Monday, December 29, 2014

It's no secret: Using online resources to catch more fish.

You can read the full version of this article on the Wide Open Spaces website:

I often see a lot of anglers asking questions about specifics on particular rivers in forums and Facebook groups that are met with more criticism than answers. Keeping those details on the down low from thousands of random strangers on the internet is a standard code of outdoor ethics. There's a lot of research that goes into finding out what conditions are ideal for each fishery. When someone puts all that time into studying the water, it's a nuisance when people can't keep their eyes on their own paper. Don't be that guy. Do your homework, find a study buddy and trade reports. There is an infinite amount of scientific information available to help you develop your own formula to create a productive day of fishing. Here's a few common "dumb" questions answered:

"Are there any fish showing up in Notellum Creek yet?"
Is the creek a tributary to a larger river? Is that river dammed? Is there a fish passage where they are counted individually? If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, then the first place you should look is at the fish counts page of your state's Fish and Wildlife Department website. These websites
also often include additional information like regularly updated predictions, fishing reports and
stocking schedules. Many hatcheries will often have a hotline where you can call and hear a
Courtesy of ODFW Website
recording that explains how many fish showed up in their trap, how many of those were recycled downstream and on what specific date. These monthly records are available annually, and you can even compare trends of the return numbers to predict which seasons will be more productive. These resources are made available and maintained through the funding generated from fishing license sales. In a sense, you're already paying for these resources, so you should be getting your money's worth out of them.

Oregon fish passage counts can be found here:
Oregon recreation reports can be found here:
Oregon stocking schedules can be found here:
Washington fish passage, stocking reports, hatchery escapement, harvest reports, forecasts and creel reports can be found here:

"Is the water blown out in the upper Nunya?"

Allow the river to drop significantly after it crests to begin clearing up.
This graph courtesy of NOAA.
First, it's important to realize that "blown out" is subjective. This is where science and opinion tend to clash with each other. The clarity and coloration of the water can vary by description and be left open to interpretation. However, there are resources available to read the water levels on particular rivers, the flow of cubic feet per second and predicted events in these systems based on a formula of existing data. This recorded data and predictions in the form of a visual aid is known as a hydrograph. I like to think of these charts as a wave that fish surf in on, while I've heard it compared to a treadmill. The more incline, the slower the fish will move, staying out of the main channels and hanging closer to the bank. As the water drops, they will gradually move higher into the system, until the water is low again and then they will hold in deeper areas. Generally, when looking at this data, a peak or "crest" in the graph is ideally what turns a corner for water clarity. Depending on the size of the event, once the crest shows in the recorded data, that's when the river will continue to fall and flush out silt and debris. Each system is different, and the two graphs I typically go by are from NOAA and USGS. One chart shows a longer period of predictions, while the other shows a longer period of recorded data. The predictions are not at all completely accurate, but they are much better than guessing, cheaper and less time consuming than driving to the river and looking at the water.

You can learn more about reading hydrographs here:
Find river levels on the NOAA website here:
Find river levels on the USGS website here:

"Is anybody catching fish out of the Wishyanu?"

Your best bet at retrieving this kind of information is to simply get out there, get a line in the water and observe. If you're near a hatchery, stop and talk to the workers. They are there day in and day out, sometimes doing creel checks and posting bulletins of fish caught in the trap. You can often get information from them faster than it's posted online. If you want to make some new friends on the water, bring a net, or help other anglers tail their fish up on the bank. You'll be able to see right away what they were fishing with, what depth, what color, what pattern, so on and so fourth. Most of the time, they'll just be happy to have harvested a fish, and they'll volunteer plenty of information about what line they were drifting and how they caught it. If you hang around long enough to help them land their limit, you'll likely be the first to swoop in on their honey hole before the day is over, or at least know what rock to fish behind when they aren't out there.

Making contacts on the water to share information with pays off in the long run for both parties. Maybe you have different work schedules and fish on different days. Keep in touch by volunteering reports. Most folks are obliged to reciprocate. Who knows, maybe in time, the friends you make will be the ones landing your fish for you...

This piece was published by The Good Men Project on January 4th, 2015

Friday, December 19, 2014

Obama’s Executive Order Protects Bristol Bay from Drilling, but not Mining

On Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, President Obama issued an executive order to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the sale of drilling leases. “I took action to make sure that one of America’s greatest natural resources, and a massive economic engine, not only for Alaska, but for America, Bristol Bay, is preserved for future Generations,” said the President in a video posted on YouTube by the White House.

Bristol Bay’s waters are rich with one of the largest salmon runs on the planet, half of the sockeye population globally, both which not only provide hundreds of millions of dollars in recreational fishing and tourism, but also hosts 40 percent of the nation’s supply of seafood, creating a two billion dollar commercial fishing industry. However, our dependency on oil has created a historic challenge between the two industries. The previous administration had set in motion plans to open 5.6 million acres of surrounding land for drilling in 2011, and in 2008, leased oil sales in the Chukchi Sea north of Bristol Bay.  Obama temporarily placed a moratorium withdrawing the area from oil and gas development in 2010 just after BP’s Deep Water Horizon drilling disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. That was set to expire in 2017, and today’s action extends that protection indefinitely.

President Eisenhower was the first president to use executive order to preserve lands from drilling in 1960 under the authority of section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, authorizing the president the power to withdraw potential oil and gas leasing.
Still, another ongoing battle for fishermen in the area is a potential gold and copper mine, the “Pebble Mine,” which is unaffected by this protection. The Pebble Mine proposal is exempt from this protection because it’s land-based. However, it has seen strong opposition from the EPA under the Clean Water Act. EPA scientists believe that a giant, open-pit mine, along with a 700ft dam would damage vital spawning grounds. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced earlier this year that her agency investigated what impact waste from the mine would have on the ecosystem at the request of Native Alaskan tribes in the region. A three year peer-reviewed study revealed that even without incidents of spills or leaks, the mine itself still presented a harmful threat to the nations most productive watershed. Depending on the size of the mine, 24 to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300-5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and streams would be destroyed. In addition to the destruction caused by the project, a transportation corridor to support the mine would cross wetlands and about 64 streams and rivers in the Kvichak watershed, 55 of which are known or likely to support salmon.

