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: