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Carmen Macdonald

A passion for fishing and hunting grew into a career that's included Alaskan guide, media sales, writer and the politics of outdoor recreation. My company, Vaunt Marketing, represents industry-leading brands in the US and Canadian markets.

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November 29, 2016

A Step In The Right Direction

by Carmen Macdonald

Twenty years ago I bought my first drift boat, a 17' x 54" beautiful red Willie Boat. I bought it from Jim Bittle ot Willie Boats. I don't remember much about the transaction, other than walking on clouds and that at the end of it, Bittle invited me to choose a couple hats from their stock while telling me, "welcome to the family."

Of all of the conversations we shared during the purchase, I only remember those four words. It's not everyday that you make a purchase and are welcomed as a new member of a family.

I don't have that boat any longer, but I still see Jim Bittle at least once a year, usually at the Portland Sportsman's show. I make sure I see him. To say hello. To catch up, if only briefly. And every time, true to his words, he treats me like family.

Photo from Southern Oregon Fishing Reports

On November 21st, Governor Kate Brown nominated Jim Bittle to be a member of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. She could not have made a better choice.

In my experience with Bittle, a couple things jump to my mind. He listens more than he speaks and his word is worth his weight in gold. I don't know that I've met a more thoughtful, reasonable and straightforward individual.

As a member of the ODFW Commission, I believe Bittle will bring desperately needed understanding and insight into the license buying public. He's worked directly with anglers of all kinds throughout his professional life. He's lived within the successes and failures of many, many seasons. Throughout the ups and downs, he's remained engaged and provided steadfast support to the sport fishing industry and anglers.

Bittle's appointment is an important step for Governor Kate Brown. It demonstrates that she's listening. As an angler, license buyer and constituent, I appreciate that.

There are many challenges facing ODFW and the path to solving some of the largest ones run all run through sport anglers and sport fishing. Including an experienced, well-reasoned sport angler on the Commission is a step in the right direction. Kudos Governor Brown.

March 16, 2016

Attend A Banquet or Derby This Spring

by Carmen Macdonald

It dawned on me a few years back and I've been rolling it around in my head, but here goes- The $25 membership to organizations is not getting it done.

The industry created by the Endangered Species Act, urbanization, NEPA lawsuits and politically-active no-touch preservationist organizations has raised the bar. And I guess it's not solely those things, the cost of everything has risen, and with it the cost of an effective organization has too.

In the past, fishing and hunting organizations were operated like social clubs. We came out to share each other's company, create goals, and pursue those goals with Fish and Wildlife Departments that both shared and understood our goals, values and contributions to society.

We've lost that.

Members of your state legislature are no longer anglers and hunters. They don't buy licenses, they don't participate, they don't know anything about you or I. Increasingly, Fish and Wildlife Department personnel are non-participants.

With each step taken by a hunting and fishing organization, the mountain being climbed simply gets taller. The sad fact is that though you might spend $200 on fishing and hunting licenses and tags, modern politics almost requires the expenditure of another few hundred to ensure those opportunities exist in the future.

I'd love to be deeply involved with organizations, but at this time and place in my life, I'm unwilling to make that commitment of time. However, there are other ways I can contribute.

I made a simple commitment to myself a few years back. I realized the membership dues don't really convert much to actual usable dollars. The cost of servicing a membership is very close to the membership itself. My commitment is to attend a banquet and buy an auction item.

It's a simple win, win. I receive great experiences and relationships and the organizations receives funding that goes beyond membership and into working capitol.

My organization of choice is CCA, the Coastal Conservation Association. I see in CCA the very best organizational structure to accomplish goals and a fiercely dedicated leadership group that goes above and beyond. I also see an organization that is constructed to welcome my voice and has ample opportunities to get deeply involved when and where I desire. Whether the state or national level, CCA has a vehicle for the regular angler to be heard.

A couple nights ago I ran into Jim Mickel, owner of RB Boats and it was an instant reminder that the Willamette Falls Chapter of CCA's banquet is coming up on Saturday, April 2nd. Ticket holders are automatically entered in a Spring Chinook Derby that takes place the week prior.

For the record, last year my team members took 1st and 2nd place. I encourage any and all to buy a ticket and unseat us... call it a challenge. We're in it to win it baby!

You can't miss at this event. An included derby, good food, great people and a positive future for our favorite pastime.

Here's the list of upcoming CCA Banquets:

Corvallis Saturday, March 19th
Willamette Falls Saturday, April 2nd
Tillamook Saturday, April 16th
Salem Saturday, April 23rd
Tualatin Valley
Saturday, April 30th
Mount Hood Friday, May 6th
Rogue Valley
Saturday, May 14th
Portland Metro TBD
South Willamette Valley Friday, July 15th
South Coast Saturday, August 27th
Oregon State TBD

Also on Saturday, April 2nd is the Association of Northwest Steelheaders Salmon Quest event.

And the following weekend, the Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor Spring Fishing Classic is up on Saturday, April 9. The same thought applies for these Northwest Steelheaders and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association benefit events. Enter the event, get great swag, have a great day and buy an auction item as your contribution to the future of fishing.

Check out the CCA Pacific Northwest website here.

Connect with the Northwest Steelheaders here.

And find the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association here.

February 03, 2016

Okuma Introduces Guide Select Classic, Carbon Composite Salmon Rods

by Carmen Macdonald

The history of fishing rod design is marked by significant points of impact with regard to new products and construction techniques.

An extremely abbreviated history might read, in the beginning there was fiberglass that produced very durable, moderate action rods that were heavy. Then came graphite, which greatly reduced weight and allowed for more sensitive and responsive actions, but was far less durable. And then came braided fishing lines with near zero stretch, and everything changed.

In the transitions from fiberglass to graphite, then to fast-action graphite, the goal was sensitivity, responsiveness and hook-setting power. The monofilament lines that dominated the period could stretch 10% or more when wet. The math there is easy. With 40-feet of line out, there's 4-feet of inherent give until the force is there to really drive a hook.

Braided fishing lines and carbon composite rods are an awesome combination when fishing baits like prawns and herring.

As braids hit the scene, the world was a fast-action place, but braids included their own massive increase in sensitivity, responsiveness and hook-setting power. They didn't stretch at all. The inherent stretch in fishing lines no longer cushioned rod handling errors. High-stick the rod under a load and all of the force was directed to the blank… and snap goes the graphite rod.

Rod breakage went way up, which is not good for anybody. Angler, retail shop or manufacturer, nobody has a good experience when rods break.

For a short time, fiberglass enjoyed a resurgence in combination with braids. The performance was fine, but the experience was lackluster. Graphite had offered some "feel" within the event of catching fish and fiberglass takes it away. Once you grow used to feeling every head shake and tail push, it's tough to give it up. The large diameter and clubby nature of glass rods didn't help any either.

Enter Carbon Composite construction.

Carbon Composite rod construction has one eye on history and one on the future. The technique blends materials, and with them come the best attributes of glass (durability, slower response) and graphite (small diameter, lightweight, sensitive). These rods were developed for braided lines, but also offer a significant improvement in handling over straight glass rods when fished with monofilament also.

In 2009 I wrote the first semi-detailed overview of the Lamiglas Kenai Series rods on Ifish. These rods have proven exceptional, yet remain out of the financial reach of many anglers at an MSRP of $400 and common retail price over $200. At next week's Portland Sportsmen's Show, area anglers will get their first look at Okuma Guide Select Classic carbon composite salmon rods. The MSRP on these rods is $179.99 and at the recent Puyallup show, show special prices were $139.99 at participating retailers. Like the market-moving impact Okuma had with the release of SST and Carbon Grip SST rods, the Guide Select Classic series will do the same in the Carbon Composite market. I want to be the first to detail what to expect from these rods.

The Guide Select Classic Series includes 5 models:

9' Medium Heavy for 12-25lb. line
9'3"Heavy for 15-30lb. line
9'6" Xtra-Heavy for 20-40lb. line
10'6" Heavy for 15-30lb. line
10'6" Xtra-Heavy for 20-40lb. line

All of the rods are 2-piece and the actions are moderate. With respect to a moderate action, here's what that means. Action titles denote where and how the rod bends. An extra-fast action rod, only bends in the tip…beyond that point, there's little bend or action. Then, a fast action comes a little further back, then moderate-fast comes further, moderate more and finally slow goes to the butt of the rod.

The moderate action is a big part of the utility. By increasing the range of flex, the rod's performance with a wide range of trolling weights is increased. Also, the increased range of flex offers the rod a substantial amount of give, where the braided lines I mentioned do not give at all.

Take a fast action rod, even a pretty heavy one and hang 12-ounces of lead on it. The tip is going to fold up, and the rod has nothing left to give a biting fish…the rod "shuts off." A moderate action rod is smooth, flexing across a range with each increase in trolled weight. When a fish bites, it retains some action to give.

The Okuma Guide Select Classic series includes what are essentially three rods, with a couple of them available in two lengths.

The 9-footer, GSC-C-902MH-CG
If the primary application of the rod is focused on spring chinook trolling, diver/bait, diver Kwikfish, Drano Lake, and so forth…this is the rod. It's slightly more compact and slightly lighter than 9'3" rod. In tighter quarters like the Garbage Hole in Oregon City, where a wide spread can be a liability with the neighbors, the 902MH keeps the peace. It's a fantastic rod for back-trolling Bonneville or fishing Kwikfish on anchor down below where really powerful actions are unnecessary. In my little neighborhood fishery on the Willamette, this is my rod for fishing prawns and herring over submerged shelves.

The 9'3" and 10'6", GSC-C-932H-CG & GSC-C-1062H-CG
These are the two all-around salmon trolling and back-trolling rods for virtually all fisheries, spring and fall chinook. In regard to raw trolling capability, these models perform from nothing, all the way to 16-ounces. At 16-ounces, you're really at the top end of the rod. You're also at the top end of most fisheries from California to Alaska. For most anglers, rod selection will begin and end right here. Columbia River, Puget Sound, Alaska, major tributaries, estuaries, river mouths and oceans, it's all right here, with one caveat that follows.

The 9'6" and 10'6", GSC-C-962XH-CG & GSC-1062XH-CG
I create my impressions of rod power and action like many anglers. I do the shake test. I pin the tip on the floor or ceiling and lean into it a bit. I have someone hold the tip while I lift. It's a pretty good test to offer a sense of what it takes to land a salmon. And if salmon where in stillwater lakes, it really wouldn't take much. Where this method misses, is that it focuses too much on the fish, and not the fishery. In the store, necessary power is often underestimated.