The executive order not only protects the region from drilling, but draws national attention to the effort of opposition to the Pebble Mine proposal. In November, nearly two-thirds of Alaskans voted in favor of ballot measure 4, giving the state legislature power to approve or reject the Pebble Mine proposal. State and federal agencies have to approve the proposal as well, after the legislature would have to conclude that the project would not harm the region’s fishing industry. The mine would be one of the largest of it’s kind in the world, creating 10.8 billion tons of waste rock, requiring dams to store the waste liquid from the mining operation.

Pebble Limited partnership tried to sue the EPA in September, but the lawsuit was thrown out by an Alaskan judge. Due to strong opposition, London-based mining company Rio Tinto dropped it’s 19.1 percent stake in the mine, following similar decisions by the Mitsubishi Corporation in 2011 and mining company Anglo-American in 2013. In 2010, 50 jewelers joined the opposition by pledging not to purchase or use gold from the Pebble Mine if the project moved forward. Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D) has opposed the project, but his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan, an advocate for the Pebble Mine, won Begich’s senate seat in the election this past November.

If you would like to join the opposition of the Pebble Mine and preserve Alaska’s abundant aquatic wilderness, Trout Unlimited is one of many organizations of stewards fighting to protect Alaska’s natural heritage. You can find out more about taking action against the mining proposal by visiting their website:

This piece was published by the Good Men Project on December 17th, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tagged Out - Oregon's Salmon Plate Funding Faux Pas

Are Salmon License Plates fraudulently funding OWEB's staff instead of projects or is this a big misunderstanding?

In a recent article published at the Oregonian, Rob Davis reported that funds raised from the sale of salmon specialty plates intended to go directly towards road-related projects like removing and replacing culverts blocking migration to rearing habitat, were instead being used to pay the salary and office expenses of the Oregon Water Enhancement Board's small grants administrator, as well as a $150,000 website improvement that makes it possible to apply for grants from OWEB online.

32,000 Oregon drivers have Salmon specialty plates, paying an extra $30 bi-annually to purchase or renew them.  Former state legislator Terry Thompson from Lincoln County authored the bill in 1997 that created the salmon plate. Since then, the specialty plates have raised $9.5 million, split between OWEB and state parks. Angry about the way money was being allocated, Thompson said "That wasn't what it was designed to do at all."

The state's Legislative Fiscal Office which advises the Legislature on budgeting made the decision to backfill funding to OWEB due to a decline in funding from the lottery, rather than looking for another source to make up the difference.

Oak Creek in Beazell Memorial Forest
Photo by the Author
OWEB's last grant to replace a culvert with money from salmon plates was awarded in 2008. The agency began using part of the revenue to fund staff positions the following year. In the past five years, the agency has spent $420,000 raised from salmon plates to fund staff salaries. A majority of OWEB funding comes from the state lottery and federal government.

Since the story first appeared in the Oregonian, wording in the description posted on the Oregon state government website has changed several times, ambiguously explaining that funding from the plates would be "invested in activities that support the restoration and protection of watersheds, native fish, and wildlife, and water quality." Funding the operations of OWEB, which functions as a granting agency funded by multiple sources, allows staff to apply for, receive and distribute funds through ODFW and OWEB projects being conducted on the ground by the roughly 90 watershed councils in the state of Oregon. So in a sense, funding from the plates does impact these projects directly, even if a share of the funding goes into administrative costs instead of culverts.

Willamette River in Corvallis Photo by the Author
Kyle Smith, president of the BlueBacks chapter of Trout Unlimited and Communications & Development Director at the Calapooia Watershed Council says "Small grants are an essential part of the value that OWEB provides to communities throughout Oregon. By supporting the salaries of OWEB administrators, Salmon Plate purchasers are contributing to the work being done by Oregon's watershed councils and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department." When asked if he had salmon plates on his vehicle, Smith said, "I bought salmon plates because I believe in both the organizations they help support, and they look cool! For me, it's not just about the financial impact my $30 a year makes, but it's about raising awareness for the fisheries we're lucky to have in Oregon."

Ryan Gordon, Executive Director of the Network of Watershed Councils responded to the article by saying it "intended to invoke an emotional response, and did not fairly address both sides of the issue." He says it's a misunderstanding that the funding hasn't gone towards restoration. OWEB needs that staff capacity to be able to administer those grants. The funding from the license plate sales allows that agency to fill a hole in the budget. He further explained, "The money from those plates does in some way go towards restoration, even if it doesn't directly get used to purchase culverts." When asked if had salmon plates on his vehicle, Gordon said, "I don't actually... but I just bought a car from a dealership that had plates already on it."

Renee Davis, Deputy Director, Focused Investments & Policy Manager for OWEB expressed that the Oregonian's article created a stir because a single line from the ODOT website was inaccurate. In defense of her agency, she explained that over $600 million in funding has been invested technical assistance and recovery projects that support native fish and wildlife habitat. Of that figure, $142.5 million dollars has been invested specifically in "passage projects" including the removal of culverts and installing bridges, along with dam removals and other projects that improve fish access to habitat. $59.9 million has been invested in other road projects that reduce sediment and improve habitat. Davis states that with that level of investment, "It's important to find that delicate balance that funding goes towards on-the-ground projects, while still having the funding for monitoring and oversight." She also points to the agency having a 10% staff-to-grant ratio as being "very efficient." She recommends that anyone with concerns about budgeting should contact their legislators, but she is also happy to answer any questions about projects funded by OWEB, and can be contacted at her office. When asked if she had salmon plates on her vehicle, she said "I purchased a used vehicle with the Crater Lake plates, which help fund the national park." She also explained that half the funding from the salmon plates goes towards projects conducted by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Renee Davis can be reached at (503)986-0203 and the state's Legislative Budget Office can be reached at (503)986-1828

This story was published as a cover feature in the December 18th issue of the Corvallis Advocate:
This story was also published in the January 2015 issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine

Monday, December 1, 2014

Actor Chris Pratt explains the full range of human experience from hunting

Chris Pratt plays Andy Dwyer on the television show Parks and Recreation and has leading roles in the Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. He's also a glimmer of hope that not everyone in Hollywood has lost touch with nature and the great outdoors. In a recent interview on the Kevin Pollack Chat Show, Pratt was asked about his connection to the outdoors. "If you had to narrow it down to maybe one emotion, what is it that happens for you? What is the thing with hunting for you?" Pratt explains that with fishing. hunting and being in the outdoors, there's a "tipping point, when anticipation outweighs the monotony... and in that there's a certain zen where you shed any stress from the real world." He goes on to explain the magic of watching the stars disappear and the sun rise, being unseen, un-noticed by nature that is undisturbed. "You're a voyeur to the world waking up."

