Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Smoking Gun on Hatchery Steelhead

I was prepared to write today about Norman Maclean and "A River Runs Through It" and indeed will at a future date but this story is too important.While it does state the obvious, as scientists and fish biologists agree about hatchery fish, it also punches some holes in the over all fitness of wild steelhead broodstock programs.
The linked article comes from the "Daily Barometer", a newspaper published by Oregon State University.
Here is the link to the article by Katy Weaver

Hatchery Steelhead Do Not Measure Up!!!

Of course those proponents of hatcheries and steelhead broodstock programs are already trying to put their uneducated spin on all of this with statements like this from professional fishing guide Jack Smith of Tillamook, Oregon
This is why true wild brood stock programs use only wild fish as parents for each hatchery generation. The resulting generation of hatchery fish are offspring of wild fish. Far from being ground breaking news this paper only states the obvious which is that the way we ran hatcheries for all these years was wrong and if supplementation hatcheries are to exist they need to move toward one generation from wild brood stock programs.

Apparently Mr.Smith did not read the whole article by Ms.Weaver. Especially where Blouin makes this statement

As every generation goes through the hatchery, there is a substantial decline in fitness

Get that? Every generation including the first! While they may be only one generation removed from wild parents they are STILL raised in a hatchery environment.
Let's call it like it is, shall we?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thoughts on Winter

The short dreary days, the seemingly endless rains and the bone chilling cold is what awaits me in the months I dread this time of year.
I guess at this stage of my life I could be called a fair weather fly fisherman and maybe so but I think I've earned it. Life has slowed down for me and I am fortunate to be able to pick and choose the days I spend on the river. I fear that I may have squandered too many of those ideal and perfect days which, as I grow older, will become harder to come by.
It's cold outside, very cold and my mind has not yet accepted that. Wasn't it just yesterday that I was on the Deschutes and Metolius? Didn't I just get back from a leisurely day of coastal cutthroat trout fishing? No matter how I try to prepare myself for the winter it always seems to take me by surprise.
I will pursue winter steelhead with my spey rod and hopefully have a breakthrough season however it's not the same as a spring or late summer day on the river with a big mayfly hatch and rising trout.
I have discovered one thing about my angling life though and that is simply this. The whole experience of fly fishing is more than just the single moment of hooking a fish. Of course that is the ultimate goal in any anglers life but is it really?
The sheer joy of a perfectly executed cast or the satisfaction of a well placed fly has become of greater importance in the over all scheme of things in this old fly fisherman's life. It's a well worn cliche to say that fly fishing is so much more than just catching a fish but however over used that statement may be it is something the the famous fly fishermen of days gone by absolutely believed. I believe it with all my heart because as I've grown older the simpler things are most important and I seek the simpler things especially when I am on the river. Just the day to day struggles of life are complicated enough for me so I want to have things simple while fishing.
Despite the dreariness that defines winter, I do find the notion of a fly caught winter steelhead as the ultimate challenge and that will sustain me this winter.
In the final analysis though, the winter will be totally what I make it. If I want to mope around the house most of the day in my underwear watching Jerry Springer or sitting in front of the computer that will be easy enough to do....I've done it before.
As I get older the more the winter brings out the little aches and pains as if I didn't enough trouble with those through the rest of the year. I actually do feel best while out on the river and so that shows me that my winter "blues" are purely of my own making.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has diminished now that my children are all grown and dealing with their own holiday issues so the anticipation of young children on a Christmas morning is past...I do wish I saw more of my grand childen though. Traditionally I have kicked off the winter steelhead season around Thanksgiving but thanks to the engineering of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife the hatchery steelhead arrive late in the winter along with the wild steelhead.
So here I perch on the brink of yet another winter and wonder what this winter will bring.
It reminds me of of an old song by an obscure rock group named "Firefall"
I especially like this verse.

"Last night it snowed for the first time.
Everythings covered in white.
How many months till the springtime?
It's a long winter's night"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rivers Without Salmon

