Tag Archives: Steelhead

Scotch Broom and Spring Chinook

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Excerpt from Wikipedia:  Scotch Broom (C. scoparius) has been introduced into several other continents outside its native range (western and central Europe) and is classified as a noxious invasive species in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and parts of the east coast of North America. These shrubs commonly grow in disturbed areas and along utility and transportation rights-of-way. The prolific growth of this species after timber harvest inhibits reforestation by competing with seedling trees. It is estimated that it is responsible for US$47 million in lost timber production each year in Oregon.

Having now spent the last 1/4 century living in western Oregon, I feel qualified to say that the only positive thing about Scotch Broom is that it is the harbinger for Spring Chinook in the Willamette Valley.  When it’s blooming near Oregon City, the Springers are passing Willamette Falls.  When it’s blooming near Salem, Spring Chinook are moving into the mainstem Santiam and so on and so forth.

Scotch Broom is currently blooming near Stayton, Lyons, Mill City, Gates and even as far east as Detroit.  Usually that would mean 3,000 – 5,000 Spring Chinook are in the North Santiam Basin. This annual run of Spring Chinook generally breaks down to 20% native/wild fish and 80% hatchery raised fish.   The wild portion of this run is listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List.  Although 4,000 fish have passed Oregon City this year, only 1 has made it as far as Stayton, to pass above Bennett Dams.

The Scotch Broom was wrong this year.  So were the fishery forecasters.  But shooting the messengers doesn’t provide any answers or solve the problem.  Many folks did see this coming (and many more should have).  When this run of fish were smolts heading to ocean 2-3 years ago, they ran head on into both El Nino conditions and what was called “the Blob”.  (I wrote about it in July of 2015 here on this Blog if you want a refresher).  Essentially, these fish swam into an ocean that was warmer than usual.  These conditions disrupted the food chain from bottom to top.  When there’s no food, the populations suffer.

In order for anadromous species to survive, adult fish, that have been living in the ocean, must return to the freshwater to produce the next cycle of fish.  For wild/native fish, they must return to their natal streams and rivers.  For hatchery stocks, the fish have to make it back to the hatchery traps. Although early in the run, it’s probably a good time to be concerned.

Nothing was done to curtail fishing while these fish were in the ocean.  And until very recently, inland sport angling seasons were actually being extended.  Only within the past couple of weeks has the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) taken steps to offer protection of the stocks.  Angling days and bag limits below Willlamette Falls were reduced.  Some recent closures in the Columbia system were addressed as well.  As of yet, ODFW has not addressed angling restrictions or closures upstream of Willamette Falls. (where these fish are working their way towards their natal streams and/or hatchery traps).  In fact, there’s a very clear reminder on the Willamette Zone regulations update page that usual regulations are still in effect.  If this isn’t a clear case of an Ostrich with it’s head in it’s ass  in the sand, I don’t know what is!

The ODFW is following the same route it took with Wild Winter Steelhead (another ESA listed species) earlier this year with a “wait and see” position.  We waited.  What we “saw” was a run of fish that collapsed.  We are at the end of this run of fish and the numbers came out at around 10% of normal.  It’s this type of management that leads directly to extinction of a species.  We can’t blame ODFW for the El Nino or the Blob.  But I do believe we can, and should, call them out for mismanaging the end of the cycle once these fish entered freshwater.

I can only speak for my river – the North Santiam, but I think other tributaries of the Willamette have similar regulations.  As opposed to Salmon angling, there is no closure for steelhead fishing during the year, even when wild winter steelhead are spawning and kelting.  Bait is also allowed year-round. At least spawning salmon are given consideration in the early fall, when angling for them closes for a period of time.  And that consideration is absolutely necessary, not only for the wild/native fish, but also to ensure hatchery brood stock returns. After all, the North Santiam hatchery provides juvenile fish for the Molalla River, Tongue Point and Youngs Bay net pens, in addition to the North Santiam River below Big Cliff dam.  Without returning adults, there is no way to produce the 1.5 million juveniles for stocking locations in the Willamette and Columbia basins annually.

One final issue I generally point out when talking about management of fisheries on my river is the annual stocking of introduced Skamania Summer Steelhead.  I liken it to Scotch Broom from the invasive/noxious perspective.  As noted above, Scotch Broom has a serious impact on forestry as it “inhibits reforestation by competing with seedling trees”.  There is overwhelming scientific evidence the Skamania Summer Steelhead have the same type of impact on wild/native fish species in the region.  They compete with the wild fish at every stage of their life cycle.  Why the ODFW continues this practice is beyond my comprehension.  To purposefully introduce known harmful impacts on an ESA listed species is negligence.  Even more so when we all knew that there was a breakdown in the system for the past couple of years and that ALL species would be taking a hit.

Those yellow flowers we see each spring may be pretty, but they are a killer of our native plant life and cause significant financial problems in the local economy.  They no longer signal the arrival of Spring Chinook, at least this year in the North Santiam Basin.  However, I don’t point my finger at the messenger, instead I point it at the fishery managers.  If this year isn’t a wake up call that hatchery management systems are a failure, then I don’t know what is. Allowing ESA species to blink out on our watch, 2 in particular that are Pacific Northwest Icons, is criminal.

 

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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Lipstick on a Pig – Hydropower Impacts on Wild Fish

The representatives of the 4 H’s (Hydro, Harvest, Hatchery and Habitat) are working overtime to paint a pretty picture here in Oregon. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of TV ads from groups like the Associated Oregon Loggers, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Northwest River Partners, and others. The commercials feature shots of lush, green forests, and crystal clear mountain streams filled with salmon and steelhead making their way upstream. (Must be buying stock footage from video shot in Alaska). They tout the benefits of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules, Clean Hydropower, Commercial Fishing and other “great” things that those industries provide.

The rules and regulations put into place in the 1970’s were great … for the 1970’s. It stopped the wholesale destruction of Oregon Forests and Farmland, the watersheds within, and the fish and wildlife that resided there. Those 40 year old policies did some good. It probably kept several anadromous fish runs from extinction. (See prior blog post here)

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“Clean Hyro” is that latest label used by the Hydropower Industry.  In my mind, it’s just lipstick on a pig.  We’re talking about dams that were built as far back as 90 years ago!  Just how clean can that be. Sure, Hydro doesn’t produce toxic waste in vast quantities, so in that regard, it is clean. But it does have some serious, permanent, long term effects on a river system.   The most obvious of course is cutting off access to spawning grounds.  Grand Coulee Dam blocked 1,100 miles of natural spawning habitat for Chinook, Sockeye and Coho Salmon, Steelhead, and Lamprey Eels and flooded 21,000 acres of land.  It also opened the door for building dams elsewhere on the Columbia and Snake River systems without regard for native fish runs. Today it’s estimated that between 40 -60% of Columbia Basin spawning grounds are inaccessible to anadromous fish. Continue reading

Unpopular at the Boat Ramp

I say and do a lot of things that make me pretty unpopular on the river.  The same things that usually won’t get me invited back to do a 2nd presentation at the local fishing association meetings.

It’s not that I’m rude, loud, obnoxious or otherwise an annoyance to society, it’s that I’m not shy about telling things like I think they ought to be when it comes to water, fish and fishing.

Being a fly fishing guide on a river that is primarily dominated by bait and gear anglers doesn’t help either.  We share the same river, but not the same principals and ideals.

There are a several “hot topics” with anglers and here are a couple I feel strongly about:

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