He sheds light on hunting not being focused on the end result of a kill, but the journey and preparation. Kevin Pollack responds to Pratt's explanation as "romantic." What he says next articulates the pinnacle of the experience. Acting as an unofficial spokesperson for game hunting, he embodies the full range of emotions involved in harvesting an animal from remorse to gratitude.

This was published by The Good Men Project on December 2nd, 2014:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sporting Goods: An Alternative Gift Guide

It's that time of year for holiday shopping. While the sporting goods section is filled with toys, don't overlook the value of experiences and memories over material possessions. While it might be tempting to wrap up the newest Madden NFL game for an Xbox, there will be a new one out next year. Instead opt for items with longevity, like cleats to encourage participation in the game and physical fitness, or tickets to a game that will create a memory even the largest game system data card can't record. Here are my top three suggestions from the "Sporting Goods" section.

I don't remember what I gave my father in 2007,
but I do remember taking him to see Alsea Falls
on his visit to Oregon.

  • Give gifts for the long-haul
I don't remember the first rod, reel, lure, rifle, hunter orange or camo apparel that my father gave me. I do however recall many hunting and fishing trips into the woods and on the water. While it's a tough sell to tell the kids that the experience itself is the real gift, it never hurts to remind them. The few items that last long enough to become family heirlooms and relics gain that sentimental value from the experiences and memories, not just their durability. When making your purchases, avoid cheap plastic crap and keep quality in mind to increase the potential that what you buy will last. Handing down your own possessions also gives longevity to the gifts you're giving.
  • Choose gifts that reflect experiences/values/knowledge
I don't remember what I got my girlfriend in 2009,
but I hesitantly recall her out-fishing me during our
visit back home for the holidays.
Each year I show gratitude for my family raising me to be an outdoorsman by giving them gifts from my outings. You may find a great deal on an item from a Black-Friday sale, but how interesting is the story of you camping outside of a Wal-Mart in comparison to camping out in the woods and wild-harvesting mushrooms, berries, deer or salmon? Is there more labor of love in the hours pined away at work as there are getting dirt under your nails in the garden to grow vegetables? I live a long-distance from my family and send them as many canned vegetables and fruit, vacuum-sealed smoked salmon and dried mushrooms and herbs as possible. The gifts may be temporary, but my family takes pride in the stories behind them, sharing those things with their friends and witnessing the values and knowledge they passed on to me coming full-circle. Instructional how-to reference books and videos are also timeless items that may not have the same mass appeal as gimmicks and electronics, but even someone with a short-attention span can refer back to them if their interest is not piqued right away. Never underestimate the power of a professional guided trip either. The pressure of producing the experience is eliminated when you fork over the pay for someone else to deal with the hassles of rowing and baiting hooks, or laying the groundwork for a productive hunt or outing of any kind. The end result is not nearly as meaningful as the duration of the experience, and paying someone else that makes a living of creating positive experiences for their clients is well worth the extra money, even if you and the person(s) you're purchasing the trip for all have the skill-set and knowledge of what you're doing.
    I don't remember what I got for Christmas in 2008, but I do remember
    my mother mocking this sign warning tourists about pushing
    the limits of their endurance on a trail through the Grand Canyon that year.
  • Don't just give presents, be present
If you could turn back time or own a watch, which would you choose? This attitude should be reflected in your gifting as well. While a camera might be a great gift for an aspiring outdoor photographer, taking them somewhere to capture the photos is more memorable than removing the bow and tearing gift-wrap off a box. The memory of a hike together will outlast a new pair of boots and a family fishing trip will easily outlast a good rod tip.

This article was published by The Good Men Project on December 17th, 2014:

Big Elk Creek - Opportunity Lost?

Changes in the Coastal Multi-species Plan include discontinuation of planting Alsea hatchery fish in Big Elk Creek and a new plan for Wild Steelhead Retention...

Anglers Andre Sampier and Russell Wright search for a spot
to fish on Harlan Rd. Much of the river flows parallel to the road.
Big Elk Creek, a tributary of the Yaquina River that flows through Harlan, is a bankie's paradise. The first two to three miles is tidally influenced, bringing in fresh chrome to nearly 20 miles of water that is not only accessible, but clearly visible from the road. Excluding a few short stretches of private property postings, there's plenty of spots to crawl down the bank and wet a line. With several major surrounding rivers drawing most of the winter fishing, this tributary is often overlooked, presenting a great opportunity to get away from crowds. However, as appealing as this may sound, there's good reason this body of water draws less local traffic than it's counterparts. The deadline for salmon on the Yaquina is at the confluence of Big Elk Creek and special bait restrictions apply during the fall. Steelhead on the other hand are open year round, although the Alsea hatchery only plants 20,000 winter smolts into Big Elk Creek a year... or at least they used to.

The final planting of traditional broodstock Alsea Hatchery winter steelhead smolts were released in the spring of 2013. As part of the Coastal Multi-Species plan, the fish planting program that began in 1969 was eliminated due to a number of reasons according to ODFW Mid-Coast District Fish Biologist John Spangler. In an effort to better understand why the program was cut as part of this plan, I visited John's office in Newport for some Q & A.

The author with a 2014 Big Elk Creek Hatchery Steelhead
Spangler says the status of the Alsea hatchery broodstock program is good. Anglers are happy, the fish return, but there is a lot of volunteer work that goes into collecting fish for the wild broodstock program. There's no information about wild populations on Big Elk Creek, and with only trap catches and survey information to go by, there are no hard numbers for the population of Alsea wild steelhead either. A cause for concern of the wild and hatchery interaction on Big Elk Creek is due to the lack of a trap to collect the returning hatchery fish. However, in a South Coast district meeting held in Bandon for comment on the CMP, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dick Stroud said the plan was held on an unproven premise, stating that "I think the jury is out on this whole concept that hatchery fish are incompatible with wild fish," Coos county commissioner Bob Main agreed, saying that "There is no significant genetic difference between hatchery raised salmonids and naturally raised salmonids." The commissioner then went on to ask the crowd in attendance "How many oppose this plan for the South Coast?" nearly everyone in attendance raised their hands.

