Deschutes Steelheading: Now a Moral Issue?

As local anglers know, the 2017/2018 steelhead season was bleak, adult returns were one of the lowest on record.  After some initial optimism for at least a modest rebound, this season now looks to be even worse.  A few days ago Oregon and Washington lowered their forecast for returns and closed the Columbia River and parts of some tributaries to steelhead fishing for the rest of the year.  We anglers are now faced with a moral issue: even if most of the Deschutes remains open, can we afford to further stress and potentially kill the small numbers of wild fish that do return?  See below to make your own informed decision.Read More »

Lower Deschutes Fires

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Fires on the lower Deschutes this year are the worst in memory.  I have been told that it looks like this from Mack’s Canyon almost to the mouth as well as in many places above Mack’s.  The main campgrounds above Mack’s along the dirt road have been saved but most of the campgrounds below are burned to the ground, including many of the outhouses.  It’s going to be tough camping for floaters for a while.  The good news is that early summer steelhead numbers are reasonable although the river temps in the lower most stretches are too hot in the afternoon to safely land fish.  The sick joke is that it’s time to get out your single hand rods again as there is plenty of room to back cast.

Bull trout redd survey

I had a request to post the bull trout redd survey data.  As you can see, there has not been a significant drop recently.  There is also hydroacoustic data that shows a continued steady population of bull trout in Lake Billy Chinook.  The big drop in 2006 is correlated with a drop in the kokanee population, the bull’s primary food source, after the bulls became too numerous to be supported by the ecosystem.  Note that the redd count has stayed fairly constant since then and at a level above pre-SWW levels.

Lower Deschutes fish populations & health

At last week’s fisheries workshop, ODFW gave their annual report of fisheries  population and health for the lower Deschutes.  Since the 1970s they have been electrofishing the same stretches from Warm Springs to Jones Creek.  As reported in past years, trout continue to be in excellent health.  Condition factors were good before operation of the SWW and they are at least as good now.  If anything, the fish appear to be growing faster and are larger.Read More »

Bull trout and kokanee in Lake Billy Chinook

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Slightly off topic for this blog, but I was frustrated with multiple fly fishing trips for bull trout at LBC this spring.  The photo is of one of my sons from last spring when big fish like this were common.  This spring they were nonexistent.  I contacted the fisheries biologists at PGE and they said they had no evidence of a population drop and shared a chart of redd spawning surveys in Metolius tributaries which continued to show a robust population.Read More »

North Fork Crooked trout survey

Most Central Oregon anglers are familiar with the Wild & Scenic section of the Crooked River below Bowman Dam.  Of course, the Crooked flows into Prineville Reservoir as well but based on my experience few outside of Crook County have spent much time there.  The North Fork of the Crooked does not provide the same abundance of fishing as the Wild & Scenic section, but it flows through a beautiful area of the Ochoco Mountains.  Prior to the construction of all the dams below (Bowman, Opal Springs, and the PRB complex), this section of the river was prime spawning habitat for anadromous fish.  Big Summit Prairie is also nearby, worthy of a visit on its own.  The last time I visited the North Fork my wife and I saw one of the biggest bears I have seen in Oregon, it was a brownish red color and seemed undisturbed by us as we watched it for some time.  The North Fork provides habitat for an important strain of wild, native redband trout.  ODFW is planning a electrofishing survey of the North Fork and could use some volunteers, this would be a great opportunity to help and see some beautiful country that is not very far away.Read More »

Climate changes in Montana (and locally)

I was recently sent a link to an interesting article about climate change’s impact on fly fishing in Montana and the continued denial of the science by so many, even the local Trout Unlimited chapter.  The article is part of a series by Inside Climate News.  It was worthwhile reading and also reminded me of anglers venting about PGE causing changes on the lower Deschutes and not considering the undeniable changes we have seen in our local climate over the past few years.  Clearly, the SWW has made an impact on the river, but so has a series of droughts, low water years, and year after year of record hot summers.  Next week is the annual 2-day Deschutes fisheries workshop and I look forward to hearing the latest science on the lower D. Read More »

Three days on the lower Deschutes

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Monday through Wednesday this week and friend Dan Pebbles and I floated the Deschutes from Trout Creek to Maupin.  It was a great trip.  It was hot, the river looked great, and the bugs were everywhere.  We caught so many fish on the surface it was almost boring.  They were uniformly healthy looking.  Fat 14” to 16” fish were common, a few were measured at 18” plus/minus, a size that used to be unusual.  The only problem with the float was the guide hatch.  What a crowd!  Seriously, there should be a much smaller limit.  The cougar in camp early Wednesday morning was a new one for me, fortunately no damage was done.  Of course, the lower D is a controversial and emotional issue for many.  There’s still time to sign up for the annual Fisheries Workshop and get the latest science to form your own informed opinion.

Is TID pulling a fast one?

As I discussed in this post, Tumalo Irrigaion District is asking taxpayers to pay the full $42M+ cost of piping their irrigation canals.  They claim in their Draft Environmental Assessment that piping will conserve about 48 cfs (page xxvii) which they will return in-stream.  BUT, page D-20 of the appendix contains a table showing increased water deliveries to irrigators after piping is complete.  Where does this water come from?  Why is it not being returned to the river?  Why is on-farm conservation not being pursued to REDUCE usage?  You have until May 22 to submit your comments.

Fact checking…

Once again, I was criticized for making statements that readers believed to be erroneous, this time in my post on Tumalo Irrigation District’s piping plans. I did provide footnotes and links to source material but I guess that was not enough. Today, a slightly shorter version of the post was published in The Bend Bulletin after being independently fact checked by them. I did have to add the word “most” to one sentence, but otherwise the only changes were for brevity to fit their 650 word limit. We can all have our own opinions, but we can’t have our own facts.

Who should pay for irrigation canal piping?

Central Oregon Irrigation Districts have spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars piping their canals.  They plan to request hundreds of millions more [1].  A current example is Tumalo Irrigation District’s application for funding [2] their next piping phase which will cover 68.8 miles, take 11 years to implement, and is expected to cost $42,689,000, all paid by taxpayers [3].   You can comment on TID’s plan until May 22 by visiting www.oregonwatershedplans.org.

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Disappearing west . org

I was recently made aware of this informative website from the Center for American Progress.  The section on rivers and the interactive mapping they provide is excellent.  Zoom in on Central Oregon to see just how bad things look.  The report also underlines the “economic powerhouse” that river-based recreation creates.  It’s a worthwhile read.

Crooked River Fish Sampling

Every year ODFW counts fish in the Crooked River below Bowman Dam.  This year they are sampling June 18-22 and are looking for help.  Volunteers walk down the bank of the river while ODFW biologists float and shock the river.  Fish near the boat are temporally stunned by the electric current and float to the surface where they are captured, counted, and measured.  I first helped with this years ago and it made me a far better angler on the Crooked and elsewhere.   Even after decades of fishing experience and “reading the water”, I was amazed to see where fish were holding and in what numbers.   If you are interested in helping, contact Tim Porter, Assistant District Fish Biologist in Prineville, at Timothy.K.Porter@state.or.us or (541) 447-5111 ext. 24.  Let him know which day(s) you can help and he will get back to you with more detailed info.  You need to be able to carry buckets of stunned fish back upstream to release them near where they were captured.  The day usually lasts from 8:30 am until 2 pm.

