon are abundant in the Snake River system this year, but are not legal to keep and must be carefully released, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Glen Mendel of Dayton. The abundance, especially in the jack salmon age class of two to three-year-olds, is due to increased releases of chinook from WDFW and Nez Perce Tribe acclimation sites above Lower Granite Dam, and favorable ocean conditions.

The Snake River system also has some coho salmon from Nez Perce Tribe releases in the Clearwater River in Idaho. They also must be released if caught.

The Snake River steelhead run has been strong this year with catch rates of less than ten hours per fish on the mainstem and the Grande Ronde River. News of the hot fishing has drawn more inexperienced anglers who may not be able to correctly identify chinook or coho salmon, and may not be releasing fish properly.

The following are identification keys:

  • A steelhead trout has a square tail, many small spots on the upper body, a white mouth inside, and a short and deep anal fin (bottomside fin near tail) with eight to 12 rays.
  • A chinook salmon has a forked tail, scattered large spots on the upper body, a black mouth inside, and a long and shallow anal fin with 14 to 19 rays.
  • A coho salmon has a forked tail, scattered small spots on the upper body, black mouth with white gums inside, and a long and shallow anal fin with 12 to 17 rays.

Barbless hooks are required for fishing steelhead on the Snake River and its tributaries to aid in the safe release of wild steelhead and other salmon which cannot be kept. Only hatchery steelhead, marked by missing adipose fin (topside fin near tail), can be kept.

If a salmon or wild steelhead is caught, here's how to release it unharmed:

  • Keep the fish in the water at all times.
  • Avoid touching the fish, if possible, by using a de-hooking device to remove the hook.
  • If you must handle the fish, wet your hands before touching it to avoid removing its protective slime layer.
  • If the fish is exhausted, cradle it in the water and rock it back and forth to help it re-establish its equilibrium before releasing it.