The information gathered on steelhead populations from spawning surveys calculate the fish per mile expanded by the river miles of habitat. For example, if a one mile survey has ten redds, assuming there are two fish per redd, there are twenty fish for that mile. Expand that by twenty miles of steelhead habitat and you get a "fairly loose estimate" of four hundred wild steelhead. When asked if there's any possibility to provide a wild broodstock program on the Big Elk, Spangler says, "Anything is possible, the problem is resources, utilizing volunteers and developing trapping operations."
Wild salmon provide an exciting bycatch. Marc Vangorden holds a Coho
caught and released on a blue fox spinner from the middle section of Big Elk Creek.

Spangler explained that the current number of required wild steelhead for the Alsea Wild Broodstock program is 70, although a week later during a discussion at an Alsea Sportsman's Association board meeting, that number moved up to 80. The 20,000 smolts that were historically placed into Big Elk Creek are being converted from traditional hatchery broodstock to wild broodstock and placed in the Alsea River. As part of the Coastal Multi-Species plan, the Alsea hatchery would produce 80,000 wild broodstock and 60,000 traditional broodstock. The ASA is actively seeking volunteers to provide line-caught wild steelhead not just for the broodstock program but the Alsea Hatchery Research Center's "Biter Study." Spangler, an advocate for wild broodstock, explained that the program produces returning fish for harvest at a survival rate of 3 to 1 to traditional hatchery stock and that "Without strong wild stocks, our hatchery programs will decline."

Sport fishing catch statistics for Big Elk Creek have historically shown good numbers, breaking a thousand twice in the early 1980's. In recent years, the number has since fallen to around a hundred, with 109 fish being recorded as caught in the 2011-2012 winter steelhead season. The harvest numbers of wild steelhead 35 years ago, (prior to the development of the hatchery planting program) are roughly about the same at 100-200 fish annually. Without a consistent increase in harvest numbers, it's difficult to justify the cost of continuing the program.

Conservation being identified as a priority for Big Elk Creek played a role in it's hatchery program closing, but the system's lackluster to anglers makes it a weak link in the chain of recreational fisheries along the mid-coast. Spangler says, "The discontinuation of the (Big Elk Creek) winter steelhead program is a good call when looking at the broader coastal basins and where we have good boating/bank access that can provide a stronger economic benefit to coastal communities." The out-of-basin stock being used in combination with the lack of a trapping operations also allows for a high probability of hatchery strays and interaction with wild fish. One of the most common issues with the hatchery stock straying is that a significant number of hatchery smolts being planted in the Big Elk tend to return to the Alsea River. A 2012 creel check revealed that 96 Big Elk Traditional Hatchery broodstock were harvested that "strayed" from where they were planted back to their river of origin in the Alsea. With roughly a hundred hatchery fish harvested from the Big Elk that season there's almost an even split between the two waters. It's not just traditional broodstock that stray either. Eighty fish from the Siuslaw River's wild broodstock program strayed to the Alsea River last year as well. However, those broodstock are spawned at the Munsel Creek facility in Florence, then transferred to Willamette hatchery near Oakridge. Once hatched, they are transferred to Roaring River hatchery, and once they hit smolt-release size, they are trucked back to the Siuslaw. Needless to say, they are well traveled, much like the Big Elk's traditional broodstock from Alsea Hatchery. Trucking fish from one river to another, only to have them return to their point of origin rather than where they were planted creates a costly program that was hardly supported by the number of anglers fishing Big Elk Creek in recent history.

Healthy populations of Sea-Run Cutthroat occupy Big Elk Creek.
Marc caught and released this Trout from the upper area
of the creek on a 10mm bead under a float.
As a compromise to Big Elk Creek anglers losing the opportunity to harvest hatchery winter steelhead, the Multi-Coastal Species plan offers new regulations that will allow retention of wild steelhead in Big Elk Creek. This part of the plan has become another target for criticism. In a CMP Facilitator's Report published by ODFW, some of the concerns with wild retention include the potential for illegal wild harvest from adjacent streams due to some of the areas already being difficult to monitor and enforce the fishery. There's also serious concerns about accurately quantifying sustained wild populations before opening them to harvest.

Spangler explains that the intention is to not only provide the opportunity to harvest a wild fish that may be mortally wounded, but to maintain a wild steelhead fishery. "We want people to be able to take a wild fish in the right locations. Historically, we used to harvest lots of wild fish. It will not impact their population with conservative and daily bag limits." He insists that the changes create a fishery that allows for a "cost effective" harvest program, but also says habitat restoration is another priority for Big Elk Creek. "The more habitat we have, the more smolts can be produced," says Spangler. Using the ESA listed Coho as an example, he explained that we spend millions of dollars on habitat restoration. "If we always tell people they'll never be able to take a wild fish again, will they care about them? It's habitat we really need to focus on."

Big Elk Creek Fishing Tips & How-to's for the final run(s) of returning hatchery fish:

  • January is typically the best time of year for returning hatchery fish, although many of the wild fish tend to return later and into the spring.
The Grant Creek bridge is the Angling Deadline for Big Elk Creek
  • Elk City Park campground sits on the corner of the confluence of Big Elk Creek and the Yaquina River with bank access to tidewater. There's also Big Elk Campground near the deadline of the Grant Creek bridge with bank access within the campground. The Grant Creek bridge is Southwest of the campground on Hilltop Road.
  • The first major obstacle is a riffle and shelf spilling into slackwater between mile marker 4 and 5 on Harlan Road. Be aware there's a farmer just down the road with a very friendly border collie that likes to jump into the water and fetch your bobber when you're casting. If you bring a friend, one person can easily distract the dog while the other wets a line.
  • Big Elk Creek is just that, a creek. The water narrows higher into the system, and presents unconventional obstacles. Fish will hold near any shelf that stretches the width of the river from bank-to-bank. Some of these shelves will be downriver of long stretches of shallow water and drop at 90 degree angles into deep water.
  • Fish that are lower in the river will move quickly, pausing in deep holes mid-river and holding near spawning habitat in the upper river.
  • There's lots of bedrock, boulders and shallow water riffles making drift fishing difficult. While jigs and pink worms under a bobber may produce in deeper areas, single egg patterns and spinners tend to snag less.
  • Be aware and respectful of private property postings.

