This interview appeared on the blog Buster Wants To Fish
You readers can draw your own conclusions
Q & A with a North Umpqua Guide:
Q: I heard through the grapevine that you are advocating bringing hatchery summers back to the fly water. Is that true, and if so, what is your reasoning?
A: Well, I don’t know how much you know about the North Umpqua, but it’s just the last few years that we’ve stopped seeing hatchery summers in the fly water. The hatchery fish that were up there weren’t a problem, since they were main stem spawners. I grew up on the Umpqua, and I can tell you that 99% of Umpqua summer steelhead are creek spawners. The hatchery fish spawned in the main stem, where they were acclimated. Back then you might have seen one or two hatchery fish up at Lee’s pool.
My real issue is I don’t think the wild run can handle all the pressure. I mean, we have more guys coming up here every year. But we only have a couple thousand wild steelhead. Without the hatchery fish, guys are figuring out where the natives hang out and they are pounding on them every single day. Meanwhile, ODFW is planting hatchery summers in places where nobody fishes. I’d say 2/3 of the Umpqua’s hatchery fish aren’t even getting fished for. A third of them are planted below the I-5 bridge. Another third is planted at Whistler’s Bend, and the last third at Rock Creek. But nobody fishes below I-5 bridge. Look at Whistler’s Bend. I drive by there every day, and if you see one guy fishing there it’s a rarity. Two guys I know run down there in the fall. The fly water is the only good summer water, and without some hatchery fish up there, the wild fish take the brunt of the pressure.
Q: So you think that by adding a hatchery program above Rock Creek you’ll be decreasing pressure on the wild fish? I don’t think you could find any examples of that correlation. Hatchery programs result in an increase in angling pressure on wild fish. That’s according to Oregon’s leading biologists and decades of research.
A: I think people are over thinking this whole thing. I mean, do we have a true “wild” run in the Umpqua? With all the hatchery influences over the last century, are these fish really wild?
Q: Umpqua steelhead are wild as they come. Has nobody shared with you the DNA analysis on wild steelhead in Oregon? I can send you the graphs that show the distinct genetic groupings of hatchery and wild fish.
A: Well I haven’t seen what you are talking about, but you just said yourself that the wild fish weren’t harmed by all those decades of hatchery mixing, right? So what’s the problem? Your own data says the wild fish are fine. We had hatchery fish all over up here. All the way up to the dam.
Q: What I’m saying is that there has been very little, if any, genetic introgression from interbreeding. But we know the presence of hatchery adults on the spawning grounds reduces overall numbers of wild fish. So you’re going to have a hard time convincing wild-fish advocates that there is an acceptable risk, at any level.
A: I just don’t see it that way. I don’t think there was much, if any mixing. And if the wild fish are as pure as you say they are, that proves it, right? All I’m saying is if you’re going to have hatchery fish in the Umpqua, put them in the places where people fish! Or get rid of all the hatchery fish, and take the money and use it to repair lost spawning and rearing habitat. One or the other. But it doesn’t make sense to spend all this money and resources on a program that nobody can benefit from.
I’m all for wild fish. But right now we aren’t getting the numbers of wild steelhead we used to see. We’re under 5,000 fish. We need 7,000 to 9,000 fish to handle all the pressure on the fly water. The only way we’re going to get that is if they either let us have some hatchery fish or reclaim the lost habitat. Like Canton Creek. There used to be over a thousand wild fish in there. But it was wiped out when they built that road. It’s never recovered. So if ODFW took all the money from hatcheries and used it to bring back wild fish, I could get behind that.
Now our winter steelhead in the Umpqua really need protection. In the winter we get 10,000 to 14,000 wild fish. And ODFW wants to institute a hatchery program and a kill fishery! All of us guides are against it. ODFW makes no sense. You can’t kill wild fish!
Q: But you just said you’re against killing wild fish, but hatchery programs kill wild fish. Isn’t that an inconsistency?
A: I hear what you’re saying, and I could get behind a wild-only Umpqua. But it’s got to be one or the other. The way things are going now, I can’t make any money. I’m not ashamed to say it’s a money thing for me. If we’re going to have hatchery fish, let’s acclimate a third of them from Wright Creek down and offer people a little more opportunity in the summer. We don’t even need to increase the numbers. Just put them where they can be used. Or get rid of them altogether.
Q: Do you think you would feel the same way about this if you weren’t guiding?
A: I don’t know. The summer hatchery program, the way they’re running it now, just doesn’t make good economic sense. So I think I would be frustrated even if I wasn’t guiding. I’d still be up here in the canyon. It’s the only part of the river you can consistently get fish on dries throughout the summer.