Going to School

Last weekend, Lori and I made the trek to Maupin, Oregon for the Native Fish Society annual River Stewards Gathering. As a newbie to the program, I was there to learn as much as possible from the group of stewards and presenters gathered from all over the west coast.

Maupin

We arrived late on Friday night due to Portlandia traffic and missed the opening night dinner. I ran down to the after-party for a bit to say hello to a few of the folks I know in the organization.

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Spring Chinook Salmon – 2015

One of the coolest events in nature is happening now.  The pairing up of Spring Chinook Salmon in their native habitat, preparing to spawn.  This is the end of the life cycle for them and the beginning of the life cycle for the next generation.

 

Admittedly, the video quality is lacking.  You’ll find much better elsewhere on the web without looking to hard. This was all I got before the battery died.

I watched this fish, presumably a female, at a very close distance, for about an hour.  So close, that I was able to see that she had an adipose fin intact.  This indicated to me that she was a wild fish, born in this very river 4 or 5 years ago. She likely hatched from this very same patch of gravel, just east of Gates, Oregon.

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Some River Steward I am

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.

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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!

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Feels like Fall

This is the time of year when many fly anglers start to feel overwhelmed. Fly anglers with ADHD can be found curled up in a ball under their desk, rocking back and forth and mumbling.  Why? There are just too many options and the clock is ticking.big_hole_fall
October Caddis are sealed off now and will begin hatching soon.  Big trout all over the west will be feasting on this bug to bulk up for winter.  Hope you’re stocked up on Yak Caddis.

Steelhead are moving into the “dry side” rivers in good numbers.  The Dechutes River fish are in and it won’t be long until runs start in the John Day, Grand Ronde and move on up to Idaho’s Clearwater River.

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Advocating

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.

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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.

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