    This article was featured as the cover story of the January 2015 issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine. The photo was taken by Andre Sampier.
    You can purchase a digital subscription to the publication at the link below: 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of Henry Winkler's "I've never met an idiot on the river"

My grandfather explained the difference between the words "fishing" and "catching" to me at a very young age. This was after an outing in which the only thing I hooked that day was a tree limb. I was 5 or 6 years old, and my grandfather tried to untangle the hook from that limb, and instead he turned over the boat, dumped out all our gear as well as both of us. He never panicked. He turned the boat over, picked me up, and put me back in. He taught me another important lesson that day. "Never stand up in a small boat." As he pushed the boat a good 300 feet across the pond in chest deep water to the shore, he never got angry at me for hanging up in the tree. He was a quiet man that demanded attention anytime he said something because he would rarely open his mouth unless he had something hilariously profound to say.

"If you will it, it is not a dream." - Theodor Hezel, Old New Land

This quote appears more than once in this book. At under 150 pages filled with photos of picturesque scenery, this book is a light read you can enjoy a little at a time or easily finish in an evening. Winkler begins with an opening introduction written by his wife, titled "Stacey Winkler's Side of the Fish Story." Chapter one talks about his personal battles with dyslexia, academic struggles, and self-esteem. He tends to approach all of these subjects with a realistic insight of the fear, anxiety, and depression many of us face as we continue to age. The quick mention of these items is closely followed by triumphs, personal victories, and of course, "Happy Days." Patience, persistence, and learning are a great deal of what it takes to not only enjoy, but be successful at fishing (or catching). Both are thought intensive practices. When a fly is tied, thought goes into weather patterns, seasonal hatches and spawning runs. The conditions of the water are considered to apply different color scenarios that will attract or avoid spooking the fish. Special adhesives finish the wrap of thread that holds everything in place to avoid unraveling the fly when it bounces off the cobblestones on the river bottom. The excitement to get on the water when preparing for an outing the night before feels a lot like the night before Christmas. The river creates a creates a strange release from everyday anxiety that no benzodiazepine can compare to. Henry Winkler puts this release into words in chapter two of this book: "The River Is a Washing Machine for My Brain." He explains that "If you allow your mind to wander anywhere else, you will neither catch nor land your trout." The meditation that stems from focusing on the water and the task at hand is why people go fishing. Catching is just a bonus.

"Go With The Flow," (Chapter 5) describes Winkler family outings that don't go exactly as planned. There are many moral lessons to be taught in a day of fishing, but I can speak from my own experiences that the values that are instilled during these outings last a lifetime. There's an old saying that you can "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach him how to fish and he can feed himself the rest of his life." This only scratches the surface of divine inspiration the river (or pond or lake or ocean for that matter) provides. When the rivers are high and so are your tensions, this book is a spirit lifter. The only anxiety you will experience from this read will be to get to the river.

Commentary from the back cover:

"...he covers a lot of emotional territory with humor, wisdom, and visual beauty." - Ron Howard, filmmaker

"The most entertaining and introspective fly-fishing memoir I have ever read." - David Ondaatje, filmmaker and owner of R.L. Winston Rod Co.

"When I first met Harry, we were working together in Florida. There were easily ten lakes within driving distance and I think Henry fished every one of them at least twice. That being said, this isn't just a book about fishing. Henry has written a book about life, family, relaxation, and love. And the only reason he has never met an idiot on the river is because he refuses to take me with him." - Adam Sandler, actor

This article was published by The Good Men Project on November 29th, 2014:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coastal Conservation Association opens a Corvallis Chapter

On November 6th, several members of Oregon CCA gathered at the Holiday Inn Express on the Willamette riverfront to discuss the opening of a new chapter in Corvallis and conservation efforts to increase fishing opportunities from the valley to the coast. Oregon CCA Executive Director Chris Cone led the meeting, giving a background of the state's involvement with the organization, it's mission, purpose and direction. Bruce Polley, head of government relations spoke about CCA's involvement with lobbying for conservation efforts, and ran through a list of regional accomplishments, such as passing a bill to remove non-tribal, non-selective commercial gill-netting practices on the Columbia River. Among the room were a diverse age group of men and women, including younger anglers such as Marc Vangorden, a self-proclaimed "fishbum" and retired fish biologist Nancy McHugh, several recreational anglers and professional guide Grant Scheele. Cone also concluded by introducing Ty Wyatt as the interim chapter president for the next 6 months until a board could be elected.

The goal of the meeting was to build a membership base for the local chapter, signing up 7 new members, but it wasn't all business. Each attendee received a raffle ticket and a filet knife was given away at the end of the end of the night. Cone mentioned that bringing free beer to the next meeting might ensure that others would show up and join the group. Discussions of banquets, demonstrations on curing eggs for bait and rigging tutorials were suggested for future meetings, asking the room what they wanted to see from guest speakers. The meeting was short, over in under an hour and many stayed afterwards to make introductions and shoot questions back and fourth. The next meeting will be at 6pm on December 4th at the same Holiday Inn Express on the Willamette riverfront.

This article was published in the Corvallis Advocate on November 20th 2014

Coho Populations Rebounding in 2014, a Golden Year for Silver Salmon

The Author with a 2014 Coho harvested from the Alsea River
Photo by Eric Martin
All along the coast, an abundance of Coho are returning to rivers to spawn. The return predicted for the Columbia River was originally projected at 638,000 fish, but biologists now say it will reach a million before the season is over. Bill Monroe reported in the Oregonian that while coho were being caught in the estuary in the beginning of November, thousands continued to pass through Bonneville Dam each day. In spite of most quota systems in Oregon being replaced with annual limits, similar reports of wild fish on the Siuslaw and Alsea rivers are being caught in good numbers both in the estuaries and upriver late in the season. The North Fork Nehalem reported record returns, and a surprisingly good return of wild coho have appeared in the Kilchis, in spite of only 400 returning to 5 different rivers in the area a decade ago. The Trask River even opened new water to fishing for salmon near their hatchery due to the high returns and Big Creek opened it's season early due to an excess of broodstock fish returning early.