In the present day, some of the best opportunities exist in power water, and the preferred techniques demand a heck of a lot of power. These two Xtra-Heavy models are the solution for big tides at the Buoy 10 fishery in Astoria and the Columbia above, heavy flows on the bar at Tillamook, Nehalem and all the coastal estuaries.

These two rods will effectively troll 20-ounces of lead, maybe even more, without a whimper, and without the rod tip 3-feet under the water's surface. That is not in and of itself super impressive…there have been 20+-ounce graphite or glass rods. The difference is these rods are a pleasure to fish. Fishing 18-ounces in a front rod position at Astoria, a silver salmon grabbed my spinner. Rather than hitting a broomstick, the carbon composite build keeps even the smaller fish fun.

In practical applications these Xtra-heavy models will be for the angler with a focus on the big water fisheries, or those with the guide-style boats that need to create a wide spread and minimize tangles. These are the rods for the front positions, squared up to the boat and the water to keep the gear out of the back rods. They're also the power option for big fish rivers, like the Kenai.

Beyond the rod blanks, the build on all these rods is second to none. The reel seats are Fuji, the guides are premium ALPS. The CG in all the model numbers stand for Carbon Grips. 3K woven carbon fiber grips are trimmed out with semi-rigid, non-skid EVA. The forward grip is integrated into the reel seat, eliminating exposed threads behind the hand when fishing. Overall, the finish is a rich, gloss brown, trimmed with black and a touch of gold for an understated, high-end look.

In total, Okuma steps into new ground with Guide Select Classics. SST's are great rods for the money. The new Guide Select Classics are great rods, period, at any cost, against anything else available. In combination with the Cold Water 350 Low-Profile Line Counter, Okuma has created a system that performs at the highest level of the sport, while remaining, comparatively, in reach of everybody.

That's truly impressive.

January 12, 2016

Booze, Weed & Guns

by Carmen Macodnald

I watched the President of the United States' recent town hall on guns. My takeaway was pretty straightforward, the outcome of his recommended legislative actions would not solve the issue, but every life matters and we need to do what we can.

"Do what we can" seems to be a modern theme. I hear the exact same words used with regard to banning lead bullets for the sake of condors, purging hatchery fish from systems for the sake of wild fish, and in this case specifically, eroding the 2nd amendment to what is history's second greatest collection of documents.

When I hear "do what we can," it now sends up immediate red flags. I can sense the feel-good-and-accomplish-little that is to immediately follow.

And then I start to wonder about the individuals espousing the ideas, and how their emotion came to land so strongly on the topic being discussed. The President wants to save lives, and his cause is guns. Why? Why guns?

How do guns measure up? When compared to say- booze and weed?

In these recent discussions I learned that 30,000 people lose their live annually to guns. Two-thirds of these apparently take their own life, so 10,000 lives are taken by guns, by others.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes, nearly 3X that of guns.

But then its not only death that causes destruction. And in the case of alcohol, over 17 million people in the US share some sort of alcohol use disorder. Somewhere there's a child going hungry because of a drunk right now. Someone else is most certainly being beaten. And by the numbers, it's likely there's a sexual assault taking place too.

This study sheds some interesting light. They studied 7,459 unintentional injury deaths, 28,696 homicide cases, and 19,347 suicide cases. They weren't studying guns, but most certainly there were guns involved as a percentage.

Blood alcohol level was tested in a high number of the studied cases: 88.2% of homocides, 84% of unintentional injury deaths and 81.7% of the suicides. Of these cases, "The aggregate percentage determined to be intoxicated (BAC, >/=100 mg/dL) was highest among homicide cases (31.5%), followed by unintentional injury deaths (31.0%) and suicide cases (22.7%)." Alcohol was involved in more than 1 in 5 cases. If the goal is to do something, 22- to 33% is one heck of a goal.

And yet, when I turn on the television tonight, I'll most certainly be told how alcohol will make me more interesting (maybe even the most interesting), better looking, a better dancer and simply super cool.

If I owned a winery, I would be a celebrated individual and perhaps a member of the social elite. If I owned a craft brewery, I'd be a rock star- the ultimate in cool. Oregon would be stumbling over itself to help me open markets for my inebriating wares.

Of course, not all drinkers are, or have, problems. It's just a percentage. And hell, we've got government involved from the top to the bottom to save the day. We have a fully deployed social structure to treat dependency and problem drinking.

And still the deaths are 3X those of guns.

Alcohol is available at every convenience store, gas station and grocery store in the state to every jackass over 21. But somehow guns steal the attention.

I missed the constitutional amendment that protects my right to purchase and consume alcohol.

And then, there's weed.

While the POTUS is working to erode the Constitution, the federal government is turning a blind eye to state law that's directly in conflict with federal law and allowing illegal production and sale of dope.

Take a hit and consider that. You can't make this stuff up.

While parading against guns and gun violence, Oregon and Washington have openly welcomed death.

December 13th: Driver was high on marijuana when he killed NE Portland cyclist, police say

October 6th: Woman hit in Gresham crosswalk by driver accused of smoking pot has died

July 13th: Police: Man high on pot killed Beaverton woman in crash

Those took about 8 seconds to find.

The more I see these topics discussed the more I realize we don't give two bits about death. Oregon will give tax breaks to the purveyors of alcohol death then rally in support of stricter limits on guns. Our drug-loving populace voted to legalize more death and unleash at least 300 chemicals found in marijuana on the human brain.

But dude, stoners don't get violent. I know, they just get stupid and kill other people through their stupidity from time to time.

Not overlooking the tiny percentage of medicinal uses where users realize exceptional benefits, on the whole booze and weed are useless. (I am on the lookout for the revolution hemp fiber is to bring to the textile industry)

And on the other side, every one of my guns can put food on my table and protect me from the jackasses mentioned earlier.

Our government was designed to include a balance of power within itself. Guns are the balance of power between the government and the citizens.

As soon as we lose sight of that, it's over.

I have great respect to for those with the commitment to make a difference. There are big issues staring us right in the face, and we're surrounded by low-hanging fruit that does not involve undermining the Constitution.

August 04, 2015

Hydro Vibe Spinner Now With UV Hoochie

by Carmen Macdonald

I have to admit, it's an exciting time.

Years ago I was part of the group of testers that had the first samples of the Hydro Vibe blade that would become the Luhr-Jensen Hydro Vibe spinner. It was an awesome project to be involved with- a blade unlike any other, something truly new and different. Since the spinner's release, I've done a couple Outdoor GPS picnics at Clackamette Park. When people come up and relay the great fishing experiences they've had with the Hydro Vibe, it really doesn't get any better.

[-]What can be different about a spinner? Blade shape defines angle of rotation and vibration pattern. By these measures, the Hydro Vibe is completely separate from the Cascade blade pattern that dominates the market in many versions.

For questions about the spinner, most often is "what color do you recommend?" The loose answer is all of them. Luhr-Jensen didn't do 35 finishes on that blade, there are only 8 colors. All of them are proven producers.

But then, there are a couple generalities. If chinook are the target, fish chartreuse. If silvers, fish the reds. That doesn't hold up of course, Fire and Ice (Red/White), Nickel Fire Blue Dot (Red/Blue Dot) and Nickel Ice Pink Dot (White/Pink Dot) account for tremendous catches of chinook also. So then it becomes, for versatility at Buoy 10, fish Fire and Ice and the different derivatives for all around use. If you're light on chinook, don't overlook Chartreuse Green Dot and the others.

For this season, the new Hydro Vibe Hoochies have just hit the shelves. Hoochies are a big deal. At times they're exceptionally productive, especially for exciteable silvers, and again, the Hydro Vibe goes above and beyond with design. The hoochies are available in standard or UV designs. I want to focus on the UV finishes.

The blade paints immediately define the UV Hydro VIbe Hoochie. They're the ones with the tip paints, where the flat portion of the blade remains metallic with a single dot. Instead of rubber hoochies, these hoochies are made from synthetic fly materials. They flow and move insanely well in the water. On the blade paint, we tested a number of designs. With this blade, the metallic flat radiates a massive halo of light around the spinner. In combination, the enhanced visibility of the UV hoochie and the blade paint created unmatched vibrance. Test one...pull it alongside the boat...you won't miss it. Fish it early, deep or in low light, fish won't miss it either.

Again, there are eight finishes of the Hydro Vibe Hoochie, four non-UV, four UV. You'll immediately notice the ratio of reds to greens- 6:2. The weight here is for silver salmon. The little buggers love the hoochie!

Please do let me know of your successes. Honestly, being able to play a role in projects like this and then hearing the reports from happy, excited and successful anglers, is as much fun as the fishing itself.

Have a great season!

May 29, 2015

Rest In Peace Dick Posey

by Carmen Macdonald

A couple weeks ago I got one of those phone calls that as soon as you see the caller ID it gives you pause. Cheryl Posey doesn't phone this early in the morning.

"Dick passed away."

At 88 years old it didn't come as a surprise. The world lost one heck of a man though.

At maybe 100-pounds soaking wet, Dick Posey was the toughest man I've ever met. Not tough in brawn...tough in conviction, work ethic, compass.

The man was so principled, such that even though I was often on the other side of the discussion and in total disagreement in meetings, it was impossible to leave without complete respect for his decisions. Dick didn't mince words. He didn't sugar coat. As difficult as that can be, there's also a clarity and comfort that accompanies it.

Dick Posey had represented Lamiglas since the early 1960's. At the time Lamiglas was a blank company. In that period, the blank builders built blanks and rod brands were separate. It wasn't until 1977 that he became the owner of Lamiglas Fishing Rods, lead competitor to the Fenwick brand that was also a home-grown local company. And in those first early years, it was Fenwick and Lamiglas that introduced graphite fishing rods to anglers. Man how time flies.

Posey spent 50 years behind his desk at Lamiglas. In that period, many notables crossed through the doors. Gary Loomis was a Lamiglas employee before founding G. Loomis rods. Most every guide in the region began with Lamiglas. Bass fishing superstar Skeet Reese got his start with a Lamiglas rod in his hand. So many names, they just go blurry.

Dick Posey had many, many people who measured their tenure at Lamiglas in decades. Dick wasn't just committed to his company, he was committed to his people. In the office he was a tough guy. Away from the office, the other compartments of his personality opened. Within those arenas Dick had an amazing warmth and a full-body laugh that was contagious.

Six years ago I left my employer to start my own business. At the end of the first show I attended as a new business owner, I walked past Dick.

