SALMON RETURN TO IMNAHA
Sunrise never comes too early for these anglers.
They are the ones waiting before sunup by fishing holes on the Imnaha River.
They come to get the best fishing holes for the spring chinook salmon season, which is now under way on the Imnaha River.
"You have to camp at a hole to get access to it,'' said salmon angler Don Siedelman of Waitsburg, Wash.
Angling thus becomes a waiting game, one that continues once daylight arrives. It is not a game many anglers have been winning since the 10-day season started Saturday.
"Some people are fishing all day and just getting one bite,'' said Siedelman, who earlier worked 21 1/2 years as a biologist for Alaska's fish and game department.
The catch rate is low because the number of spring chinook salmon returning to the Imnaha is down, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Brad Smith.
The salmon anglers are hooking are full of fire.
"They will toss and turn on you, that is for sure,'' said Siedelman, who owns property in Wallowa County.
The salmon are biting on eggs off of lines that are being floated.
Fishing conditions are solid, Smith said, noting that the water is clear and the river level has dropped, making more fishing holes accessible.
"Conditions will get better if the water continues to drop,'' Smith said.
Anglers are able to fish for spring chinook salmon from the mouth of the Imnaha upstream 45 miles to the Summit Creek Bridge. Most anglers are fishing near the town of Imnaha.
The majority of fish in this year's run are four-year-olds that spent two years in the ocean, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Rich Carmichael. These fish average 31 inches in length and weigh 8 to 12 pounds.
Following are the other ages of salmon in the run:
three-year-olds these are jacks that spent one-year at sea. They average 23 inches in length and weigh about five pounds.
five-year-olds these fish spent three years in the ocean, have an average length of 36 inches and weigh 14-20 pounds.
six-year-olds very rare in most runs, including this year's, these fish spent four years in the ocean and are the largest of the salmon returning to the Imnaha.
About two out of three salmon in the Imnaha are hatchery raised fish, Carmichael said. The others are wild salmon that must be released unharmed.
Anglers can keep one salmon per day, including jacks, and are limited to two fish for the season, which extends through July 4.
Anglers need a valid 2005 Oregon fishing license and a Combined Angling Tag to fish for the spring chinook. Anglers can fish from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset.
The ODFW, the Nez Perce Tribe and the National Marine Fisheries Service worked together to provide this fishing opportunity. This is the fourth straight year a salmon fishing season has been offered on the Imnaha.
The Imnaha season is the second conducted for spring chinook salmon this year in Wallowa County. The first ran from May 21 to June 19 on the Snake River from Dug Bar north to Hells Canyon Dam.