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A Trip To The Salmon River With A Local Fisherman: Steelhead Trout Declining In Idaho

RIGGINS, IDAHO (Murrow News 8) – A perfect October for fishermen Steve Hilton involves nothing but his boat, his family, and the Salmon River.

Hilton has been coming to Riggins, Idaho for 18 years in the fall to fish for Steelhead trout. Traveling up from Boise, Hilton sets up camp at Island Bar Recreation Site, only 15 minutes from town.

“It’s just a nice place to get away from things,” Hilton said.

Getting away from the hustle and bustle of home, Hilton spends the whole month of October alongside the river, relaxing and fishing to his heart’s content. His daughter and son come up on the weekends, and of course, all the dogs come, too; Stella, Bo, Harper, and Rocky to be exact.

Spending time with his family is by far the most enjoyable part of these trips, but Hilton can’t help but notice how the number of fish have been significantly declining over the years.

“Steelhead’s getting so bad, and there’s not a lot of hope of it ever coming back,” Hilton said.

Over in town, even before the sun has come up, Riggins fishing guide Roy Akins is meeting his team for breakfast at the River Rock Café before heading out on the river to (hopefully) catch some fish. Being a long-time activist for saving the Salmon and Steelhead, Akins knows a thing or two about the decline of the wild fish in Idaho.

“When we get to wild fish numbers in Idaho, we’ve seen steady decline since the creation of the four lower Snake River dams,” Akins said.

One of those dams is the Lower Granite Dam, located almost 200 miles away from Riggins. There, most Steelhead trout that make their way to the Salmon River in Riggins, pass through. According to Akins, about 55 to 60 percent of these out-migrating fish are lost in one year, when there is not ample water flow through the dams.

And when there are not any fish to catch, the small rural town of Riggins is hit hard economically.

“About 60 percent of our year depends on Steelhead,” Akins said. “From the bars, restaurants, gas stations, tackle shops and outfitters, motels, everybody depends on it through the winter months.”

This is a complex problem that Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, Governor Jay Inslee, and Sen. Patty Murray are working to fix, but it will take time. In the meantime, Hilton is still fishing, still waiting for a bite.

“Right now, if we get one in a day, we call it pretty good,” Hilton said.

And a good day it was.

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