"Hey Carmen," he flagged me over. Looking quickly around the table at which he was seated, he grabbed a Lamiglas catalog off the table, rolled it up in his hand and stuck it out to me.

"I want you to have this," was all that he said.

I looked at the catalog, looked him straight in the eye and told him, "Thank you, Dick."

What he'd actually told me in those few words is that he cared for me, wished nothing but the best for me, and would help me however he could.

But the toughest man in the world wouldn't use so many words. He was unable, however, to hide the glimmer from heart of gold.

Dick Posey wasn't a front man. He needed no recognition, didn't need to command a room, never wanted to be the center of attention. And because of that it becomes difficult to place the milestones. Nevertheless, few in the world could lay claim to Posey's level of influence on fishing rods.

If he were here right now he'd say, "Arrgh, that's bullshit."

But he's not here, so it stays.

It's my hope that Dick Posey's balance is now renewed, his fly cast fluid and that he's sharing that laugh with many, most importantly, his son Steve.

I feel blessed to have been able to call him a friend.

April 29, 2015

Zeros of Conservation

by Carmen Macdonald

I read this letter in awe and disgust as I consider the new lows Oregon's zealot class will go to in order to exercise their contempt for anglers. In short, I see it as disingenuous, somewhat delusional and across the board inflammatory. Scanning the overall membership of the Oregon Conservation Network, it's par for the course for many of these organizations, but seems especially shameful for a few particulars. It's not their opinion nor the arrogance the letter contains that is the issue, it's that these words have come from leaders that people throughout Oregon trust to know better.

This letter was sent as comment to ODFW's budget in the state legislature. As you read it, consider that many of those that signed it participated in ODFW's External Budget Advisory Committee (EBAC for short). They were part of the budget construction process, then turn to hurl stones at it.

Obviously my issues with these organizations stem from the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Consider this:

"Instead, costs should be contained by curtailing programs that benefit just some Oregonians rather than the public at large…hatchery management ($4.8 million GF), fish screens ($2 million GF), engineering ($1.2 million GF), and Wildlife Services (.428 million GF). These programs should be funded with license and fee revenues."

The "public at large" should be grateful for hatcheries.

Hatcheries allowed for the development of dams that deliver inexpensive power, flood control, irrigation and drinking water diversions among a litany of things that are all damaging to fish, but very comforting to modern life.

Hatcheries saved our connection to fish while we denuded our forests and landscapes to build Portland, Salem, Eugene and the thousands of subdivisions, all of which that are squarely within salmon habitat that surround them.

Once-prolific runs of salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat were systematically destroyed for the sake of the "public". Coastal and mountainous communities could be thriving centers for sporting pursuits, but instead are rendered shadows of their former selves so that the urban elite can hold fundraising banquets with goals of driving the final nails into the consumptive sporting community.

Every single signature on this letter understands the history and major limiting factors associated with fish populations: hydropower, urban development and runoff, diking and channelization, irrigation, destruction of flood plains. They also clearly know the benefactors of these projects, yet are amazingly fast to absolve themselves and the "public at large" of any responsibility for the current state of affairs.

It's disgusting.

Here's Oregon Trout's Tom Wolf from a 2012 Oregonlive guest column.

"If you live in Portland, you are fortunate to have some of the cleanest, safest drinking water in the world -- provided by the Bull Run watershed, which flows off the western slopes of Mount Hood. Because Congress took action in 1999 to protect Bull Run from logging -- and mud flowing off logging roads -- current and future generations of Portland residents can enjoy clean, safe drinking without worrying about mudslides and silt."

The Bull Run complex has no fish passage. Portland's beautiful water supply extirpated fish runs. Wolf knows this. Bakke knows this. Kaitlin Lovell, past co-president of the Native Fish Society and current "Senior Manager, Science Fish and Wildlife at City of Portland" knows this. Do these individuals go after Portland to provide fish passage at their project, of course not. Instead, they rally against hatchery fish that provide a fishery in place of the extirpated runs.

Here's another OregonLive quote from 2010, authored by Tom Wolf, Russel Bassett (then of the Native Fish Society), Willamette Riverkeeper Travis Williams and Michael Karnosh of the Grand Rhonde tribe, "The major dams on the Willamette tributaries owned by the Corps have literally decimated a range of wildlife, including native fish runs, from the time of their construction in the 1950s and '60s.

I might place my own addition to their 2010 sentence to bring it to the present day- but let's screw anglers anyway.

And certainly don't overlook the fish screen component. Probably one of the single greatest efforts made to mitigate human presence within the waterways, fish screens do not have anything to do with anglers, but that doesn't stop the zealot class from attempting to saddle ordinary anglers with their cost.

And they continue, "Further, if license and fee revenues are on the decline, then it makes sense to cut programs that just benefit those who purchase licenses and pay other fees."

Participation is declining, but revenues have continued to go up because the people who participate in Oregon's angling have regularly and willingly stepped up to fund rising costs while the "public at large" has shirked what was a miniscule financial responsibility given the magnitude of the benefits the public has received from the destruction of fish runs.

But it doesn't end there. When called upon to fund efforts for non-game programs, organizations like the Audubon Society and others have rebuffed opportunities to contribute multiple times. Oregon has turned down a tax on birdseed at least twice.

These organizations ride the coattails of Oregon's heroes of conservation, hunters and anglers, while whining, sniveling and frankly behaving like spoiled children.

It's arrogance and elitism of monumental proportion.

And in their closing, "We appreciate your consideration as we share ideas for solving the budget woes of ODFW while also helping them to realize their conservation mission, a mission that has been underserved in the past two decades."

I added the emphasis on this closing line, because frankly, I agree we lost conservation 20 years ago, though my interpretation is very different than theirs. Conservation includes use. It's not without impact. It includes people. Twenty years ago we replaced conservation with an antagonistic approach to fish and wildlife management that seeks to manufacture scarcity and drive the costs of participation so high that only the urban elite can cast lines from their ivory towers.

I can only guess that the goal of this letter is to decry the fact that all of the wretched little people have not been banished from the waterways.

To me, this letter is evidence to the goal. Saddle the little guy with the costs for which he bears no responsibility. Systematically destroy participation in Oregon's hands-on outdoors and all the connection and caring for the resource that accompany it.

And finally, I do hope that member of the legislature call these folks to the carpet to justify their closing sentence about the conservation mission being underserved. It seems a habit of Trout Unlimited's Tom Wolf to utilize this completely unsubstantiated rhetoric as of late.

Here's another recent example from Oregonlive, "They, through no intentional wish, got away from their mission of conservation," said Tom Wolf, executive director of the Oregon council of Trout Unlimited.

It comes as no surprise that Trout Unlimited, having come off a very commendable effort in Alaska's Bristol Bay region and Pebble Mine, could very well be in need of a new campaign to drive donations. Organizations need a crisis. If you don't have one…do you make one?

February 13, 2015

Who's Killing ODFW?

by Carmen Macdonald

Candidates for the Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were interviewed publicly today in a Commission meeting. In all honesty, it came across as more of a campaign than a hiring process, but more on that later.

Each candidate was offered 15 minutes total to make their stump speech and provide answers to six questions. For more on what transpired, read Bill Monroe's column on Oregonlive.

I want to focus on what wasn't a part of the interview. Namely, what qualifications these potential candidates might have to lead and operate a public agency of 1,400 people. Because the straight scoop is, ODFW is in a massive crisis.
Consider another Oregonlive article by Kelly House. . It covers some of the issue with declining participation while offering some data that illustrates how hunters and anglers are declining as a percent of the population.

Michael Finley, Chair of the Fish and WIldlife Commission makes this comment in the article, "Most of the Western states are dealing with these same types of issues."


Let's have a look. Heres a recent study from 2013: Exploring Recent Increases In Hunting and Fishing Participation. The title alone ought to give you pause.

Tables 1.1 and 1.2 (Pages 15 and 16 of the PDF) look at percentage of growth, or decline. of hunting and fishing license sales from 2005 to 2011. This is just raw license sales. Did the state sell more or less in straight up numbers.

Washington's hunter numbers grew 12%, their angler numbers grew 30%. California's hunter numbers grew 38%, angler numbers were flat (0% change).

In Oregon, hunting participation DECLINED 17%, and angling participation DECLINED 18%. As a state, the results are the 8th WORST in hunting and 6th WORST in fishing.

Houston... we have a problem. To achieve results this bad (in comparison to the rest of the states) you have to work at it.

This problem didn't begin today. The numbers are from 2005 to 2011. This is a systemic issue dating back at least 10 years. Jump another 10 years back and you'll hit the genesis of the decline. Between 1994 and 1998, anglers numbers dropped by 80,000. When El Nino hit in the 1990's, the ocean coho fisheries were closed as well as coho hatcheries. These anglers left over a 4 year period, and the numbers have never recovered.

Then we cut steelhead hatcheries and stream trout programs.

License numbers bumped in the early 2000's on the back of record Columbia River returns and openings of Spring and Summer Chinook that had been closed or severely restricted for the 24 years prior.

But the Columbia is not enough to maintain anglers. The percentage of people that can afford or choose to own a boat that's safe on the big river just isn't that big, certainly not on the state level.

So what's going on? And where is the concern for this by the Governor, the Commission and the hiring process? And maybe more importantly, why is Oregon on this path? While this very political sounding hiring process complete with stump speeches about creating partnerships, funding steams and tapping other users for cash-- all the important people seem okay with the fact that Oregon is sucking wind on providing for the primary constituents of the agency. The paying customers are telling ODFW they don't like the product. They're choosing to spend those dollars elsewhere.

Oregon has been and is a leader in conservation (given they don't manage the actual land or the water).

Who's killing ODFW? A lot of them are quoted in the article by Kelly House. It's the past 20 years of conservation, with a total lack of meaningful results, and the commentators of the type in the article (and employees of ODFW and the Commission), for whom "conservation" will never go far enough. At least not until ODFW is dead and buried, hunting and fishing are gone, and nobody is left to give a rip about it.

This hiring ought to be about reconnecting hunters and anglers to the resource...in a big way.

Worry about the others, who pay nothing, later. What's transpiring in Oregon is tragic.

January 29, 2015

Summer Steelhead and Paradise Lost

by Carmen Macdonald

Last weekend I was invited on a camp trip over on the Deschutes River. Amongst the group there were bird dogs and chucker hunters, trout flies and trout anglers and steelhead flies, gear and steelhead anglers.