ODFW's fish counting station at Willamette Falls has had some of the highest counts in nearly 20 years, making this year's return one of the top 3 in the history of it's records, which began in 1946. The previous high was near 18,000 returning fish, but that was in 1971 when millions of smolts were being released to support commercial fisheries. That practice ended in 1998 due to concerns about interaction with chinook and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. Coho are not a native species to the Willamette Basin, but have naturalized a run mostly comprised of the progeny of those past hatchery fish and some that may have strayed from the Clackamas River. Tom Murtagh, district fish biologist for ODFW’s North Willamette Watershed was quoted in an interview in the Columbia Basin Bulletin as saying "It's phenomenal, they are doing really well as a population." Murtagh said he expects angling for these fish will be best in the mainstem Willamette, around the mouths of the Tualatin, Yamhill, Santiam and Molalla rivers. As the season continues to progress they can be expected to be found upstream and in tributaries to those rivers. 
Ty Wyatt holds a Kilchis Coho for a photo before being released.

Even Crystal Springs Creek in Southeast Portland gained media attention after receiving it's first unexpected returns in recent years after extensive watershed restoration projects. Good news for visitors of Westmoreland Park that will benefit from new features of a nature playground for families and a raised walkway above a restored wetland that is a popular walk.

Perhaps even most impressive of the extent of returning fall Coho are the appearance of large numbers of fish reaching the Clearwater River in Idaho. Runs determined to be extinct due to the building of dams have been restored by broodstock from the Columbia that have been replaced with it's own broodstock of returning fish to the Nez Perce tribal hatchery. The operation first opposed by state officials due to a fear of introducing diseases from the Columbia River broodstock has now given it's blessing to the state to open a sport fishing season for it's returning hatchery fish. Idaho Fish and Game director Virgil Moore was quoted in the Idaho Statesman as saying "I give the tribe huge credit for being persistent and picking up this coho program and making it successful." The day after the season opened, angler Ethan Crawford caught a state record 9.4 pound Coho, prompting a discussion for Idaho Fish and Game to separate sea-run and freshwater Coho into two categories, as the previous record was a fish from the Cascade Reservoir that spent it's entire life in freshwater. Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Lewiston claims there are likely larger fish being caught, but people are not focused on obtaining the proper documentation, instead harvesting the fish and taking them home for dinner. The race to break the current record continues.

Regardless of location, Coho are making a great comeback to the Pacific Northwest. A combination of wild, naturalized and hatchery salmon are providing anglers with greater opportunities for fisheries with catch and release or outstanding table fare.

This article was published by The Good Men Project on November 8th, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

ODFW Director Shuffle

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Elicker's resignation will become effective Oct. 10, 2014 as he begins working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Assistant Regional Director for Fishery Resources for the USFWS Pacific Region based in Portland.

Elicker, who has been ODFW Director since 2007, started with ODFW in 1993 as a Watershed Health Program Coordinator. During his time working for the state he has been a Fish Screening Program Manager, Fish Division Deputy Administrator, Legislative Coordinator, and Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. Elicker will assume his new position with USFWS on Oct. 12, 2014.  Elicker will be responsible for daily operations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife fisheries programs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Hawaii.

ODFW Commission appointed Curt Melcher as the Interim Director for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Melcher has 27 years experience with ODFW and served as the Fish Division Assistant Administrator for the Columbia River and Marine Programs before acting as the Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. Melcher's new position took effect October 1st, and will he will continue to serve as interim director until the Commission appoints a permanent director.

In the meantime, you can fill out a seven-question survey to give the department perspective of what qualities the public would like to see in a new director here:
This piece was published in the Corvallis Advocate October 9th, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

ODFW Tries to Stomp out the Potential Spread of Elk Hoof Disease

Photo courtesy of ODFW
Several elk harvested in Multnomah and Columbia counties have shown signs of a hoof disease that has been a problem in neighboring areas across the Columbia River in Washington. Processors in Washington familiar with the disease have reported receiving elk from Oregon that share the symptoms, but the presence of the bacteria is still unconfirmed. The disease first appeared in SW Washington's elk herds in 2002 and has become widespread since 2007, effecting nearly 20-90 percent of herds. State wildlife managers in Washington are researching a possible link to treponeme bacteria. Four independent laboratories have found treponeme in hooves of diseased elk. (There is no evidence that the bacteria is harmful to humans. It is specific to the hooves and does not affect the animals organs or meat.)

The bacterial disease results in debilitating lameness caused by deformed, overgrown or broken hooves, abscesses and laminitis. Commonly appearing in livestock such as sheep and cattle, it is possible that the bacteria may have been transmitted through wet soil in Washington's lowland areas. With known interchange of elk herds crossing the boundary of the Columbia River, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has joined a working group of veterinary staff and biologists to track the spread of the disease. The disease has not transferred to other wildlife, nor has it been observed being commonly transferred from domestic livestock to elk and vice-versa. This evidence indicates that neither populations are suspect for infecting the other, although the possibility of that becoming
an issue is being monitored.
JoAnna Dotson photographed this herd swimming the Columbia River
in Warrenton and coming ashore in Hammond. Herds could potentially
bring the bacteria over the state's bordering waterway`. 

The Columbian reports, during recent work group meetings on the issue, that some locals have questioned the possibility of a link from herbicides being used on private timber land. One of those locals, Krystal Davies, is a farrier (horse-shoeing expert) that lived near recently logged Weyerhauser land. She had been out riding horses on the company's property earlier in the year until she noticed her horses having a rapid increase in abscesses. However, without lab testing it's difficult to draw links to the abscesses, herbicides and the bacteria.

