Beyond The Backyard with Gerrit Roelof

Drought Prompts ODFW Emergency Fishing Regulations

Cold water fishery restrictions start today

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Photo's Courtesy of ODFW
July 18, 2015, 1:08 pm

— 2015 is going to be a year for the record books. We had a very low snowpack this past winter, survived our first major heat wave of the summer, and it’s only-mid July. During fleet week in Portland last month, the ships had to anchor toward the middle of the river, just to stay off the bottom. The lowest level for the Willamette River at Salem in 60 years used to be just over 5 feet. We’ve hit 4.75 on the gauge as of the writing of this article, and are continuing a slow and steady decline.

Fish die offs are being reported on a daily basis. Sturgeon washing up on the banks of the Columbia, Sockeye salmon dying by the hundreds in the Deschutes and Chinook on many Willamette tributaries are dying before they have a chance to spawn. Most major Oregon rivers are already warming well into the 70 degree range, which is a dangerous situation for our salmon and steelhead, and a good month ahead of schedule. All these developments produce a potentially lethal environment for our cold-water fish populations.

ODFW has seen the writing on the wall, and is taking decisive action. Starting today and until further notice, all sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River, from Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border is closed. Sturgeon fishing, as well as all trout, salmon and steelhead fishing, is also closed on the Willamette River below Willamette Falls, and on the Clackamas below the I-205 bridge.

In addition, ODFW has initiated a closure on fishing for these cold-water species on all Oregon streams after 2pm, with a few exceptions. This new “hoot-owl” fishing restriction has also been initiated on some very popular Montana rivers this year, although it’s the first time Oregon has seen such an event that I’m aware of. Certain high elevation fisheries and select tailwaters (rivers flowing from a reservoir) are still open to normal fishing hours. For example, the South Santiam below Foster Dam and the North Santiam above Detroit Reservoir remain open to normal hours of fishing. Refer to the ODFW website for specific rivers and regulations.

Cold weather species do not fare well in hot summer conditions. Any handling of these fish, even when releasing them, can prove fatal. Fishermen are encouraged to leave any fish in the water when releasing them. Use a tool to remove the hook, in order to minimize any physical contact with the rest of the fish. Fight the fish quickly and release them quickly. An extended fight will significantly reduce their chances of recovery and survival. There are plenty of opportunities to focus on warm-water species instead during the dog days of summer. Bass, crappie and other panfish love these conditions, and many opportunities exist to find them in our state. Give the others a break, and let’s hope for some rain!