I went loaded for bear, which for summer steelhead included about seven Blue Fox Vibrax Bullet spinners in size 4, about six steelhead jigs and four floats. All my gear fit in the pockets of my jacket. I love these fish.

On Saturday, while winter steelhead anglers descended upon west side rivers in droves, I went 2 for 2 on summer steelhead. On Sunday, my buddy and I went 5 for 6. Of 8 fish hooked, five of them chased down the spinner and smashed it.

There was one other truck with three anglers that we saw on the river. It was simply awesome.

The more I think about summer steelhead, the more amazing I recognize them to be. Early anglers on the Deschutes will begin fishing the lower river in mid-July. Here it was late January and I was still on the same fish, fish that still cartwheel across the water, maybe with not the same enthusiasm, but pretty darn close.

Similar fisheries used to be available in many rivers much closer to home in the Willamette Valley. The Sandy, Clackamas and Molalla Rivers used to have summer programs that ascended far into the mountains. There are still summer programs in the Clack and Sandy, but they're a shadow of their former selves and specifically try to limit the presence of the fish in the basins. The Molalla program was eliminated in total.

Much of the driving force behind the downsizing or elimination of these programs was a study authored by Kathryn Kostow of ODFW. The study called out summer steelhead as having a negative impact on wild winter steelhead due to a "density dependent" effect. The summers, it was surmised, out competed the winters.

Programs fell like dominoes in the 1990's. License sales dropped by 80,000 between 1993 and 1998 (silver salmon were a big part of this).

Oddly enough, last week the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society held a Hatchery and Wild Symposium in downtown Portland. I would have loved to have been there, but could not attend. A few friends of mine were in the audience.

Kostow was one of the speakers. She spoke to some of the density dependent relationships that were part of the original work on the Clackamas. However, this time it ended differently. My friends in the audience said you might have needed to know in advance exactly to what she was referring, but she offered a sentence. I won't quote because I wasn't there, but it amounted to-- it didn't work out on the Clackamas.

This after 15 years of destruction of fisheries. This after many citations of the Clackamas study to bolster arguments against hatchery fish in so many places. This after a very defensive 2012 memo saying the Clackamas was rebounding.

It's not. We have simply lost one of the best fisheries Oregon had to offer...make that numerous fisheries.

I've ground this axe pretty hard. Right now I want to say that having never met Kostow, many I know and have spoken with consider her a most excellent person. I do not want to take that away. I do want to point out that science is made up of people. People are not infallible. People are not without bias. People make mistakes.

In this specific instance, we've crushed some fisheries for no benefit at all. We've made a mistake.

The earliest summer steelhead I've caught in the Willamette system was caught on February 17th. That hatchery fish would have proceeded upriver and spawned the following year, providing somewhere around 12-months of opportunity (in this specific case, the fish was barbecued in short order :) It used to be said that you could catch steelhead on the Clackamas every single month of the year between the overlap of winters and summers. That wasn't some myth...it was fact.

So as we are now crowding anglers into fewer and fewer places....so much so that groups like TU are hinting at some form of limited entry....I have to wonder.

How many mistakes have we made? How many towns took the hit? How many burger joints like the one that used to be in Estacada are gone? How many connections to fish and the places they inhabit have been terminated?

And what are we going to do we do about it?


And for a capper on weird sense of timing, just before I can hit the upload button on this blog, here's what pops into my email.

In case you can't read the small type in the bottom middle it says, "Participating angler-sponsors assist Russian scientists in the collection of scale and tissue samples, and tagging of all caught-and-released fish. This is a high level scientific project, and all costs associated with sponsoring are tax deductible."

Is this where steelhead fishing is heading? Where the very wealthiest anglers looking for a fishing trip and a charitable donation wing on over to Russia to jam on the Kamchatka?

To quote Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, it's so choice." I would agree. Insane trip that I'd love to take. I don't look cross at anyone who would take this trip. I do look cross on those who would perpetuate a false shortage of fish and opportunity on the premise that, at least on the Clackamas River, we're gaining something positive for wild fish.

December 02, 2014

TU To Rescue Steelhead

by Carmen Macdonald

Trout Unlimited wants to save steelhead. They launched a new campaign called Be Steelhead on November 20th with simultaneous meetings held in five states: Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Alaska.

I don't need much of a reason to head out to the Lucky Lab, so my daughter and I attended the Oregon meeting in Portland.

TU is an interesting player to jump into the steelhead arena. They have over 110,000 members, mainly located in the East/Northeast region of the country. And most certainly, that membership owes its trout fishing to hatcheries, so I was really interested in a number of aspects of where the group was headed.

Some snapshots of the meeting include:
a. a lot of emotion
b. very little plan they were willing to discuss
c. some comments that left me inquisitive and needing to hear more.

I'm trying not to jump to conclusions- I tried to make it a point before I attended and still do to this day. I want to believe the organization is not another hell bent on dividing anglers and cutting hatcheries to achieve zero measurable results as seems to be the norm lately. But what I heard left little to go on.

Overall, every campaign needs some motivational slogans. I picked up on a couple it appeared TU is advancing within the conversation: steelhead are listed in 70% of their range and TU wants to restore and protect steelhead in the "great rivers of the west."

Those were in the press release and the meeting didn't add much more. I mentioned the emotion of the meeting and maybe that's the problem with steelhead. They've accumulated so much lore that perhaps it's difficult to simply look at them as a population.

Looking over my notes, I caught three pieces from the primary speaker. We have direct control over habitat, hatcheries and the "way in which we fish". Habitat and hatcheries are not new entries to this party. Habitat is a driving factor, in a large part driven by the growth of communities and construction of dams. In the case of hatcheries, it's a tired avenue. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Like the others I hope they don't aim to get programs cut and pat themselves on the back for accomplishing nothing 15 years later.

The "way in which we fish" was a new one to me. In fact, I heard it mentioned in different ways three different times. One was that "pressure is a large issue" and the other was "cannot manage them [fisheries] as we have." It leaves me wondering if gear restrictions, limited entry, or other similar components is the space where TU intends to leave its mark.

The documentation handed out hints further at this. With regard to angling opportunity, "While there may be a need to reduce fishing opportunity in the short-term on some rivers to give wild populations an opportunity to rebuild, we believe that short-term sacrifice will be more than justified by the long-term increase in fishing opportunity."

The odd thing about pressure is, it's a result of cutting hatcheries. Anglers have descended on those places where there's a reasonable expectation of catching fish. That used to include hundreds of streams, but no more. People didn't use to travel to the Olympic Peninsula en masse until the Puget Sound hatchery runs were flogged by the zealots. The Clackamas, Sandy, Molalla rivers held back much pressure from the coast before their programs were gutted.

I can't help but feel cautious that now that a bunch of other groups have gutted fisheries, TU may come in for the death blow. But in the absence of any real information at the meeting, they've allowed anyone to draw their own conclusions.

Back to a little more on the emotion. It rears its head in weird places. Not minutes after one speaker explains how TU will adhere to science, another speaker talks about how they were successful in thwarting wild steelhead harvest on the Umpqua River.

Get it?

The Umpqua is perhaps the single most scientifically justifiable river in Oregon to have wild steelhead harvest. Thwarting harvest on the Umpqua isn't scientific, it's 100% emotion.

In another comment a speaker referenced the Sandy River. Specifically, it was how when he was younger the Sandy used to have winter steelhead runs better than 10,000, and now runs are just a bit more than a couple thousand.

In fact, going back to 1977, winter steelhead numbers, wild and hatchery combined never exceeded 4,078 to Marmot Dam, and in the years where the high was achieved, wild and hatchery were counted one and the same. What this angler remembered, I believe, is the large quantities of Big Creek hatchery fish that are no longer planted in the river.

Sorting through emotion seems especially difficult with steelhead. In reference to the campaign slogan of steelhead being threatened in 70% of their historical range, I asked if wild steelhead were in a better or worse position today than 40 years ago. The unequivocal answer was much worse. There's a lot of information within the Columbia Basin that would not bear that out. Puget Sound, probably true. California, don't know. But one scientist made a comment to me that wild steelhead have never been in a better position than today in Oregon and the Columbia.

What I fear many remember is quantity of hatchery fish that used to be available. Try as we may to believe those were wilds, I've been completely unable to find the data that bears it out. Steelhead are not as productive as salmon and never have been.

Changing gears, with regard to the "Great Rivers of the West" the facilitators of the meeting were wholly unwilling to divulge what rivers these were. Tough to comment on that. I expect they felt that putting names to them would cause immediate alarm well before the plan has time to gain momentum.

To TU's credit, they were adamant that hatcheries and angler opportunity were necessary. That could make a tough case for them with their traditional local base...but should play well to membership in the East. Orvis would have amounted to nothing without hatcheries back there. I lived in Pennsylvania as a child just long enough to experience a trout opener. Those ditches were filled with hatchery trout and anglers of the highest moral virtue loved them.

I was also impressed by some examples of direct stream restoration. In examples like those, everybody wins and that's certainly something everyone can support.

Overall, I didn't sign my name to the program, but want to see their next move. On one hand I worry that they're an organization in need of a campaign. I wonder if fresh off of the Pebble Mine effort, they simply need to feed the machine.

On the other hand, If this beast of an organization wants to take on large scale habitat issues and show meaningful results, I'd love to have them.

Looking over a bit of history-
-steelhead were made a game fish in the late 1970's
-fin-clipping of hatchery fish separated them from wild in the late 1980's
-ESA protection kicked in the 1990's
-hatchery programs were dramatically reduced in the 1990's
-hatchery programs have continued to be an action item throughout the 2000's
-Washington has its gene bank process rolling
-Oregon just completed its last HGMP (hatchery genetic management plan)

With all of these in place, where does TU feel others have dropped the ball? Where will they achieve meaningful results?

Dear TU, Please show me an example where "reduce fishing opportunity in the short term...to give wild populations an opportunity to rebuild" has produced measurable results. By what model do you hope to be successful? Do you have one, because I have a bunch that can show where reduced opportunity has not accomplished anything at all.

The lynchpin to the future of steelehad exists in a large, diverse and vibrant user group. If there's one concept I hope people can understand and internalize, that's the one. Without anglers, nobody cares about these fish.