Herbicide experts advising the WDFW claim there is no evidence that herbicides used on forest land have had adverse effects on elk or other animals. Regional wildlife manager Sandra Jonker says, "To date, we're just not seeing that relationship," pointing to the fact that lab samples are pointing to bacteria and not toxins. Mark Smith of Toutle mentioned that even if the herbicides do not harm the elk directly, they change the variety and quantity of forage foods for elk, leading to malnutrition and making them more susceptible to disease. Locals questioning the possible link also pointed out that WDFW's invited experts that denied a connection to the use of herbicides were funded by the forest products industry. They also questioned the toxicology being conducted on infected elk that were killed for examination, and called for blood samples from elk living with the bacterial infection.

Timber companies treat clearcuts by spraying herbicides to prevent other emerging plants from competing with the newly planted saplings. Clearcut timber restorations were managed in the past by controlled burns until concerns for air quality prompted a switch in management methods in the 90's. Clark County Commissioner Ed Barnes called for a moratorium on the spraying of herbicides by timber companies, and legislation requiring the moratorium if they did not agree to it voluntarily. In spite of his petition to the governor, Washington state agencies haven't shown an interest to set this particular idea into motion.

To better understand the game management plan south of the Columbia River, I spoke with Julia Burco, an ODFW veterinarian serving the elk hoof disease technical advisory committee. Her perspective highlights three main factors, "Host, environment and pathogen" while tracking the spread of the disease. She points out that Roosevelt elk are more predisposed to abnormal wear due to chronic moisture in the environment, making them more likely to suffer from lesions and bacterial infections. A lack of forage food in the elk's habitat (due to herbicides in some areas) resulting in poor nutrition could contribute to the susceptibility of disease as well. "The bacteria itself is difficult to observe because it's constantly changing," says Burco. She suggests that replicating the disease in domestic animals may make it easier to study, but most of the treatments used with domestic animals like foot baths and cleaning pens are difficult to apply to free-roaming herds. Antibiotic injections common in domestic animals can't be used on wild populations that hunters are harvesting for food either. The lack of field-treatment options makes it a difficult challenge to contain the range of it's spread. "It's very frustrating managing illnesses in wild herds of any kind," says Burco. "We're simply trying to better understand the bacteria, how it's spreading, and how to contain it." She mentions that minimizing the transfer of animals over the state line, both wild and domestic, is the best that can be done for now.

Still, the issue appears to be caused by multiple contributing factors perpetuated by the host's lack of natural predators, population density, changes in habitat, and the persistent evolution of bacteria that is difficult to treat, containing it seems to be the top priority of ODFW.

Hunters who harvest visibly infected elk are encouraged to report to ODFW and turn over the damaged hooves for examination. Hunters can fill out a form online or contact the wildlife health lab toll-free at (888)968-2600 or by email at to arrange for collection of the infected hooves.
Photo courtesy of ODFW

This article was featured in the February 5th issue of the Corvallis Advocate:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Farm Raised Tilapia are a Poor Substitute for Wild Caught Fish

Global harvest of tilapia species in million metric tons
as reported by the FAO, 1950–2009
Long gone is the standard of going out back to collect eggs from the henhouse, out to the garden for vegetables, and down to the water for fresh fish. The changes in our eating habits are a direct result of the changes in our lifestyles. Many people will go their whole lives without having their hand in the production of what ends up on the table. That disconnect is partially why first grade children have more difficulty identifying a tomato than ketchup. The introduction of pesticides, fertilizer and monoculture have altered farming practices. The introduction of antibiotics has allowed for livestock to survive in crowded and unsanitary conditions, replacing free-range grazing as the status quo of food production. As we seek out healthier options in a society where convenience and affordability take priority over hunting and gathering, some of the options can be deceptive.

When most of us think of factory-farmed animals, fish is not the first mental image that appears in our heads. However, pigs, chickens and cows are not the only crowded domestic creatures being raised in cages. Fish are commonly viewed as a healthier option because of high protein and low fat content in addition to fish oil high omega-3 fatty acids. However, much in the similar way that grass-fed beef is usually more lean, wild caught fish contain more nutritional value due to a high-quality diet. Fish that are fed cheap corn or soy pellets lack the same foundation at the bottom of the food web that creates the vitamin-rich filet at the top of the food chain when it reaches our plates. Tilapia, the most popular farm-raised fish on the market, is so widely available that wild-caught Tilapia is extremely rare. Research from Wake Forest University has revealed that not only does farm-raised Tilapia lack the same levels of the desirable omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains levels of detrimental omega-6 fatty acids exceeding that of doughnuts, ground beef and bacon. The end result is an exaggerated inflammatory response that could put those with heart disease, asthma, arthritis, other allergic and auto-immune diseases at risk by damaging blood vessels, the heart, lungs, joints, skin and the digestive tract. Health professionals offering nutritional advice to consume more fish in order to combat some of these health issues has the potential to become a serious issue if low-income patients reach for Tilapia as a cheaper alternative to something like wild caught salmon.

Tilapia are hardy fish that require little space and a very inexpensive vegetarian diet that does not retain the same levels of mercury as other fish. Lakeway Tilapia farms claims that "American farm-raised fish like Tilapia, are kept in very controlled conditions, and fed a nutritionally complete diet." Conversely, in addition to being commonly given GMO feed, tilapia are often fed chicken manure, duck and pig waste, as well as feces collected from the waste-water of other farmed fish like hybrid striped bass. This practice was highlighted by Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel's show "Dirty Jobs." The unsavory conditions in which Tilapia are typically raised on an industrial scale require the use of antibiotics to combat diseases. While Tilapia, otherwise known as the "Nile Perch" are commonly fed low quality foods, there are some smaller aquaculture operations that have found alternative solutions. One particular farm in Maine is feeding their fish organic pellet feed as well as duckweed grown in a greenhouse. However, the labeling of fish as "organic" has become a heated debate in regards to the comparison of nutritional value of wild caught fish. Wild caught carnivorous fish feed on other smaller baitfish, and as mentioned in The New York Times, "The issue comes down largely to what a fish eats, and whether the fish can be fed an organic diet."

Nutritional value of wild caught vs. farmed salmon correlates the increased levels of omega-6 fatty acids, in spite of the fact that a common selling point is that the farm raised fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The trade-off for the insignificant increase of omega 3 vs. nearly four to five times the amount of omega-6, twice the calories from fat and three to four times the saturated fat makes wild-caught the obviously more nutritious option, not to mention that it is higher in minerals like potassium, zinc and iron.

