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!

My mind flashed back to that picture Lori had sent me. Did that fish expire naturally, or did it use up the last fuel in it’s tank getting past the rock dam?

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After dinner, I put on my muck boots and headed down to deconstruct the dam. In hind sight, a pre-construction briefing would have been a good idea.  I stepped right in and began moving rocks. I worked my way across river, opening up a few deep slots, just to get some water going again. As I started back across river, I realized my error in being hasty and diving in without a plan. I’d opened a couple channels that were about 4 feet across and about 2 feet deep. My muck boots are about 20 inches high. You do the math…..

Arriving back to my side of the river with full boots and water wicking up to my knees, I sat down to admire my handy-work, catch a breather and nurse a rock smashed fingernail.  As the light began fading, two dark shapes moved upstream and through one of the channels I just created!  They pushed through and disappeared into the “deep hole”!  There was too much glare on the water too see if they were wild or hatchery fish.  I couldn’t even identify their sex.

Then I began to ponder whether I’d done the right thing.  Did I just allow a couple hatchery raised fish to move up river and spawn?  Or worse yet – did I create the opportunity for hatchery fish to interbreed with their wild cousins and dumb-down the gene pool?

After some thought, I determined I’d done the right thing. Maybe the glass was half-full rather than half-empty and I’d just allowed a male and female wild Chinook to pass upstream. Maybe they’ll find gravel and “do their thing”. Maybe some of their eggs will hatch, the juvelines will go to the ocean for a few years and come back home, find a mate and keep the species going.  Yup, I’m going with that scenario.

Tight lines, Keep ’em Wet, and don’t build rock dams across a river!

Dave

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