September 25, 2014

Welcome to Hover Fishing

by Carmen Macdonald

It's pretty certain that last year you probably heard the term "hover fishing" or "boat bobbering." It's not a new technique, but one that went through a mini-explosion on the Columbia River last year. And one year later, technique-specific rods have hit the market.
If the concept of hover fishing is completely foreign, here's the quick outline. Off the mouths of rivers like the White Salmon, Klickitat and Deschutes, kings will stack up and hold briefly on their journey upriver. Fishing from a boat, schools of fish are located on the graph. The boat is positioned up-current of the fish and gear is deployed. The boat operator backs every so slightly into the current. as necessary (the rigged out guys use electric motors) to maintain the lines exactly vertical beneath the boat as the boat drifts downriver. A pass is made and the boat returns to the top end to do it all over.

Okuma continues to demonstrate their commitment to Northwest fisheries with all-new technique-specific Hover Rods.

Sounds simple right? Well, it can be simple, but it can also be extremely difficult.

The gear in this fishery (that I've used, yours may be different) is shorter light-tipped rods, 50-pound TUF-Line, 2-ounce weight at your swivel, 3-foot leader and a #2 hook loaded with a small bait of eggs. You drop the weight to the bottom then come up 2 to 4 cranks or so, depending on where the fish are holding. That puts your bait a foot or two or three off the bottom.

As the boat drifts, my first expectation was that I would feel a bite, or at least see some good indication on the rod tip. A good solid bite is the exception rather than the rule. More often-much more often-fish will simply mouth the bait. It's not much of a bite, rather a hard look or maybe a slight lean (seriously!). If you do nothing, the bait is rejected in an instant and the fish is gone.

Hence the new technique-specific rods. Cruising through Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor, I caught sight of new Okuma SST Hover Rods I'd never seen before.

The rods are built with purpose. The quick specs are 7'10" in length, magnum action for 10- to 25-pound line. It's not a muscle rod, it's a feel rod. A super light tip gives way quickly to a powerful butt section. For the purposes of Hover Fishing, it's all about the length and the tip.
The shorter length allows you to get a downward angle on the rod as you fish it and sets you up for the hookset. When fishing, the tip is literally inches above the water, held very still. The key to the fishing is recognizing the bite- and that's where the tip comes in. Don't look for a sharp grab. Instead look for that tip to lean, ever so slightly towards the water. When it happens, set the hook.

Couple thoughts about hooksets. The first time I fished this technique, the frustration level was high as I was absolutely schooled by people far more dialed-in on the technique. When I did get one, it was only by virtue of clean-livin' that I didn't break the rod...I was, let's say, overzealous. With TUF-Line and a 2/0 hook, fishing a completely straight line to the fish, you do not need to "cross their eyes". A sharp, short snap will do the job quite nicely and you'll save yourself the broken rod. Without care, you will high-stick and break your rod when there's no need to.

The season for hover fishing is now, today, this weekend. And with liberal limits above Bonneville Dam, it's a great time to get involved. The model number on the Okuma SST Hover Rod is the SST-C-7101. Talk to the guys at Fisherman's, they'll get you dialed in.

September 10, 2014

More On Hatchery And Wild

by Carmen Macdonald

It seems that at this point, every couple of months I see another article published by notable researchers like Michael Blouin, Mark Christie and Michael Ford. To cut right to the chase, these studies conclude that the Relative Reproductive Success of hatchery fish is lower than that of wild fish. In other words if 100 wild fish (50 pairs) can produce 100 returning adults in the next generation, hatchery fish will produce fewer. In the case of wild broodstock steelhead, that number might be 85 returning fish instead of 100 with an RSS value of 85% for these fish.

What follows these articles is a wholly political discussion with those vehemently against hatchery fish standing on the position that hatchery fish are bad, hatchery fish are bad and hatchery fish are bad.

On the research side, what I read is a call for more money for more research so that the components causing this 15% reduction can be dissected.

While all of this is taking place, hatchery programs are (perhaps by design) thrown into turmoil. We have lawsuits, lost participation, lost economics and what will amount to a lost connection between the population and the resource if the trend continues.

While an 85% RRS value for steelhead seems to be a source of condemnation, I believe exactly the opposite. Looking at some layman-understood components that affect spawning success, 85% is one heck of a good number.

What follows here is an email I wrote to Michael Blouin at Oregon State University on the first of August. I did not receive a response from Mr. Blouin, but wanted to share the concepts involved. The italic components were not part of the original email...I've added them here in an attempt to further flesh out the concepts.

Dear Mr. Blouin,

As an angler I've read with great interest the number of Relative Reproductive Success studies that you've been involved with publishing over the last years. Within each, I see quick references to what appear to be some critical concepts that we'd want to understand, but then not much in regards to follow up.

A couple of them are:

a. High level of variation in spawning success between adults. I'd believe most interested in salmon and steelhead would expect progeny to be spread more or less evenly across the spawning adults that preceded them, but that's not the case as you've mentioned. Certain spawners are highly successful, others are not at all- which is true across both wild and hatchery spawners.

On Hood River, genetic studies found that the parents of any given run year were not evenly spread across the population with every two wild spawners replacing themselves. Instead, some spawning events produced many fish, some one or two, and many none at all. To me this suggests that on a given year X, Y or Z tributary might hit those perfect conditions and others experience just the opposite. Think about our hatchery programs. We no longer scatter-plant fish. We apply them to select locations in order to greater expose them to fisheries and minimize their influence on wild spawners.

b. Spatial distribution of spawners. You've referenced spatial distribution of spawners being different for wild and hatchery fish. Generally, I understand that wild fish, especially steelhead, are found higher in systems and better disbursed through spawning tributaries. Hatchery fish are generally planted lower in systems and returning adults tend to hang around the area of their liberation and the spawning tributary nearest upstream.

Within these two concepts alone I see great reason for differences in reproductive success. With regard to variation in spawning success, my thoughts would lead me to believe that to be successful in spawning and returning the next generation, the conditions where spawning, emergence and early life history take place have to be just right. When it's great, it's really great. When it's not good, nature comes down hard. Couple that with greater spatial distribution of wild spawners, usually higher in systems and my thoughts quickly wonder how we can ask that hatchery fish and wild fish be equally successful?

Wild fish are the progeny of a wild event. Hatchery fish have to be applied to a wild river. They cannot be a wild event. Their point of liberation is chosen by humans, not nature.

Is anybody asking or contemplating whether the question of hatchery fish equaling wild fish productivity is even legitimate to ask? It doesn't seem so.

And the further thought here is that wild broodstock steelhead have been shown to perform at 85% of their wild ancestry. With that number and the fact that within fishery programs we're actively trying to minimize interaction while maximizing harvest, how has the result been allowed to be characterized as a negative?

One other component that intrigues me is the issue of capacity. From what I can gather, the first three years of the Hood River study release numbers of hatchery smolts numbered no more than 5,000. Consequently, those were also the years that returned the best relative reproductive success from hatchery fish. From what I believe I've read, the years that followed included releases in the range of 45,000 smolts.

We know a capacity exists in our rivers. We can go beyond capacity by adding smolts that use little resources before they exit the system. However, when they return as adults and try to spawn, they're 100% subject to all forms of natural selection, and capacity. What I see within the studies appears to be the expectation of an infinite upside. To be equal to the productivity of wild fish, hatchery fish would have to be there in numbers (and the aforementioned locations) that are capable of delivering successful reproduction equal to that of wild fish.

And because we're applying hatchery fish to streams in a manner that will limit their spatial distribution and utilization of the best habitat, rational thought would conclude that the stream's capacity will come down hardest on these fish.

As I consider steelhead, they were made a game fish in the late 1970's. By the early 1990's sport harvest was ended. With only a small level of tribal harvest and sport release mortalities, by what mechanism would Hood River steelhead be below capacity?

With regard to the work you've done, do you have spatial distribution information of where successful and unsuccessful spawners were found? Were the hatchery fish applied to areas that also produced successful wild spawning or were they in low success areas? Is there any information with regard to capacity of Hood River and the stream segments used?

In all of this it appears that the conventional wisdom says that to be of benefit, the RRS of hatchery fish needs to equal that of wild fish. Is anybody asking if that goal is at all reasonable?

And finally, from a population level. If first generation broodstock steelhead have a relative reproductive success that is 85% of wild fish, does the hypothetical math below work?

a. Wild run= 1,000 fish
b. Remove 50 pairs to create broodstock
c. Produce and release 100,000 smolt at 1% return
d. 900 wilds (1,000 minus the 100 removed) return plus 1,000 broodstock

If the Relative Reproductive Success of the broodstock fish are 85% of the wilds, am I in a better population position with 100% of a 1,000 fish run, or 100% of 900 wild and 85% of the additional 1,000 broodstock?

I'd greatly appreciate your insight.

Thank you!

As we move forward with management programs, there is a reason we have some separation between science and policy. And with regard to Relative Reproductive Success, a difference in raw value does not immediately mean damage to wild populations.

To me some in-depth discussion and transparency within these concepts from the leadership at our management organizations would do much to advance trust within ongoing processes.

July 22, 2014

A Truly New Spinner For Anglers

by Carmen Macdonald

Trolling spinners for salmon has gone big time. Just a scant few years ago, Tillamook Bay was the epicenter of salmon spinners. At this point, Tillamook has been replaced by Astoria. The much larger Buoy 10 fishery probably uses as many spinners a day as Tillamook uses in a season...there are just that many people fishing them there.

The effects on tackle stores has been dramatic. Now we find massive spreads of spinners where just a few years ago there were a just a fraction of this amount. Cruising these aisles, then looking closer, you'll notice one unifying factor in the selection- most all of the blades are nearly identical. Not the finishes, but the blades themselves. About all of them, whether smooth or hammered, faceted or not, white-backed, brass or nickel, are virtually all cascade style blades, with a couple notable exceptions.

The new Luhr-Jensen Hydro Vibe Extreme breaks the mold of the cascade style blade, offering anglers a completely unique blade with a vibration pattern different than any available on the market.

At a quick glance you can see the difference. The HydroVibe blade shows a large flat with hard angles towards the tip instead of a uniform curve throughout. On showing the lure to a longtime spinner angler, he could immediately see the intention. The large flat surface isn't as friendly when spinning around the shaft. It responds to the rotation with a tumultuous disturbance in the water, and for the angler, that's a beautiful thing.

The disturbance is heightened by a unique vent at the top of the blade. Grabbing water from the blade's exterior and passing it to the interior, it elevates the level of turbulence.

If your Dr. McCoy voice from Star Trek is in your head saying, "I'm an angler, not a hydrodynamic engineer!"- let's break it down a bit. I'm really proud to have been on the testing team for these spinners more than three years ago. When we put them down in 30-feet of water behind a 16-ounce lead in Astoria, you could read the vibration on the rod tip like the spinner was just 5-feet off of the rod tip. And even better, that rod tip got yarded to water with amazing regularity, all of this from a size 6 blade.

