Rufus Woods’ free-roaming rainbow trout — the ones that anglers drive hundreds of miles to catch — at least had a chance to escape from the spike of dissolved gasses that appear to have killed an estimated 35,000 trout in the commercial netpens at the North-central Washington reservoir this week, and possibly hundreds of thousands more.
“The deeper a fish sounds, it can (better) regulate gas bubbles,” explains Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Chris Donley in Spokane. “The loss is in the fish that can’t sound, can’t adjust. That’s why they’re seeing losses in the netpens.”
He said it’s akin to the bends in humans.
Federal operators are running massive amounts of water through Grand Coulee Dam to try and lower Lake Roosevelt to make way for big spring runoff.
“The amount of water they’re dealing with is really something,” says Craig Bartlett, a WDFW spokesman in Olympia.
“We’re sending as much as we can in anticipation of bigger flows in June,” says Lynn Brougher at the Bureau of Reclamation. “We’re trying to keep storage space for bigger flows.”
She says that as long as operators have to spill at the rate they are, gas issues will continue. She says there is no gas deflector at Grand Coulee, but there is one at Chief Joseph Dam, which backs up the Rufus Woods pool.
While the netpens at Rufus have proved “leaky” in the past, much to the delight of anglers, they don’t just supply restaurants with fresh fillets. Colville Tribal fish managers contract with Pacific Aquaculture to release 4,000 a month through the colder parts of the year to enhance fishing opportunities on the 50-mile-long reservoir.
Over the coming months as federal water managers bring Lake Roosevelt up to the 1,290-foot elevation from 1,217, that will switch the fish losses from Rufus to Roosevelt through something known as “entrainment.”
“That’s where we’re going to lose a lot of fish. Just assume that fishing isn’t going to be as good next year in FDR,” says Donley, using the abbreviation for the reservoir’s full name, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The period of time needed to fill the lake may exacerbate the losses.
“We’re going to lose a lot of fish, especially kokanee,” says Donley.
For whatever reason, the landlocked sockeye salmon are more prone to leave as Roosevelt refills.
“There’s some mechanics at work while the reservoir refills that enhances entrainment,” he says. “It’s kind of intriguing.”
WDFW plants three-quarters of a million rainbows and a quarter million kokes in the reservoir annually and it’s easily one of the state’s best fisheries.
Some will probably end up in Rufus Woods, some perhaps further downstream.
The flip side is that higher flows should help salmon and steelhead smolts — many from ESA-listed runs — on their way downstream.
We’ve got several calls out to find out if any fish are showing up dead outside the netpens. Another WDFW spokesperson says that the fishkill is Department of Ecology jurisdiction as it’s a water-quality problem.
In other news, a massive halibut was bonked out of Port Angeles.
The Tacoma News Tribune picks up a Tri-Cities Herald piece on the state legislature putting $1.8 million towards the possible purchase of parts of a huge ranch near the Aridlands Reserve west of Hanford.
“It’s a beautiful property,” said Jeff Tayer, regional director for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
If the land is purchased, public access is expected to be allowed on the land, which extends from the flats to the top of the mountain, where it borders the Arid Land Ecology Reserve of the Hanford Reach National Monument. The reserve is closed to the public.
However, $1.8 million will not be enough to purchase the 13,400-acre ranch.
Fish and Wildlife hopes to begin the process of appraising the land and starting negotiations with the family, said Tayer.
“We hope to buy it in pieces or to attract funding,” he said.
And ODFW has extended the season at The Hatchery Hole on the Trask River by a month thanks to surplus fish.
Meanwhile, Diamond Lake isn’t the only lake in the Oregon Cascades where the trout are biting. Jon Wiley sent me a pile of pics from Wickiup — which we detailed in our May issue — as well as some this week from Paulina.