Chasing steelhead in the Boise River has become a fall tradition for many Treasure Valley anglers. Most Novembers, Idaho Fish and Game staff, in cooperation with Idaho Power Company, move up to 1,000 adult steelhead from the Hells Canyon Dam fish trap to five release locations on the lower Boise River. Anglers, often times numbering in the hundreds, patiently await transport trucks. The reward for these anglers who patiently brave the cold and the crowds? An opportunity to catch one of the most prized freshwater sport fish in North America in the heart of Idaho’s biggest city.
The program has a long history. The first of these transplants occurred over 35 years ago, in 1983. Based on fish availability, the transfers continued intermittently through the mid-1990s. Starting in 1995, transfers continued uninterrupted for 24 years until insufficient returns lead to no stocking of the Boise River in 2019. However, that hiatus was short-lived as fish were once again available in 2020.
What determines if fish are available for the lower Boise River?
The primary purpose of trapping adult steelhead at the Hells Canyon Dam is to collect broodstock adults to provide enough eggs for the Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery to produce 800,000 smolts to be released into the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam and into the Little Salmon River. Adults trapped in excess to those needed for broodstock are distributed evenly between the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Idaho Fish and Game. Idaho uses its portion of these surplus fish to create a fishery in the lower Boise River. The year-specific number available depends on the overall surplus. In a year like 2019 when only enough adults are trapped for broodstock needs, no surplus fish become available for the states and tribes to distribute.