Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Angel on Earth

May 28th marked the ninth anniversary of my beloved grandmother's death at the age of almost 101. She was my angel on earth. She was the rock of our family when my father and uncle, her sons, died within three months of each other and sustained us in our grief while she held the family together as only she could.
She was a simple and uneducated women but the wisdom she had could not be taught anywhere. In her simple southern ways she was the wisest person I knew and her faith in God was unflinching.
She was an excellent cook and one of her specialties was her applesauce cake that me and my brothers literally fought over when she would send one for Christmas. I still have the recipe and make it from time to time and each time I do I cannot help but get sentimental about her.
No matter how much we disappointed her and I know that I did, she never judged us and never quit loving us.I was fortunate enough to attend her 100th birthday celebration in Florida in 1999 but sadly I knew that this would be the last time I would see her. I miss her terribly but am joyful and truly blessed for the many years she gave us all.

I miss you Mama and I love you

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Regarding Steelhead Broodstock Programs by Bill McMillan

I've corresponded with Bill McMillan over the last few years about various wild fish conservation concerns in this region.
I know of no one more passionate about the fate of wild salmonids as Bill McMillan is.I thought I would share his comments on wild steelhead broodstock programs, a subject that I have touched on more than a few times.

It doesn't much matter where they have occurred geographically, the basics are the same. It is virtually the same hatchery technology that we began with 130 years ago on the West Coast -- take wild fish from their stream of origin (where they are typically needed on the spawning grounds, not removed from them), strip wild females of their eggs, squirt sperm on them from males, rear the eggs in hatchery trays, and rear the juveniles in hatchery confinement prior to release. British Columbia has used native brood steelhead programs for over 30 years beginning with the Big Qualicum Hatchery. Most of the steelhead rivers on the east side of Vancouver Island have virtually collapsed in the past 10-12 years with closures of many of those rivers necessitated to preserve the remaining wild steelhead. I am a personal friend of the now retired hatchery manager who began the Vedder River Hatchery on the lower Fraser system. It had early success, and has seen significant failures in its objectives since. He is now an outspoken pessimist regarding native brood programs for steelhead who recently spoke out against such a program now being suggested by some for the Thompson River.

As with all hatchery programs, the B.C. native brood programs started out as promising ventures that inevitably deteriorated and failed to accomplish the goals intended: that being to maintain wild steelhead runs and to supplement them with additional hatchery fish for harvest. As in the U.S., the B.C. hatchery programs have tended to replicate what has long happened in the U.S. no matter what the hatchery program, wild brood or otherwise: that is replace the wild fish with hatchery origin fish. In the first generation removed from the wild (that is the eggs from wild brood held in hatchery trays and the juveniles juveniles reared in a hatchery for a year), there are significant changes from the wild fish they originated from. In other words, domestication occurs within the very first generation.

Among the most common alterations to salmon or steelhead in native brood programs are phenotypic changes in body form and fin sizes that occur in the very first generation as initially discovered with Atlantic salmon in Norway.
The best information available on using native broodstock is a very complete assessment done by Bill Bakke of the Native Fish Society. You can find that recent paper online by going to I have heard from several B.C. biologists who read the paper as well as from two of the most trustworthy scientists I know in NOAA Fisheries that Bakke's collection of quotes from papers and sources is the best piece of work out there to date.
The only success stories I know of regarding wild steelhead recoveries have been those instances where hatchery programs have never existed, or where hatchery programs have been eliminated. Regarding the former, the John Day River is a great example, although hatchery strays due to all the Columbia River barging are increasingly reducing the John Day's wild reproduction and rearing capacity. Despite these compromises to wild John Day steelhead, it remains the only major river system on the Columbia where wild steelhead are considered healthy. Joseph Creek on the Grande Ronde River is also an exceptional example. Even though Joseph Creek steelhead must go back and forth through 8 dams, they do incredibly well when good dam passage conditions are provided with good ocean conditions. Regarding an example where hatchery steelhead elimination has proven of great benefit, unfortunately we have only one river where it has been attempted, but it has been quite successful to date. That is Wind River. I attempted to get hatchery steelhead eliminated on the Wind back in 1980-81. They were eliminated for 3 years but the 1983 El Nino event sent the local steelhead manager there into a panic and he resumed hatchery plants. As the wild steelhead tumbled toward extinction there in the 1990s with numbers down to snorkel counts of 40 steelhead, the WDFW manager finally eliminated hatchery steelhead releases there above Shepherd Falls, and those that strayed he had removed via the Shepherd Falls trap that is in the fish ladder there. As with many rivers, the wild steelhead began to recover with the better ocean conditions in the early 2000s. However, as the wild steelhead numbers have begun to crash again as the ocean conditions have returned to less productive conditions, the Wind River wild steelhead have continued to recover with growing numbers the past 2 years. For the first time in many years, Wind River will likely be opened to a catch and release wild fishery this summer or fall due to this success.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just What is ODFW's Mandate?

According to Webster mandate is defined as simply this
An authoritative command; especially : a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one
So that tells me a state government agency is ruled by public decree correct? Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, being a public agency, should do the will of the public that trusts them to manage fish and wildlife. Seems pretty simple to me!