ODFW Budget & Klamath River Restoration

As you know, the state of Oregon works on a 2-year (“biennium”) cycle.  State agencies are now preparing their 2019-2021 budget requests which will be sent to the governor and then to the legislature for final approval.  ODFW voluntarily gathers public feedback on their budget through what they call the External Budget Advisory Committee, of which I am a member.  Last week was the final EBAC meeting and I am happy to report that ODFW appears to be in reasonable shape.  They are far from flush with cash but they are not cutting personnel and services like they have in the recent past.  They are also gearing up to work on what they state is potentially the largest anadromous fish reintroduction in the nation in the Klamath Basin.Read More »

Agricuture’s contribution to Deschutes County’s economy

I was recently criticized for not sufficiently valuing the economic contribution of agriculture to the Central Oregon economy.  Some readers felt that the value provided by farmers justified the damage to our local rivers caused by irrigation withdrawals.  I am reminded of an old quote that goes something like “we can have our own opinions but we can’t have our own facts”, so here are some facts.  You can form your own opinion.  I again want to stress that I am not advocating for the forced elimination of water deliveries to any water right holder.  As I have written about on this blog there are affordable and relatively quick solutions that allocate water to irrigators while also partially restoring rivers.  I believe it is time to implement water policies that ensure our economic vitality for the next 100 years, not that reflect the past 100.Read More »

DLT’s Ochoco Preserve

This afternoon I was able to tour the Deschutes Land Trust’s new Ochoco Preserve.  The preserve is currently farmland just outside Prineville that will be converted to wetlands over the next decade or so.  It is where McKay and Ochoco Creeks meet the Crooked River.  The potential for new, high quality habitat for native redband trout is very exciting.  These creeks were also important spawning areas for anadromous Chinook salmon and steelhead and may be again once the fish ladder at Opal Springs Dam is complete.  I encourage you to visit the DLT’s site, learn more, and become a member if you are able.

The Malheur Basin needs your help

The southeastern part of Oregon has amazing fishing.  Last summer I spent 10 days driving around that part of the state in my camper with one of my sons, we caught hundreds of trout from a few inches to over 20 inches, and we only came across one other angler the whole time.  If you too love that area, or native fish, you should know ODFW is currently working on a conservation plan for the Malheur Basin and could use your help.

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Economic Value of Rivers in Deschutes County?

I was recently contacted about potentially participating on a panel discussing rivers in Deschutes County.  Others would cover wildlife and habitat issues but they were looking for someone who would address economics.  To the best of my knowledge there have been no comprehensive studies done on this topic but it did get me thinking.

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ODFW’s 2019-2021 Budget

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is a lightning rod for criticism by some.  Having worked for years with many caring department employees I find that disapproval often misplaced.  ODFW would like to do much more for the citizens of Oregon but they are hamstrung by a very tight budget.  Not long ago they literally ended one month with $1.67 in the bank!  After cutting personnel and facilities, and raising fees, they are now in better shape but things remain tight.  They are currently planning their 2019-2021 budget and you have a chance to weigh in.Read More »

Counting Redds on the Metolius

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Beautiful day to count redds on the Metolius with ODFW.  Great excuse to take a day off work.  It is amazing how little spawning habit supports the entire redband trout population on this river.  The fish migrate up close to the headwaters, spawn, and quickly move back downstream.

Water Rights and the UGB

As Central Oregonians know, the City of Bend is expanding and incorporating land into its urban growth boundary, land that may have irrigation water rights.  This land will primarily be used for housing or commercial purposes and, with perhaps the exception of the Park District, will no longer need irrigation water.  Water from one of the three existing municipal water systems will be used instead.  Unfortunately, the irrigators are not returning the now unneeded water back to the Deschutes. Read More »

Wickiup Reservoir Kokanee

In response to the Oregon Spotted Frog being listed as an endangered species, more water is being released into the upper Deschutes in the winter in order to provide improved overwintering habitat.  At the same time, levels in Crane Prairie Reservoir are being more stably managed for consistent habitat.  As a result, levels in Wickiup Reservoir should see larger draw downs in the winter which in turn will likely negatively impact its fish population.  As a result, ODFW is changing the regulations for Wickiup to reduce the number of kokanee that may be harvested.Read More »