Along with diet, there are concerns about contaminants that have been found in farm-raised fish. Polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, pesticides and toxic chemicals found in pvc like dibutylin are among the list of contaminants found in "very controlled conditions." While fish farms claim that their systems reduce the number of environmental pollutants, the systems in which the fish are being raised are deliberately contaminated with these toxins as part of the controlled environment. This is true not only for Tilapia, but salmon, mussels, shrimp and virtually all aquaculture farming.

Beyond the science, the ethics of factory farming have long been criticized. Outdoor enthusiasts who are fortunate enough to know the health benefits of venison vs. beef and boar vs. pork also know that there is a connection to the food web that exists from wild-harvesting. If the age-old saying of "you are what you eat" is true, then wouldn't it be more appealing to be free than imprisoned? A free-range environment of our food sources allows for them to move about, burn fat and consume a diverse, truly complete diet. Taking a life to nourish your own is something that most humans seem to have forgotten while filling their carts at the grocery store with the flesh of other creatures. I would encourage anyone reaching for Tilapia to reach for a fishing pole instead. There is value to considering the full life of what we consume if we are to live to the fullest ourselves.

This piece was published by The Good Men Project on 10/12/2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

International Fly Fishing Film Festival (IF4) at Whiteside Theater

International Fly Fishing Film Festival at Whiteside Theater

Trout Unlimited Bluebacks Volunteers
survey the South Fork Siletz for
Native Steelhead Redds
If you were fortunate enough to squeeze into a packed house at least year's Fly Fishing Film Tour showing at the Whiteside, you already have some idea of what's in store for this year's event on October 11th, featuring international film-makers from all over the globe. This year, the local Bluebacks chapter of Trout Unlimited is bringing the International Fly Fishing Film Festival (or dubbed IF4 for short) to the big screen. The Festival hosts five featured films and a handful of short films starring April Vokey, Camille Egdorf, Frank Moore, Steelhead, Arctic Char and trout from British Columbia to Spain.

The Corvallis screening sponsored by Nectar Creek Honeywine and Ninkasi Brewing will be a charity event for the local Bluebacks Chapter of Trout Unlimited. All proceeds will go towards funding ongoing habitat restoration projects on the Siletz River.
Last year's proceeds from the Whiteside Theater's F3T screening funded a survey on the South Fork of the Siletz River conducted alongside by volunteers with the Bluebacks Chapter. Rewind to 1984, when the Valsetz Dam which blocked access to spawning grounds of Native Steelhead and Salmon populations was removed. Fast forward to present day when Polk County has been considering rebuilding the dam to pull drinking water for residents. The surveys have collected data that show the area of the South Fork above the old dam site is still actively being used as a spawning ground for native anadromous fish, as well as surrounding tributaries that would also be affected by the rebuilding of the dam.

Last year around the same time the BlueBacks organized the FT3 screening, Ted Taylor published an article in the Eugene Weeky about the Soda Springs Dam on the North Umpqua "River Be Dammed" that addressed several common problems with dams that create major obstacles for spawning fish. Water flows and temperatures are altered, impacting sensitive species in the food chain. Migratory fish passage, even with the addition of fish ladders, is reduced or even completely eliminated, affecting the entire ecosystem and its nutrient cycle. Insects birds and mammals are also affected by the kinks in the food chain dams create. Dams not only block access to higher spawning grounds, but affect the spawning grounds downstream by diminishing fresh gravel, woody debris and nutrients. The constriction of spawning habitat hurt recreational and commercial fishing, both in rivers and the ocean.

Last year's survey was a less accurate but very low-budget version of fish counting methods, based on volunteers organized by the Bluebacks and trained by the Oregon Deparment of Fish and Wildlife along with a professional rapid bio assessment conducted by Bio Surveys LLC. While some major river systems are monitored using electronic sonar to track fish passage, the survey used the eyes of contractors and volunteers to spot spawning redds of South Fork Siletz fish. The future of the program will monitor the progress of woody debris habitat restoration conducted by ODFW and funded by the Bluebacks, so buy a ticket and give a smolt a home!

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased on the IF4 website Cash in your drink tickets for a frosty beverage from the event sponsors in a souvenir pint glass. Doors open at 6:30pm for pre-party socializing, gathering and friend-making. Film starts promptly at 8pm, please remember to turn off your electronic devices. Tight lines...

Published by September 30th, 2014:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eradication by Mastication

Each year, some of the top chefs in the Willamette Valley gather their efforts to innovate dishes with a focus on invasive species. The cookout is held as a fundraiser for the Institute of Applied Ecology, which is a non-profit with a mission to conserve native species through habitat restoration, research and education. The event at Zenith Vineyard in Salem begins at 2pm on Sunday, September 28th and ends at 7pm. There will be a live auction fundraiser as well that includes guided outdoor adventures concluded with culinary presentations. The event will host live music by The Celtic Acoustic and Folkadelic Nettles as well as demos on preparing Asian carp and nutria by Chef Philippe Parola. On the menu for the event are hors d'oeuvres by Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro in Albany including crawfish-stuffed piquillo peppers, wild turkey terrine with mole spices, dandelion spanakopita, sorrel-smoked salmon puffs and wild boar bratwurst with blackberry mustard. Main dishes from Joshua Green of Bon Appetit at Willamette University include smoked paprika and buttermilk fried bullfrog legs with guajillo adobo sauce, braised boar with bourbon blackberry glaze, among other dishes featuring local ingredients. Amelia Lane and Anna Henricks of Sweetheart Bakery in Portland will provide desserts of double chocolate blackberry swirl tart, chocolate hazelnut pate, mint lemon-balm and rose custard tart, hazelnut huckleberry with wild rosehips jam tart. Wash it all down with Sky-High Brewing's "Berry Invasive Blonde Ale."

You can purchase tickets online from the Eradication by Mastication website. There are discounts for children and groups. The Grand Hotel in Salem is offering special accomodations for guests attending the event and can be reached at (503)540-7800.

This piece was published in the September 25th issue of The Corvallis Advocate: