Fisheries experts are expecting about 1,000 steelhead to arrive in the Thompson River system this fall.
Robert Bison, fishery biologist, Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, said Thursday the estimates based on steelhead numbers caught in Department of Fisheries and Oceans nets at Fort Langley were determined early this week.
A minimum of 850 steelhead must be predicted for the catch-and-release sport fishery to open up. It opened Thursday.
“It’s the first day of the fishery. We have monitors on the ground today and they’ll be along the river for the duration of the season,” said Bison, adding he expected his first report to come in overnight.
The sport fishery opening runs until Dec. 31, but the fish hang around until April or May, when they spawn and die or move down the river, he said.
About 20 per cent of the fish die before they get to the Thompson River, largely due to getting caught in salmon fisheries. The sport fishery has a low mortality rate — two or three per cent — because the water is so cold at this time of year, he said.
All of B.C.’s salmon fisheries have been affected by changes in marine survival since the 1980s.
Bison said the changes made in 2004 to manage steelhead make it tougher on Spences Bridge business people who rely on angler tourism, because the decision on whether the fishery will open comes so late.
But there are still die-hard fishermen just watching and waiting to find out if they can pack their rods and head to B.C., said Bison. “Last year we had Japanese and Italian fishermen in a week after we announced.”
At The Packing House coffee shop in Spences Bridge, Dave Rice said Thursday’s opening day for this year’s fishery was a good one.
He was out in the river between 5 and 6 a.m. — an hour before the sun came up. He estimated about 30 people were in the water where he was as well. He caught one steelhead that morning, a 14-pounder.
In the afternoon, he was in the café, where business was brisk.
“It’s busier here than it was yesterday.”