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Unseasonably low water flows boon for opening day stream anglers

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

Cool weather is heating up prospects for Saturday's river and stream trout fishing season opener in Northeast Oregon.

Water flows are unseasonably low in part because cooler spring weather is limiting the melting of the mountain snow pack. The high flows anglers usually encounter in late May are absent, giving anglers reason to celebrate.

"Low is good. Generally spring fishing is more challenging when flows are high,'' said Brad Smith, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist based in Enterprise.

High flows impede anglers because they make it harder to get lures and bait deep enough to reach fish. Rivers with high flows also have more turbidity, which makes it harder for fish to see bait.

Anglers may yet encounter high flows this spring.

"A stretch of warm weather right now would cause river levels to jump,'' Smith said.

Anglers this year are again being warned that they must release bull trout. Keeping bull trout is illegal because the fish is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Anglers sometimes mistake bull trout for brook trout and keep them, accidentally breaking the law. The best way to tell the fish apart is to examine their dorsal fins. A brook trout's dorsal fin is spotted and a bull trout's is clear. Pages 14 and 15 of the ODFW's 2007 fishing synopsis contains illustrations and information to help anglers tell the two fish apart.

People fishing in the Lostine River and Bear Creek should be particularly aware of the differences between bull and brook trout since both live in the streams, Smith said.

Most Northeast Oregon lakes and ponds opened for fishing April 28. The opening of rivers and streams is delayed about five weeks to allow steelhead and salmon smolts time to begin migrating to the ocean. Most have made it to the Columbia and Snake rivers by now, said La Grande ODFW biologist Tim Bailey.

Years ago rivers opened for fishing in late April and steelhead and salmon smolts felt the impact. Many of the fish caught in rivers were 7- to 8-inch steelhead smolts.

Today anglers still catch a number of steelhead when river fishing season opens each year in late May. Biologists don't mind though since these smolts are considered residual steelhead that will not migrate to the ocean. Biologists believe it is good to harvest these fish because they can have a negative effect on native and hatchery steelhead going to and returning from the ocean.

To encourage the harvest of residual steelhead, regulations limit anglers to fin-clipped trout in some portions of Wallowa County. Fin-clipped trout are actually steelhead that never went to the ocean. The areas where anglers are limited to fin-clipped trout are:

• the Grande Ronde River from the state line to Rondowa

• the Imnaha River from the mouth to Big Sheep Creek

• the Wallowa River from the mouth to Rock Creek


River fishing conditions will be good this weekend but they probably will be optimal in September and October. River fishing is usually best then because flows are lower and the water temperatures is also down. Catch rates are usually the highest then.

"It is a prime time,'' Smith said.

Flows are also low in the summer but fishing is usually not good because higher water temperatures make trout lethargic. Bailey encourages anglers not to catch and release trout then because trout are so stressed. Trout released after being caught in hot summer weather often die.

None of the trout anglers will be taking this year in Union and Wallowa county rivers and streams are fish that have been stocked. Rivers and streams in Union and Wallowa counties are not stocked with trout since they could have a negative impact on steelhead and salmon.

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