The size 6 blade is exceptionally universal. Where the fads have taken us to blades of massive proportion, growing numbers of spinner fisheries are showing the true strength of smaller blades. They can troll faster and cover more water. They anchor fish well and across many seasons. And where the drawback to smaller blades was that the vibration was difficult to feel on the rod (in places like Tillamook), the Hydro Vibe design delivers in that arena.

The finish palette is straightforward, including the best-of-the-best, but with a twist. The blades are plated in either gold or nickel. Gold is beautifully bright. Nickel is more inclusive of the silver salmon that are an equal goal in mixed fisheries like Buoy 10. Together, the blades deliver a salmon fishing system rather than focusing exclusively on chinook.

Hydro Vibe Hoochie models, just released this month, takes a similarly advanced and unique perspective on its design. Molded acrylic head holds a high-contrast eye. Two-tone skirts are modestly dressed with both crystal flash and flashabou that radiates light and motion.

The operable question often comes down to what a person needs and with Buoy 10 around the corner, it's a good question. Red and white is a dominant blade in the fishery and a great place to begin. Chartreuse green dot is a staple for chinook. Those two deliver a really solid foundation.

My next choices would be the Gold Fire Blue Chartreuse Double Dot, Nickle Fire Blue Dot and Nickel Ice Pink Dot, again for their universal nature across chinook and coho, as well as the fact that in recent years red beads (regardless of blade finish color) have been a key component of success across a number of anglers that I trust implicitly.

On hooks, I'd pinch the barbs on the stock trebles and stop there. The VMC Perma Steel hooks are both extremely sharp and hold up to saltwater. Some will change hooks to big singles. In discussing the Buoy 10 fishery with an angler who spent three weeks there last year, his comments were very interesting. His boat lost some fish due to barbless trebles- so they switched to singles. The unfortunate point here was that they started mixing in a few bleeders on the single hooks. I believe the exact comment was, "When we had bleeders, they were on the single hooks." It runs counterintuitive to much of what we hear in regards to single hooks being better to release fish, but this angler found that single hooks were often lodged deeper in the fish, and deeper does more damage.

Without getting into the debate about hooks, run a firm drag, keep the rod loaded...and have a blast!

June 11, 2014

Life, Death and Colonoscopies

by Carmen Macdonald

I'll apologize in advance for this blog. But being I've got "at large" status, I'm taking the liberty to dive into some of the more uncomfortable spaces in our lives. Because before we can debate the next management issue, we need to be sure that all our voices, opinions, feelings and dreams remain accounted for.

My eldest sister passed away this morning. She was 56 years old.

Victoria Macdonald, July 29, 1957- June 11, 2014.

Being 13 years younger than Vicki, my early memories of her as a caregiver are equal to those as a sister. She read me thousands of books as a child, paid me a few bucks here and there to wash her car as I grew older. I remember busting through her door in the era of "Fame" to catch her putting on her best dance to the movie's theme song. Really shy in comparison to the rest of the family, she wasn't pleased with my entry.

My sister had a heart of gold. She lived simply, never married, never forced her presence on a room. She came to help after my wife gave birth to our second child. She called the kids religiously on holidays and their birthdays, always engaging them with amazing enthusiasm that made them feel like the king or queen of the occasion.

She cared for others more than herself.

Vicki missed some of the signposts on the road to aging. She skipped the colonoscopy. By the time she made the hospital last Friday, the cancer had reached stage IVb. It's five days later and she's gone.

I tend to be averse to doctor visits. It's easy to overlook the routine stuff. I'm too busy or it's just too much of a hassle. I'm sure you know the type, and probably a person or two that fit the description. Many of these people might say, "When your number is up, it's up." We all have examples of so-and-so that died in their sleep with no forewarning, got hit by the proverbial Mack Truck.

Thing about those stories is that for every one of them there are the other thousands that skip the little things, and little things become big things. My sister's death was most likely preventable. Not yesterday, not last week, but 3, 5, 7 or more years ago. While some fight for every day, others take life for granted, right until it's taken away from them.

I'll miss my sister deeply.

As a family, we're not the type to leave things unsaid. We have faith in God. There's no regret, only sorrow. My hope for solace is that in some way Vicki's story might help someone else.

If you can use this story with someone you care about, please do.

I love you Vick.

May 12, 2014

ODFW Budget: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

by Carmen Macdonald

Back in the early 1970's, my family used to make an annual summer pilgrimage from our suburb of Pittsburg to Jekyl Island, Georgia for a summer vacation. Being the youngest of five kids, I was in the sure position of being relegated to the back of the station wagon for the trip, camped out on top of suit cases and competing for space against our brittany spaniel.

The soundtrack from these marathon trips is forever etched in my brain. I have nearly instant recall of random songs from the seventies, sometimes at really weird moments.

As I've followed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's budget proceedings, Mary MacGregor has been a fixture I've been unable to shake.

"Torn between two lovers, feelin' like a fool. Lovin' both of you, is breakin' all the rules."

While I can't shake the songs that pop up, they don't necessarily come with an explanation of why they've chosen the moment to pop up. That takes some sorting out.

Over the last decades, the Oregon Department of Fish and WIldlife has been on a steady reduction of General Fund dollars and become largely funded directly by anglers and hunters. Even the large pool of "Federal" dollars that are received by the agency are derived from anglers and hunters in the form of Dingell-Johnson and Pitman-Robertson funds. These are both excise taxes paid by manufacturers on all the fishing and hunting goods we as consumers by. These monies are redistributed to the states based upon the number of fishing and/or hunting licenses sold.

Commercial fisheries are exempt from Dingell-Johnson taxes, that's why you see tags that say "For Commercial Use Only" on some of the gear in commercial outlets. It's untaxed and does not contribute to management or conservation.

For the record, I'm completely okay with hunters and anglers paying the freight for ODFW, as long as ODFW is both demonstrative of its commitment to the needs of this community and delivers to the best of its ability.

But increasingly, that's not the case.

To look at what's transpired, we have to backtrack two decades in fisheries. In the 1980's and early 1990's Oregon was a destination fishery for 10's of thousands. Counter to today's fisheries, ocean coho where a mega-driver of participation and fiberglass ocean boats were as common on the coast as aluminum sleds.

Harvest levels were egregious.

In 1993, the bottom fell out. Over-harvest met the most persistent El Nino (a warm water event that suppresses cold water upwelling off the coast, starves the environment and crushes juvenile salmonid survival) ever recorded and the bottom fell out from fisheries.

On the backs of closures, license sales dropped 41,000 in 1994. Rather than wait out the storm and modify harvest levels, the fish were listed. Then Oregon Trout, which included leadership that went on to be: Governor Kitzhaber's natural resource director, the founder of the Native Fish Society and the Executive Director of the Wild Salmon Center, indicted hatchery fish, not El Nino, as the driver of the decline.

For coastal Oregon, three initiatives were undertaken:
1. Harvest rates on coho were cut from as high as 80-90% of the adult population to less than 20%.
2. The largest habitat restoration plan, The Oregon Plan For Salmon, was initiated.
3. Coastal hatchery plants of silver salmon were virtually eliminated.

By 1998, license sales had dropped by more than 87,000, 13%- kaboom.

El Nino ended. Fish runs bounced back. But the 6 million hatchery coho that drove coastal fisheries were gone. Coastal communities have not recovered to this day.

But coastal coho were not the only component of the story. Hatchery fish were targeted far and wide. We reduced and/or eliminated steelhead plants. We cut stream trout programs in droves (remember when rivers were planted with hatchery trout?). We cut programs galore. Certainly that should have saved some money, but it didn't.

We initiated a whole new entity within ODFW, the Conservation and Recovery Program. From layers and layers of labor-intensive studies and monitoring, we're developing reams of reports and insight. Later, we built a world-class research facility in the Oregon Hatchery Research Center and funded it with license dollars. The only problem with both these efforts are they costs a fortune and none of it is putting any more anglers on the water.

Remember them, the people that pay for this stuff?

And there's the crux. The public at large loves the concepts of biodiversity and ecological balance, but they're not paying for it. They want nature to balance itself, in harmony, yet they appear to miss the fact that we've all moved in to nature's house.

We have recovery plans for salmon that, in cases like the Willamette system, are laughable.

We're hog-tied by the Marine Mammel Protection act in the face of a marine mammal population that has exploded exponentially. We have the Migratory Bird Act, though it's been federal projects that have created problems with avian predators.

We have conservation biologists where we need managers. We have biologists who have no understanding of anglers or hunters.

Biodiversity is a worthy goal. I can see where I'm setting myself up to be lambasted by the "see he just wants to kill everything" crowd.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm all for these efforts, a lighter touch and biodiversity, granted:

a. We're quantifying results from them, but we're not. We've initiated lots of hatchery restructuring based upon showing results to wild fish. None of it has been effective, and yet we continue these efforts with a direct negative result to participation and funding. I'm sure there are similar efforts on the wildlife side.

b. You don't ask me to shoulder the responsibility to pay for it all, and they are. These are the two lovers of ODFW and the surrounding political landscape. Over decades we've weened General Fund dollars from the agency, yet increased the responsibilities of the agency beyond components of fishing and hunting.

Want to balance a fish and wildlife budget on anglers and hunters? Embrace fish for fishing, and game to hunt.

As a country we've got a Bambi hangover, and this is much of the other side of the equation- we don't value the sporting life. Released in 1942, along with increasing urbanization, Bambi and more recently the 1970's images of the clubbing of baby harp seals, and even more recently the Discovery Channel (original documentary version, not what exists today) have created generations of charged emotion surrounding fishing and hunting. For some great thoughts on Bambi, see the 1992 article, The Trouble With Bambi

The emotion has brought us into this quest for "ecotopia." With biologists doing "God's work," we will atone for the sins of our fathers.

The problem with this path is that nature is ugly. Nature "balances" the ecosystem with catastrophic events: famine, disease and all forms of horrifying death. It includes great swings of the pendulum between prey and predator, spending very little of reality in the middle.

This is not management; it's the absence of it. Wolves are wonderfully romantic creatures. They're also refined killers and add nothing to the financial stability of Oregon, ODFW, and the conservation mission of the agency, because again, the mission is funded by anglers and hunters.

