“The 2021 Columbia and Snake River Crisis”

On September 4th, The Conservation Angler sent this letter to the chairpersons of the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho fish & wildlife/game commissions. The next day I sent the letter below to Shaun Clements, ODFW Deputy Administrator for Fish Division. Both letters advocate for more stringent regulations to protect steelhead this year. The end of the partial closure on steelhead fishing is only a few days away, the outlook for these fish remains dire, and no new protections have been announced. What is the role of these agencies? To protect or oversee the continued decline of these fish?

September 5, 2021

Mr. Clements,

As you well know, many respected scientists believe that many, if not all, Columbia Basin steelhead could be extirpated in the near term.  You also know that there are many reasons for this and recreational angling is not a major contributor.  Nevertheless, providing as much safety as possible for the few adults who have returned to spawn at this time could make a significant impact in their survival.  I believe we need to do whatever we can to help these fish.

I am an avid steelheader and the Lower Deschutes River is where I spend most of my time.  For the past 3 years, however, I have not specifically fished for steelhead on the Deschutes and advocated that others also do not on my blog, coinformedangler.org.  The population trend has been obvious to anyone who is paying attention and I don’t want to contribute to the decline.  During that time, however, I have caught many steelhead while trout fishing and could easily have caught more if I tried.  Steelhead have not been told the difference between a trout fly and a steelhead fly, and it really is not all that difficult to land a steelhead using trout gear if you possess any level of skill.  These encounters have mostly been in the Warm Springs to Trout Creek stretch of the river, well above Sherars Falls, starting in September.

My point should be obvious: closing the Deschutes River to steelhead fishing below Sherars Falls for the month of September is not an effective action to take.  To be blunt, it appears to be primarily a public relations policy.  It is easy to fish above and below Sherar’s for “trout” with every intention of catching steelhead using what any law enforcement officer, or other angler, would call a trout rod, line, leader, and fly.  Nymphing or swinging small streamers and buggers is the most effective method I have found for catching large redside trout, and steelhead attack them as well.

As a long time ODFW volunteer, including serving on the R&E board, I fully understand the tension that can occur within ODFW between angler access and fisheries management.  I also understand public opinion.  When it comes to preserving a species in a major watershed, however, I believe that the need for conservation should be paramount.  The only effective way to do that is to close the Deschutes River from the mouth to the Pelton Reregulating Dam to all fishing for the rest of the year.

I understand the implications of such a decision and the public fury it would create.  In response, I would ask the public, do you want to be the angler to catch the last steelhead?  I would ask guides and shops, do you want to lose a few months of revenue or potentially all future steelhead related revenue?  The choices really do appear to be that stark.

Thank you for your consideration.  I do not envy being in the position to make this decision.

Yancy Lind