The Basin Study Work Group was a multiyear study of water issues, primarily centered on the upper Deschutes River, which concluded last week. The Deschutes River Conservancy did an excellent job of shepherding the effort, producing valuable studies that added to our knowledge of how water is managed and strategies that could be used to conserve it, although none of them are required to be implemented. The final meeting ended with participants congratulating each other for a job well done which, for me, crystallized the failures of the process, including the catastrophic draining of Wickiup Reservoir this summer.
Unfortunately, as of the end of September things still look pretty bleak for wild fish this season. The trap at Sherars Falls has captured a total of 44 wild steelhead. Only 3 of these have made it to the the trap at the bottom of the Pelton Round Butte complex (Lake Billy Chinook, etc.). Two of those are actually hatchery steelhead that were released above Lake Billy Chinook but did not have their adipose fins clipped. As I detailed in a series of posts starting here, these fish could be on a path to extinction in the not too distant future.
The US Secretary of Commerce has declared that commercial salmon fishing along the west coast from 2015 through 2017 was a disaster. (It’s no better this year and steelhead are also in critical condition.) The determination provides economic assistance for commercial fishing communities. This recognition is welcome but it seems to me that it would be equally important to fix the root causes. Without this the desired “rebound” will not occur.
Last week I sent an email to the Bend Bulletin pointing out that their coverage of low levels in Wickiup Reservoir was inaccurate when it assigned partial blame to the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog. Flows for the frog out of Wickiup into the upper Deschutes River are in the winter only and Wickiup was completely full when irrigation season began. I was happy the Bulletin published a new article today that correctly identifies last winter’s low snow pack as the culprit for low water levels, but this new article also fails to address another important issue. Why where no mitigating actions taken? There are strategies that could have reduced the draw down. Read More »
Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs on the upper Deschutes River were constructed to hold water for irrigation releases from Bend to Madras. Wickiup is currently at its lowest level since 1952, and it may get lower. As of September 20th Wickiup is only 2% full. Until recently, Wickiup had some of the best kokanee fishing in the state and excellent trout fishing as well. This popular fishery is now gone.Read More »
Today I talked to the ODFW biologist in charge of the lower Deschutes. He said that it was too early to know how many wild steelhead would return this season but if he had to guess it would be similar to last year, which was one of the lowest on record. He was optimistic, however, that the population would recover if conditions improved. As I have discussed on this blog, that’s a very big if and trend is not encouraging. He acknowledged that less angling pressure would benefit wild fish but thought that I went too far to state that it was immoral to target them. While I really want to fish the lower Deschutes, for now I am going to focus on coastal rivers where counts are at or above their 10 year averages. Hopefully, counts on the Deschutes will significantly climb over the next couple of months.
I was wandering around various angling conservation websites and came across “How does catch and release affect steelhead?” on the Wild Steelhead Coalition website. It was a summary of a study done on the Bulkley River in British Columbia. The primary takeaways for me are that I will continue to avoid steelheading on the Deschutes for now and I need to start using a net. Like many fly anglers, I land a steelhead by bringing it close enough to grab by the tail before removing the hook. The study showed that “tailed” fish had higher levels of stress than netted fish.Read More »