A couple comments that I've heard all too often include:
1. The agency (ODFW) first and foremost is responsible for the conservation of species above all else.
2. If everybody on all sides of debates are a little bit unhappy, the policy must be pretty good, falling right in the middle.

On the first one, that's wrong. By statute, use of resources and conservation are co-equals. It is okay to have an impact on wild populations with hatchery programs. Hatchery programs have not and will not drive wild fish to extinction as has become the pop-culture of those that would turn rivers into museums. According to ODFW documents, hatcheries return $76 for every single state dollar invested in the program. Participation is critical to funding the conservation mission, without it, there is no conservation mission.

On the second, it can also mean that the policy is no good and lacks underpinnings. This is a question of leadership. Does it feel to anybody else that ODFW does not have a driver at the wheel? At what point do you discover the potential of a 34 million dollar shortfall? Who is out in front on this, what is the plan that has been being followed? What were the expectations?

It's a difficult position for a government agency, which serves at the will of the Governor and legislature, to demonstrate strong leadership. Nevertheless, Directors of government agencies rise to this position knowing what comes with the job. They should be willing to chart a path and take the responsibility for its success or failure. Has Director Roy Elicker embodied this?

Has anybody seen or heard from or about the Deputy Director of the agency, Kurt Melcher, since he took the position?

I love Oregon. When I came to this state in 1984, it seemed we understood that we had levied numerous injustices against the available habitat for the sake of the people living here, but at the same time we were committed to managing a balanced approach to fisheries and hunting. Currently, we have an agency that is responsible for the status of fish and game, but has no real purview to effect change. ODFW can talk habitat, but they don't manage the land. They can talk about stream flows, but they don't manage the water.

Anglers and hunters see ODFW looking for more money to provide less. I have to agree. Pull back the curtain and that's all that's there. On the fishing side, ODFW manages hatcheries and harvest, and have chosen to reduce the hatchery component though it doesn't define the status of wild populations, and that cut immediately impacts harvest….it's really pretty simple.

In all that I've read from groups like Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and the Native Fish Society, they add nothing. They seek to take from those who largely fund the conservation mission and offer nothing in return.

The way out of this mess is in some broad level leadership decisions.

1. Is Oregon going to embrace fishing or not? If so, it takes fish. If not, let's just make that decision and get on with it instead of perpetuating this façade that removing hatchery programs is actual management.

2. Is the Governor or the Department going to lead on the tough issues? Marine mammals, avian predators, ill-advised cougar legislation, wolves, unfunded mandates- these topics are all in the red in the budget columns. It's going to take some leadership to get out of this mess.

3. Who will fund the future of the agency? A birdseed tax to fund non-game bird management has been shot down twice in the legislature. Non-game enthusiasts are vocal with demands, silent on funding.

Maybe we need a dog food tax to fund wolf management? I see the amazing commentary as people ooze over wolf reintroduction…he buddy, how about you pony up?

Overall, something has to change. If everyone's views are important, everyone ought to be willing to pitch in. Unfunded mandates are killing ODFW. Legislators love to deliver a pet project and sportsmen's license fees are going all directions, and more and more of those directions have nothing to do with fishing and hunting.

If the contributions of the sporting community to the lifestyle and economy of the State of Oregon is not going to be valued, I regrettably have to live with that. At this point of budget discussion, I can however, my viewpoints heard to the best of my ability.

I'm not a fan of Governor John Kitzhaber. I believe he fancies himself an angler, but those press clips are a long time gone. He led a lot of policy in his first two terms, but I don't believe the man has offered the results of those policies more than a casual view. These policies have bee destructive far in excess of any restorative qualities that were hoped from them. And yet, it appears in efforts like the Coastal Multi-Species Plan, his intention is to serve Oregonians more of the same.

Kitzhaber is responsible for much of the sitting Commission. His appointees have been anemic. The Commission in total has been anemic. They are the governor's voice in the process and they are completely and totally lackluster. If Governor Kitzhaber valued the sporting community that funds the agency, there are dozens of candidates that could lead ODFW out of the hole by focusing on the customer.

ODFW budget conversations are an opportunity for anglers and hunters to take a stand. This department is trending further and further away from those who fund its mission. They take your money, then run to other lovers. Governor Kitzhaber, the ODFW Commission and ODFW staff need to make a strong and renewed commitment to their core customers, or go get the money they need from those that make demands, while offering nothing.

I hope to see you at one of the Department's public meetings.

ODFW Budget Meetings Schedule

Monday, May 19
7 pm – 8:30 pm
Monarch Hotel
12566 Se 93rd Ave

La Grande
Tuesday, May 20

7 pm – 8:30 pm
Blue Mountain Conference Center
404 12th Street
La Grande

Wednesday, May 21

7 pm – 8:30 pm
Central Oregon Community College
Boyle Education Building, Room 155
2600 NW College Way

Thursday May 22nd

Tillamook Office of the Dept. of Forestry
Next door to the ODFW and next to the Tillamook County Fair Grounds on 3rd st
(info courtesy of Jerry Dove)

Thursday, May 22

7 pm – 8:30 pm
Hallmark Inn
744 SW Elizabeth Street

Coos Bay/North Bend
Tuesday, May 27

7 pm – 8:30 pm
North Bend Public Library
1800 Sherman Avenue
North Bend

Wednesday, May 28

7 pm – 8:30 pm
ODFW Office
4192 N Umpqua Hwy

Klamath Falls
Thursday, May 29

7 pm – 8:30 pm
Oregon Institute of Technology
College Union Bldg., Mt. Bailey Room
3201 Campus Drive
Klamath Falls

February 15, 2014

Hatchery AND Wild- New Science

by Carmen Macdonald

Well folks...if you want to dive into this one, I recommend a good stiff cocktail and a comfortable chair. I'll apologize up front for the length, but finding our way out of the woods and into a positive future takes some work. I thought about throwing some pictures of my kids or my dog in to break up the text, but that only makes it longer.

Here we go...

The debate over hatchery fish and their effect, or lack there of, on wild fish centers on a vast numbers of scientific studies that hypothesize numerous negative reactions within wild fish populations, caused by the presence of hatchery fish.

It's tremendously interesting, but none more interesting than how the research has taken root in conventional wisdom, even to the level of playing a role in court proceedings.

Most prominent within the scientific debate are studies of "relative reproductive success." In a nutshell, fish propagated in a hatchery and released into the wild do not reproduce at a rate equal to that of their wild counterparts.

At the core of that science are measurements of Recruits per Spawners. The science clearly shows that when hatchery fish are added to a system the ratio of natural (wild) recruits per the total number of spawners goes down.

For the sake of discussion, let's roll out a bunch of excerpts from the science right here, in broad daylight, thanks to an over-achieving contributor to ifish.net.

Blouin 2009: "If anyone ever had any doubts about the genetic differences between hatchery and wild fish, the data are now pretty clear. The effect is so strong that it carries over into the first wild-born generation. Even if fish are born in the wild and survive to reproduce, those adults that had hatchery parents still produce substantially fewer surviving offspring than those with wild parents. That's pretty remarkable."

Blouin 2009: "The implication is that hatchery salmonids – many of which do survive to reproduce in the wild–could be gradually reducing the fitness of the wild populations with which they interbreed. Those hatchery fish provide one more hurdle to overcome in the goal of sustaining wild runs, along with problems caused by dams, loss or degradation of habitat, pollution, overfishing and other causes. Aside from weakening the wild gene pool, the release of captive-bred fish also raises the risk of introducing diseases and increasing competition for limited resources."

Buhle et al. 2009: "Our analyses highlight four critical factors influencing the productivity of these populations: (1) negative density-dependent effects of hatchery-origin spawners were ~5 times greater than those of wild spawners;
(2) the productivity of wild salmon decreased as releases of hatchery juveniles increased; (3) salmon production was positively related to an index of freshwater habitat quality; and (4) ocean conditions strongly affect productivity at
large spatial scales, potentially masking more localized drivers. These results suggest that hatchery programs' unintended negative effects on wild salmon populations, and their role in salmon recovery, should be considered in the context of other ecological drivers."

Christie et al. 2011: "These results demonstrate that a single generation in captivity can result in a substantial response to selection on traits that are beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild. We also documented a tradeoff among the wild-born broodstock: Those with the greatest fitness in a captive environment
produced offspring that performed the worst in the wild."

Fleming and M.R. Gross 1993: "The divergence of hatchery fish in traits important for reproductive success has raised concerns. This study shows that hatchery coho salmon males are competitively inferior to wild fish, and attained only 62% of the breeding success of wild males. Hatchery females had more difficulty in spawning than wild fish and hatchery fish had only 82% of the breeding success of wild fish. These results indicate hatchery fish may pose an ecological and genetic threat to wild fish."

Ford, 2002: "Substantial phenotypic changes and fitness reductions can occur even if a large fraction of the captive broodstock is brought in from the wild every generation. This suggests that regularly bringing wild-origin broodstock into captive populations cannot be relied upon to eliminate the effects of inadvertent domestication selection

Ford 2010: "What is known from peer-reviewed scientific studies on the impact of hatchery salmonids on wild salmonids? Hatchery fish reproductive success is poor; there is a large scale negative correlation between the presence of hatchery fish and wild population performance; hatchery fish reproductive success is lower than for wild fish and this is true for both supplementation and production hatchery programs; there is evidence of both environmental and heritable effects; effects were detected for both release and proportion of hatchery spawners; negative correlations between hatchery influence and wild productivity are widespread; habitat or ocean conditions do not appear to explain the pattern; current science indicates that limiting natural spawning of hatchery fish is generally beneficial to wild populations; there is evidence that reducing hatchery production leads to increased wild production, and cumulative effects of hatchery could be a factor limiting recovery of some ESUs."

ISAB 2002. "We believe that available empirical evidence demonstrates a potential for deleterious interactions, both demographic and genetic, from allowing hatchery-origin salmon to spawn in the wild. Because it is virtually impossible to ‘undo' the genetic changes caused by allowing hatchery and wild salmon to interbreed, the ISAB advocates great care in permitting hatchery-origin adult salmon to spawn in the wild."

Jonsson et al. 1993: "Differences were evident for hatchery Atlantic salmon relative to wild salmon, with common genetic backgrounds, in breeding success after a single generation in the hatchery. Hatchery females averaged about 80% the breeding success of wild females. Hatchery males had significantly reduced breeding success, averaging about 65% of the success of wild males."

Knudsen et al. 2006. "Perhaps the most important conclusion of our study is that even a hatchery program designed to minimize differences between hatchery and wild fish did not produce fish that were identical to wild fish."

