An Idea For Stocking Streams In ESA Country

This ain’t the 1980s, when I can recall seeing huge schools of freshly stocked rainbows kegged up in Central Washington’s Icicle Creek. But down in Oregon, biologists think they’ve figured out how to put trout into streams for anglers without getting in the way of threatened salmon and steelhead.

ODFW is stocking the South Yamhill River with 2,000 8- to 12-inchers this week in preparation for opening day of trout season on Saturday, May 22. Another 2K will go in two weeks later.

It’s the second year the agency has put trout into the river just upstream of Willamina along the highway out to Lincoln City, though it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

Planting fish into streams was very common 20 years ago, but has been almost completely stopped out of concern over possible impacts to threatened salmon and steelhead populations, says ODFW. The fish have instead been stocked in lakes and ponds where they won’t compete with their sea-going relatives for food and cover.

To the north, WDFW is struggling with similar issues, but has taken a different tack this year. Washington’s new fishing regs close or tweak the rules for every river, stream and beaver pond between Neah Bay, Mt. Rainier and the Canadian border, part of the new “stream strategy,” approved by the Fish & Wildlife Commission last February, to protect juvenile ESA-listed Chinook, steelhead and bull trout from hooking mortalities.

I write about those new rules in our June issue, reminiscing about the sunny summer afternoons friends and I spent on a Yamhill-sized river east of Monroe, Wash. Crick fishing’s long been in my blood, from those campouts at Ida Creek along the Icicle to wandering mountain, foothill, even urban streams and pitching spinners or bait into tiny holes.

Joe Maurier, the director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, hit it on the head in his editorial in the latest issue of Montana Outdoors when he wrote “What I like most about small stream fishing is that it takes me into the heart of nature.”

Heart of nature, meet the New Reality.

New Reality, meet fishery agency efforts to get people out angling — with less impact on some of the fish.

Tom Murtagh, ODFW’s district biologist for the North Willamette Watershed, believes that it is important for kids to get to know their local rivers, and fishing is a great way to help them do that.

“I just remember how much river fishing meant to me when I was a kid,” said Murtagh in a press release. “The whole purpose of this program is to reconnect people from local communities to the rivers in their backyards and the wonderful opportunities they can find there.”

To avoid bringing harm in the way of baited or treble hooks to outmigrating steelhead smolts, his agency is timing the releases for after that pulse as well as planting only triploid trout, which can’t breed. Both tweaks helped get the support of NOAA Fisheries and key stakeholder groups, ODFW says.

It also helps that the Yamhill’s winter-runs aren’t critical to overall recovery of the upper Willamette’s population, listed as threatened in January 2006.

The fishery is open through Oct. 31 from the confluence with the North Yamhill near McMinnville, upstream about 20 miles to Rock Creek near Grand Ronde. Multiple locations in the 5-mile stretch from Gold Creek Road Bridge down to Willamina, which has the most public access off Yamhill River Road, will be stocked.

Anglers may harvest up to five hatchery trout, with an 8-inch minimum size limit. Hatchery trout have had their adipose fin removed for easy identification. In addition, ODFW recently adopted a temporary rule allowing anglers to keep two wild trout, 8 inches or greater in size in all tributary streams in both the Tualatin and Yamhill basins. Therefore, anglers fishing in the South Yamhill near Willamina have the unique opportunity to retain five trout, of which three may be hatchery trout with no minimum size limit, and two may be wild trout 8 inches or greater.

Fishing is limited to artificial flies and lures to protect those native fish.

Tell you what: All I can think about right now is river fishing for summer-runs. Recent images from Adam Browne on the Washougal and Terry Otto on the Sandy are killing me, and I’ve just ordered a mess of spoons from rvrfshr and earlier this week clipped the trebles off a handful of spinners from Worden’s.

And while all I want to catch these days are adult steelies and leave the lit’l’ns alone, I think what ODFW’s doing on the South Yamhill is a pretty good idea.

Here’s hoping the results stand up over time.

One Response to “An Idea For Stocking Streams In ESA Country”

  1. Beaver Pond Closure ‘A Horrible Loss’ « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] the past two springs, a small stretch of the South Fork Yamhill, which drains out of the eastern flanks of the Coast Range outside McMinnville, has been planted […]

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