So where are they? That certainly must be the number one question on the mind of every Pacific Northwest salmon angler this season.
The annual fall return of the coastal chinook, coho and chum salmon is missing! No hordes of chum salmon filling the riffle and holes of the Miami and Kilchis river and no rotting carcasses that greet the angler's olfactory senses upon walking to the river bank. As recent as last year as I walked down the Kilchis river, scattering the hundreds of dying chum salmon that swam in my path, the runs seemed to be on track as far as a fragile recovering and endangered fish can be. Their numbers have not come close to the levels we saw in earlier years but they were still plentiful and would provide the exploring fly fisherman with a satisfied sense of well being because they had defied odds and returned once again....but not this year and that is frightening.
Chum salmon in Oregon are protected so there is no sports or commercial harvest. One has to think about some kind of change in the ocean or maybe global warming?
The harbinger of upcoming disaster was probably there for us all to see but we missed it.
Loss of habitat, climate change, a change in the ocean up swell, angling pressure and egg hunters can all share in the blame.
Let's take a look at the last of these culprits shall we? First let me state that prime salmon roe is gold! I've often mused that it could be used as currency in Tillamook county because of it's value. Enterprising bait dealers will sell their cured eggs at about $25.00 a quart and that is about normal for cured salmon roe.
The over sized eggs of a ripe female makes the egg hunters of the north coast giddy in anticipation catching a hen salmon. Doesn't matter what condition the edible flesh of these fish are, it's the five or so pounds of fresh roe that is the real prize. Often these "sportsmen" will release a big bright male salmon in favor of the eggs of a grey bellied female.
See the vicious cycle here? Gotta catch more hens to get eggs to catch more hens to get eggs and so on.
So how many eggs do salmon have?
Generally from 2,500 to 7,000 depending on species and size of fish. The chinook salmon generally produces the most and largest, most desirable by sports angler, eggs.
Those eggs will yield a return of one to five percent. Do the math because it all adds up doesn't it.
We Americans are very good at finger pointing except when it comes to pointing the finger at ourselves.
After years of egg harvesting it's bound to take a toll don't you think? Again the greed of some affects many.
So while egg hunters are not the biggest suspects in the salmon decline they surely have played a part in it especially in coastal rivers which are primarily wild fish. The commercially sold eggs are generally from hatcheries surplus and are not sports caught.
The recognition of the impact of this "egg hunting" is slow in coming but there are some that are now not keeping females and that is a good sign. Hopefully the enlightenment of some will influence others and that can indeed make a difference.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Idyllic Fly Fishing

Have you ever seen those old vintage fly fishing photos from back in the fifties? You know the ones I'm talking about. Usually an advertisement for product on the back cover of a magazine or perhaps on the inside but I really think they are cool.
The person fishing is absolutely immaculate! Not a hair out of place and neatly dressed. If the fly fisherman was not wearing waders then his trouser were perfectly pressed and creased. Usually this gentleman would be wearing a jaunty fedora of some kind with a brier pipe clenched firmly in his angular jaw.
If the ad features a female angler she is of course beautiful and showing just enough titillation to keep us guys interested. Some even wore skirts!!! Make up perfectly applied too. Of course those were the days when the dangers of cigarette smoking were not fully known but the picture looked good and the model was indeed beautiful.

The rivers and lakes are pristine, the fish are big and the sky is blue. Some ads showed the fly fisherman relaxing in his immaculate camp around the campfire that would be cooking up a pan full of tasty trout.
I often wonder if it was ever really like that. Was there a time that the rivers ran unfettered by dams and unpolluted by man? Or is it just a fantasy cleverly manipulated for the camera.
There are still plenty of places that the idealistic fly fisherman can wet a line and hook into some beautiful wild trout.
There are still places that hardly show the influence and impact of man. Pretty women and handsome men can still be seen casting the perfect loop to a rising trout. I think we are very lucky that those places do exist and one does not have to travel the globe to find them.
I know a few places near me that are still pristine and unspoiled. Take a look at the Metolius in central Oregon or the North Fork Umpqua or even high up in the headwaters of any coastal stream. You'll find me there and while I may not get mistaken for Brad Pitt from "A River Runs Through It" I'm not so much of an eyesore as to spoil the lovely setting. I doubt that I'll be getting offers to pose for any Hardy Bros. advertisements though.
Beauty and idyllic fly fishing can be found...just look harder.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's All About Me !!!!!

The largest northwest internet fishing forum is in a tizzy because the CCA (Coastal Conservation Association) basically told them "Don't call us, we'll call you"
The owner of that website is so put off by this "dissing" by the CCA that this owner openly posts that they regrets joining them (CCA) and then the link to the CCA on that fishing websites homepage was summarily removed. It was later returned after the owner forced an apology from CCA Northwest.
So what does all this mean? Someone gets their feelings hurt because they didn't get the spotlight that they are so used to shown on them for once? Kind of childish when you consider the greater good of the resource that is involved isn't it?
I'm in no way endorsing the CCA. I know very little about them and have decided to take a wait and see attitude about this group. If they are only interested in quotas and allocation then I will not support them in any way. If they are truly a conservation organization then great!
The thing that makes this public disassociation by CCA of that website and the self important indignation by the owner of that site so ridiculous is this! Conservation should never, ever be about personalities or groups...ever!!! What is wrong with these people?
Are they putting their petty and childish behavior before the plight of the fish? It would sure seem so wouldn't it?
So this is what it's come down to here in the northwest huh? Peoples feelings are more important than the mission! So goes the selfish harvest mentality crowd.
It's disgusting that the focus always seems to be directed to personalities instead of what is really important.
Listen folks! It's all about wild fish and their habitat and how we best protect them. It's not about the spotlight or who gets the proper amount of attention shown them.
This is destructive and in the long run it hurts the resource.