October 21, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Still time for steelhead

Oct 22, 2010

October 21, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Still time for steelhead

Still time for steelhead

Despite a smaller run than last year and sediment from the White River, anglers can find success on the Lower Deschutes

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin

Published: October 21. 2010 4:00AM PST

The steelhead run on the Lower Deschutes this year will not match last year's record-setting number, but anglers should still find good fishing on the river well into November, according to fish biologists.

By this time last fall, more than 500,000 steelhead had made their way over The Dalles Dam, the highest annual number since the dam was completed in 1957, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fish passage reports. This week, that year-to-date number was only about 330,000.

“It hasn't been quite as good as last year,” Rod French, fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in The Dalles, said this week. “Last year was off-the-charts good. It's too early to say what the run will end up like, but it'll be above average.”

Steelhead — large, ocean-going rainbow trout revered by anglers for their feistiness — return to the Deschutes River from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River.

They must make their way over Bonneville Dam and then over The Dalles Dam before they can turn south into the Deschutes. From the Deschutes, they eventually find tributaries in which they can spawn in late winter and early spring.

Despite the downturn from last year, French said it has still been a “pretty good year” for steelhead fishing on the Deschutes. He noted a strong return of wild fish and of larger two-salt fish — fish that have spent two years in the Pacific Ocean and weigh 7 to 12 pounds.

And French said that stray B-run steelhead, destined for the Clearwater River in north-central Idaho, can also be caught in the Lower Deschutes this time of year while on their 900-mile migration. Those fish can weigh up to 20 pounds because they spend more time in the ocean feeding.

River conditions have cleared since glacial sediment from the White River muddied the Lower Deschutes during the first couple weeks of October, according to French. That happens most years, and it effectively halts angling success for at least several days because the fish cannot see the lures or flies.

French did warn that rain forecasted for this weekend could cause the White River to once again bring sediment into the Deschutes and harm fishing. But if that does occur, French noted, fishing will remain good upstream of the White River, where the sediment does not flow.

“Generally, October is an excellent month,” French said of steelhead fishing on the Lower Deschutes.

Steelhead are currently dispersed throughout the Lower Deschutes, according to French, all the way upstream to Pelton Dam. But even this time of year, he noted, anglers will find more fish as they move downstream. But the advantage to fishing farther upstream is that the river is smaller, making the fish easier to target.

“It's kind of a trade-off,” French said. “Fewer numbers of fish, but a smaller river.”
The biologist added that fall chinook salmon are currently spawning in the Lower Deschutes, so anglers should avoid wading in spawning beds, usually located in shallow areas with large gravel bars.

Fall chinook fishing downstream of Sherars Falls continues through the end of the month, and French said the run has been really strong.

“A lot of anglers have reported catching (fall chinook) in the lower river while fishing for steelhead,” French said. “It's definitely a last chance for them, and some of those fish (fall chinook) are in surprisingly nice shape.”

In July, anglers and biologists alike were concerned about abnormally high water temperatures on the Lower Deschutes and how they might affect the fish in the river. With the activation of a new fish transfer facility in April at the Round Butte Dam on Lake Billy Chinook, temperatures on portions of the Lower Deschutes in July were up 2 to 5 degrees over the historical average.

A project of Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the $110 million fish and water intake at Round Butte Dam was designed to restore historical populations of chinook and steelhead that once migrated up the Middle Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers before the dam was built.

Concerns about the high water temperatures dwindled after PGE added more cooler water from the bottom of Lake Billy Chinook to release into the Lower Deschutes.

French said that high temperatures will not be an annual problem for the health of the fish or the success of anglers on the Lower Deschutes.

“It will be warmer than it has been, but part of the problem was (PGE) didn't have the full complement of cold water it could use to blend,” French explained. “We don't think it will be an issue like it was this year. It mostly just affected the fishing. We didn't see much effect on fish health.”

Mark Morical can be reached at 541-383-0318 or at mmorical@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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