This is the time of year when Spring Chinook Salmon in the Upper Willamette Basin begin to build redds and spawn. On my way to the Upriver Celebration this past weekend, my wife Lori texted me a picture of an expired fish she and our daughter Hadlee found floating in the swimming hole directly below our home. With white sores and blackish body, it was obviously a Springer. Not unusual this time of year, and entirely expected in light of the warmer than usual water temperature.
This past evening I walked downstream to see if the area where prior years redds have been were showing any signs of spawning activity. I was also curious to check on progress of October Caddis in the area. It’s also this time of year that the big bugs seal off inside their cases and begin the process of metamorphosis, turning into winged adults.
When the trail to the river opened up, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just downstream from the gravel bed was a crude rock dam from one side of the river to the other! It had an inch or two of water flowing over it’s top.
How could this happen right under my nose, literally! The dam is less than 100 yards from our house. It’s construction likely occurred slowly over the summer as recreational swimmers attempted to hold more water in the “deep hole”, as we refer to it.
Now I don’t want to be hypocritical about it. We often (annually) make some minor in-stream modifications of our own. We move some big rocks between the main channels to create an easy wading path across the river to avert stubbed toes, twisted ankles, slips and falls. But we don’t block the entire width of the river!
Advocate: a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a cause.
Yup, I’ve been doing a lot of that this past several months. I can’t pinpoint exactly what triggered it for me, but it happened. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 50 this year. Maybe it was something I heard at the Wild Steelheaders United kick-off meeting. Maybe it was Dylan’s first steelhead – a 38″ wild buck from the Little North Santiam. Most likely, it was a combination of the three that flipped the switch in me. Whatever it was, it pushed me from lurking in the shadows into the full light of day. I started reading studies, digging deeper and jumped head first into the world of advocacy. I became a wild fish advocate.
I learned the story behind so many great things that have happened in the past few years – dams being torn down, reforms in hatchery programs and harvest methods, agriculture and forest practices revisions, etc. etc. Everyday people have been fighting these battles for years, behind the scenes, to effect change and I’ve been mostly oblivious to it.
I’ve been constructing a soap box and testing it’s stability. I’ve made some bold statements about hatcheries, hydroelectric power, the logging industry and more. I’ve attended meetings, spoke at a few, went to film screenings, made donations to specific groups and withdrew my support from others. I’ve put my money where my mouth is.
Every US state requires some sort of certification prior to issuing a hunting license. Most do the same for a trapping license as well. But nothing of the sort exists for obtaining an angling license. As much as I enjoy seeing a kid walking/biking to the local river to fish, it causes me to wonder if they know what they are doing?
This kid obviously knows what he’s doing. After all, he lives under the same roof with a Fly Fishing Guide/Tree Hugger.
The Oregon Department of Fishing & Wildlife does an outstanding job of promoting the sport of angling. They put on numerous seminars and clinics around the state introducing kids (and adults) to the sport. They have a huge network of volunteers that receive instruction and certification. The ODFW provides basic instruction on the various fishing methods and opportunities in each area. They also have “free fishing days” and family fishing events. It’s a great program in most respects. But there are a few things missing, at least as far as I’ve seen when attending and/or assisting with various events.
Some of the areas I would like to see expanded on are:
If you haven’t seen the movie “Perfect Storm”, I recommend you rent it, stream it, etc. It’s a good flick about some commercial fisherman on the eastern seaboard that get caught out at sea when two major storm systems collide. But this isn’t about the movie. The storm I’m talking about is coming our way in the form of the current drought and the forming of an El Nino in the Pacific.
This link to NOAA Fisheries site has some great information about El Nino conditions that I won’t detail here. Let’s just suffice to say that it’s bad news for Pacific Salmon and Steelhead. El Ninos occur pretty regularly. Warmer water than normal moves up the coasts of South, Central and North America and impact all inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean – from the bottom of the food chain to the top. The El Nino forming now is expected to be very strong – one of the warmest in the past 50 years. For Salmon and Steelhead, it means less forage fish (food) and a condensed environment. Generally salmon and steelhead experience reduced growth and increase mortality during an El Nino.
This is the rotten cherry on top of a crappy ice cream sundae.
Earlier this week a clogged inlet stopped flowing water from entering the raceways containing 400,000 juvenile salmon at the Rock Creek Hatchery along the North Umpqua River. All of the young fish were killed. My 1st thought was “there’s goes a half million dollars!”.
Those juvenile fish were set to be released into the North Umpqua next spring, to begin their 3-5 year life cycle, with the final stage being a return to where they were released to start the process all over again. 400,000 fish sounds like a lot, and it is, but generally, hatchery returns are around 0.7%- 1.2%. So in the end, we lost 3,000 – 4,500 returning adults 3 to 5 years from now.
What happens to the other 395,000 fish that are released each and every year? I’m guessing that a whole lot of them don’t survive the first week after being released. Let’s jump back a little and look at the process.