Fish facility anticipates steelhead onslaught
Light with activity but heavy with anticipation.
Close to 1,900 steelhead are expected to swim into the Big Canyon Facility from now until April 15, the last day of steelhead season.
“The fish will be flying in,’’ said Mike Flesher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s fish research office at EOU.
Flying in after a slow start.
Low water flows and cold temperatures have limited the number of steelhead coming into Big Canyon to date. Only about 30 steelhead had come to the facility as of Wednesday, said Chuck Stelling of the ODFW, who works at Big Canyon. Last year at this time about 400 steelhead had already arrived.
A deluge is expected soon, though, since about 2,900 steelhead, 1,000 more than last year, are expected to return to Big Canyon by early May based on dam counts. These are all fish that had been released at Big Canyon from where they swam to the Pacific Ocean.
Records indicate that 64 percent of the sea-run trout coming back to Big Canyon usually arrive by April 15, the final day of steelhead season, said Mike Flesher of the ODFW fishery office at EOU.
The expected deluge means steelhead fishing in the Minam area will soon be sizzling. Not that it has been bad to date.
One angler in the area landed seven steelhead Monday, said Harold Fruitts, an assistant manager of the Minam Motel. The fisherman let at least two back to stay within the daily bag limit.
Fishing pressure in the Minam area has been heaviest on weekends — and on weekdays in the early morning and late afternoon, Fruitts said. He noted that the Minam Store is extending its hours to accommodate anglers. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends.
Many of the anglers coming to the Minam area are from out of town.
Jason Thompson of Unity, who arrived Monday, is among them. Thompson and his two friends had landed at least three steelhead as of late Tuesday afternoon. The temperature was so cold then that Thompson and his friends had a fire under a bridge near the Big Canyon Facility where they periodically went to warm up.
Tim Pope of Baker City said he likes fishing on the Wallowa in part because it is smaller than rivers like the Snake. Pope said that fishing had been slow early this week.
“I don’t know where they are holding up,’’ Pope said.
Still, he remained optimistic.
“Always have high expectations,’’ he said.
Creel counts by the ODFW indicate that anglers throughout the region are landing, on average, one steelhead for every eight hours fished. At Rondowa, where the Grande Ronde and Wallowa rivers meet, the catch rate is two hours per fish.
Anglers can keep five hatchery steelhead a day. Hatchery steelhead have had their adipose fins clipped.