Let's take it a bit further by looking at the simple Mission Statement of this public agency
"To protect and enhance Oregon's fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations"
I think the key word here is future.
I do not think for one moment that this mission statement is being followed and here is why.
Under the agencies priorities for 2007-2008 they show their hand plain and simple so even a dumb guy like myself can understand.
Bullet number two in these strategies is this....
Develop strategies for recruiting and retaining hunters, anglers, and wildlife viewers
What are those strategies?
Anyone who has done the ODFW public circuit of meetings knows that this agency is in fiscal trouble and big time.Angler participation in this state is declining at an alarming rate and it just so happens it coincides with the likewise alarming down turn of returning salmon and steelhead into Oregon's rivers.
ODFW recognizes this and the agencies intentions are clear! They use the clever euphemism of "Increased angling opportunities" but if you read between the lines it becomes apparent that ODFW wants more bodies on the river and lakes and will do what it takes to get them there.
They also use the excuse of getting young anglers involved. That is a noble gesture but teaching them to kill trout is not the way to go about it.
In the 2008-2009 angling regulations developmental cycle ODFW asked the public to participate with regulation changes they would like starting in 2009.
I myself sent in several proposals that I felt were biologically sound and were consistent with ODFW's mission statement I listed above.
I knew not all of them would make the final cut but I thought maybe one or two would. I read all of the public proposals and thought the conservation side was very well represented with some very thoughtful public proposals.
I was impressed by the thought put into those proposals that protected wild fish "for future generations"
Never once did I think that almost every publicly submitted conservation proposal would be summarily rejected by the angling review board.
Seems like all the rumors of license sales before conservation are true. Harvest of wild winter steelhead on the North Umpqua is back and, of course, so is a potential harvest of north coast cutthroat trout. Seems like the review board would rather protect invasive and illegally planted warm water fish than native salmonids.
These harvest proposals are still in the public review and comment process and may not get any further than the several public meetings scheduled this month BUT the fact that they made it this far while sensible wild fish management proposals did not is very telling and disturbing.
As I've stated before there are some very talented individuals working for ODFW. Intelligent biologists that really do care about wild salmonid conservation. I've met a few of them and they are a credit to the agency. There also seems to be a fair amount of arrogance too and it seems to be what drives ODFW.
Needless to say the fight for these wild fish is far from over. While some ODFW staffers believe we will just roll over and let them ride rough shod over wild salmon, steelhead and trout populations in Oregon for the sake of increased angling opportunities. I am certain that it will not happen this year or ever! I have faith in the voices of thousands who cared enough to be involved in trying to make ODFW own up to it's mandate.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


It's that time of year again. A time of year that all we who fly fish wait for. We wait patiently and in my case not so patiently, for the endless storms of winter to pass.
The blooming daffodils are usually the first indication that our winter of discontent is finally coming to an end and then of course the beginning of the baseball season.
What is it that causes us to pursue trout? Why are we drawn to this fish?
I think we as fly fishers have a lot thank trout for. It's trout that brought us into this wonderful form of angling after all. It's trout that gives us camaraderie with other like minded souls and in many cases life long bonds of friendship are formed. It's trout that keeps us young and optimistic and above all else hopeful
In his classic work "Year of the Trout" author Steve Raymond poses these questions.

"What magic quality does the trout possess that compels men to search for it in such dark and desperate weather? What virtue does it offer to command such unwavering devotion?"

He goes on to explain why he loves trout so much.

" I love trout because they are among the most beautiful and graceful of all creatures and because they dwell in some of the most beautiful and graceful of all places.
I love them because I am a fly fisherman and trout inspired the invention of my sport; without them it would be a very different sport, if indeed it existed at all"

I would ask any of you reading this if you feel the same way...I know I do.
Would I love the Deschutes or Metolius so much if it weren't for the wonderful trout that live there? Oh I know I would love those rivers for just their beauty alone but it is the trout that drew me there in the first place.
Has a fish ever been as written about as trout? Think of all the classic fly fishing books devoted to trout. "The Joy of Trout" or "Trout Magic" or "Year of the Trout" just to name a few.
I have staked my reputation, for what it's worth, on the salvation cutthroat trout. Why would I do that? Why would anyone think that this trout is so special as to put so much passion behind saving them?
I cannot explain it except to say trout and the pursuit of them maybe the one thing I may do well and I'm not talking catch ratio either. Trout brings out the little child in us and we know that we want them to endure because it is the right thing to do for everyone, even those who do not fish.
A good friend has taught me this pursuit we call fly fishing is something that is filled with tradition even in this day and age tradition still matters doesn't it? He taught me that it is giving it your best effort. So why wouldn't we give the preservation of trout our best effort also?
Why would I spend my children's inheritance on sticks made out of an asian tall grass? Why would I go to great length to acquire a single action fly reel from a maker who is unknown outside of the fly fishing world and spend as much money on it as a set of fine golf clubs.
The logic escapes the most romantic dreamer except those who share this obsession called trout.
Here's wishing all of you a fine trout season filled with the joy and yes even the frustration of trout.....tight lines!