Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The State of Fish Address

When I first started this blog it was my intention to fill its pages with flowery prose and humorous anecdotes about the "affliction" we call fly fishing.
I have managed to post a few funny stories about my stumbling along the rivers of the Pacific Northwest and I hope you've enjoyed them along the way.
These days my heart is just not into funny, John Gierach type tales of fly fishing. The tragic decline of our anadromous north American species of trout and salmon is nothing to joke about.
When the once too numerous to count Columbia river Chinook salmon have dwindled down to nearly nothing then where is the humour in that? The north coast Chum salmon runs which were so plentiful that they over crowded the river and would actually move upstream via roadside drainage ditches are just a memory. I witnessed these fish in huge numbers so that the old cliche of being able to walk across the river on the backs of spawning fish was no exaggeration.
Wild steelhead have been in trouble for a long time and no Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife dog and pony shows like the steelhead broodstock programs can bring about a semblance of what once was and in fact have proven to be a set back to wild steelhead recovery.I've made my affection for coastal cutthroat trout well known here and to imagine the killing of these wonderful fish breaks my heart.
The state of wild trout, steelhead and salmon in the west is dreadful. I searched a thesaurus to adequately describe the adjective "bad" and dreadful is what I thought best described what I wanted to say. We cannot soft soap the state of our wild coldwater fisheries and there is nothing to warrant being upbeat about their state at this point in time. So not to sound totally all doom and gloom I think that if there is a glimmer of hope it is that more and more people are aware of the sorry state of things. I have been fortunate enough to live through some real boom periods for salmon, steelhead and trout. I saw the wild summer steelhead of the Columbia tributaries in large numbers and I've seen the abundant coastal fall chinook and coho.One lingering image of those heady days of the not too distant past was the sixty six pound Trask river fall chinook that was laid out on a picnic table by the angler that had just landed him.The days of huge fall salmon are gone and perhaps forever. I've seen a glimpse of the glory days of an early SW Washington summer run of wild steelhead that defied description in their beauty and the phenomenal fighting ability. I even caught a few of them! These "springers" were the fish that made Bill McMillan the fly fishing and conservation legend status he holds today. Their decline broke his heart and he moved away from his rustic cabin on the banks of the Washougal.
There are stories from all over this region about how great it all was.Rivers like the North Umpqua,the Rogue and the Washougal were rivers of legendary fish and fishermen.
I am uncertain that we can once again bring wild salmonids back from the brink as it seems there are many more obstacles than there were just twenty years ago but if people become angry and will not allow this "heritage" to just disappear then maybe there is some hope.
I had to learn to care for wild fish and if an old guy like me can get clued in then so can others.

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