At face value, it's easy to leap to the conclusion that hatchery fish equal the eternal damnation of wild fish. The Native Fish Society appears to agree according to this quote from Oregonlive.com on January 20, 2014,

"There is no evidence that hatcheries have been effective in the recovery of wild populations," said Mike Moody, executive director of the Native Fish Society. "In fact, the evidence shows they foster a slow march toward hatchery-induced extinction."

Hatchery-induced extinction… good Lord this is serious stuff.

Apparently, Judge Ancel L. Haggerty agreed, stating, "There is very little evidence to suggest a hatchery can restore a wild population of fish," the judge wrote, "and the Sandy Hatchery is generally not intended to achieve any recovery goals. Rather, it is undisputed that hatchery operations can pose a host of risks to wild fish."

A "host of risks" says the judge. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says the same. They regularly assert that hatcheries pose "some risk" to wild fish, though those risks remain "undefined."

So how can it be that in light of all of the above that the dialogue of damage by hatchery fish remains so completely unsatisfying? And how is it possible that this issue has been allowed to remain "undefined" as it has been allowed to reduce the size and eliminate so many fisheries?

I believe the answer is ODFW's concept of "undefined." You see, for all the science that says hatchery fish are bad, virtually none of it translates to adult abundance levels.

And to go a step further, for a ton of management actions that have been taken to reduce and/or remove hatchery fish, there has been a total absence of all meaningful and measured results.

A mountain of papers has been produced, but nothing satisfying in the real world to the person that is the least bit inquisitive about what has been gained by reducing or eliminating hatchery fish. They allude to the potential for results, but the empirical evidence available to all of us says something quite different.

Many of us have invested our time into understanding the science and have then tried to apply it to the things we can witness all around us. The science is not lining up to what we can see.

Take it all in, lay the science on the table, and then consider…


1. Why are we still talking about wild and native fish more than 100 years after the inception of hatchery programs? And yes, we still have pure wild fish. And where is a "hatchery induced extinction"?

2. How did the Sandy River begin with an average of 168 wild spring chinook in the 1960s, then emerge from 30 years of intensive hatchery management delivering and average of 2,187 adult wild spring chinook from 1999-2007? This seems completely counter to what would be expected.

3. How did the Upper Clackamas go from an average adult return of 506 adult spring chinook over the 21 year period from 1958-1978 to 2,000 wild adult spring chinoook, also after 20 years of intensive hatchery management? Again, the wild run did not go down, it went up!

4. How did the Nestucca emerge from 20 years of intensive hatchery winter steelhead management with as many as 10,000 wild winter steelhead in its population? Shouldn't it have been extinct, or at least near extinct?

5. Why has the removal of four hatchery populations, Spring Chinook, steelhead, Coho and trout, from the Upper Clackamas river delivered zero response from the wild winter steelhead population, though the science relating to the removal of the hatchery fish was considered a slam dunk?

6. How does the North Umpqua maintain stunning populations of both wild and hatchery winter steelhead over 60 years of hatchery influence? The wild steelhead population remains almost exactly unchanged now 60 years later.

7. Why have the Nehalem, Miami, Tillamook, Neskowin and Smith rivers, with wild fish spawning in complete isolation, not shown dramatic growth and deviation in the size of their wild populations in comparison to those rivers with hatchery fish? Their all recognized as having wild fish, but none emerge as outstanding with regard to the productivity of their fisheries.

8. Why do wild populations in the presence of hatchery fish trend exactly similarly to those wild populations under no influence of hatchery fish? Why is there apparently no deviation at all?

9. How were lowly hatchery silver salmon able to create one of the most singularly outstanding populations of wild silver salmon above Willamette Falls, an area with no historical population of wild silver salmon?

If you subscribe to the science of the "slow march towards a hatchery-induced extinction," all of the above examples would not exist immediately in front of us in the empirical world.

To point out directly the difference between what the science says and my points of contention above, the science focuses primarily on reproductive rates while my points focus on adult abundance. One might infer that the two go hand in hand, but that is not the case.

Confronted with the notable differences between the scientific papers and the empirical evidence of what is taking place around us, further investigation was necessary.

I've been afforded the opportunity to ask questions of top biologists. My basic question has been, what do these measurements of relative reproductive success mean?

The response was this: "Relative reproductive success is an attempt to measure relative reproductive ability in the absence of all other variables."

The next question is what we can infer from these studies when we make the leap to adult populations. The response is critical. And in short form, we cannot make the leap from relative reproductive success to adult populations at all. According to the scientist I spoke with, "if it were justifiable to do so, the authors of the studies would be doing it themselves." And they're not.

While the Mike Moody of the Native Fish Society can comment of a "slow march toward hatchery-induced extinction," not one credible scientist has put that in a paper, because the comment lacks all credibility.

I've been called a "hatchery apologist." I've been lumped into a group of sportsmen that, "…don't realize how bad they are screwing over wild fish."

I've been told that when a hatchery fish pairs and spawns with a wild fish that it nullifies the existence of that wild fish and essentially makes a withdrawal from the abundance of the wild population.

I've been told I don't care.

I'm here to tell you that all of those comments are a giant steaming pile of manure.

The scientist who I've spoken with clearly laid out to me that reproductive success cannot make the leap to adult populations because the number of assumptions that would have to go into a model to create the measurement would be so numerous that it would lack all credibility. In other words, it would be open to massive manipulation given inherent beliefs.

Given the juxtaposition of what science has delivered and what's available to anyone who wants to study the empirical evidence, it would seem that the priority of all concerned individuals, scientists or otherwise, would be to bridge the gap between relative reproductive success and adult populations. It would seem that all kinds of studies would be focusing on those places where hatchery fish have been removed in order to quantify what, if anything, has been gained. It would seem the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, constructed at a cost of $7.4 million and with an operating budget of $1.2 million per biennium in angler license fees would be all over this core question.

After all, the ESA is not judging populations on reproductive success, it's judging them by adult abundance. Perhaps we ought to put some focus on abundance.

The truth is, there has been a complete failure to address the issue by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and widely published hatchery scientists that include names like, Blouin, Kostow, Chilcote, Araki and others.

In this politically charged issue, one wise individual commented to me in regard to the lack of follow-though in the science, "When you have the answer you're looking for, you stop looking."

I do not want to believe that the leading names in hatchery science are engaged in what would amount to advocacy and social engineering, but when I consider examples like the Clackamas where hatchery programs have been removed and there's been zero initiative to measure results, I'm left to wonder.

One poster on a website said in regards to the Clackamas River, "I would think with the hatchery run out of the river for 15 years there has been research on what is hindering the native fish from growing in run size."

So would I. But that's not the case.

When we fail to measure results, yet continue to support continued actions that disconnect anglers from the resource, I wonder even harder.

Thankfully, a scientist has looked at the issue. Contracted by a group of irrigators, D. Brent Lister has no dog in the hatchery/wild debate, yet his recently published study is making significant waves in the region as the first that has looked at both productivity and adult population trends.

The study is a first of its kind.

The results of Lister's study run counter to what anglers are being led to believe by Fish and Wildlife Departments and preservation groups. It also is the only study that can provide explanation for the nine points I outlined above.

All study quotes that follow are from:

D. Brent Lister (2014) Natural Productivity in Steelhead Populations of Natural and Hatchery Origin: Assessing Hatchery Spawner Influence, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 143:1, 1-16, DOI:

And for those who are not aware, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society is one of the most difficult journals in North America to be published within. Crap work does not make the cut.

Natural productivity, the number of natural-origin adult recruits per parent, is an important parameter for assessing population status of steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss (anadromous Rainbow Trout) and Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Hatchery-origin adults comprise a majority of many salmon and steelhead spawning populations. In such cases, the utility of natural productivity estimates is affected by uncertain reproductive fitness of hatchery spawners and by possible ecological or genetic interactions among hatchery and natural fish. This study examined options for analyzing population census data to assess hatchery
spawner effects on natural productivity of mixed steelhead populations including spawners of hatchery and natural origin. It compared productivity in three mixed and reference (natural) population pairs, and estimated productivity as natural recruits per total spawners of natural and hatchery origin (Rnat/Stot) or as natural recruits per natural spawner (Rnat/Snat). Natural productivity estimated as Rnat/Stot reflected hatchery program scale, not productive capacity of natal streams. This analytical approach masked natural production dynamics in populations with a major hatchery spawner proportion, and was therefore of limited use for determining hatchery spawner influence. Productivity estimated as Rnat/Snat indicated similar productivity of reference and mixed populations, and an absence of hatchery spawner effect, in the case of (1) a large hatchery stray component, and (2) a hatchery supplementation program. In the third pairing, Rnat/Snat productivity of the mixed population significantly exceeded that of the reference population, suggesting natural spawner abundance is below carrying capacity. Hatchery spawners contributed to natural productivity in that case, but in the presence of reduced natural spawner density. These findings suggest that hatchery spawners are unlikely to affect natural production of a mixed steelhead population unless natural spawner abundance is below carrying capacity."

Lister's study differs from the rest of the reproductive success studies because most of them show in simple terms that the number of Recruits per total number of Spawners goes down when hatchery fish are added. Those studies do not appear to measure effects, if any, in the number of Recruits per Wild Spawners within the mixed population.

In total, Lister's work concludes that when a wild population is at capacity, the addition of hatchery fish cannot grow the population. Capacity dictates what the population is capable of. It also concludes, that when the wild population is below stream capacity the hatchery fish, though less successful, actively contribute to adult spawner abundance. And finally, by using 25 years of comparative trend lines, Lister was unable to find any deviation in the abundance of adult summer steelhead between control (wild only) and variable (wild/hatchery) streams. The hatchery fish did not drag down the abundance of the wild fish.

Let's look at the nine points I mentions earlier to see if Lister's study helps explain them.

1. We still have wild, native fish today in spite of 100 years of hatchery production because in a competitive environment (one at capacity) wild fish win out over hatchery fish. I'm sure Darwin would agree, yet it seems everyday people advance arguments that the addition of hatchery fish leads to decline of the wild population…in essence saying that the less fit fish wins the competition for survival.

2. When the Sandy River was at 168 wild spring chinook, the river had unfilled capacity. The hatchery fish were able to contribute and fill this capacity, leading to many multiples of increases in the wild population of Sandy River Spring Chinook.

3. Clackamas Spring Chinook would offer a similar story as the Sandy. Unfilled capacity creates the opportunity for hatchery fish to be successful and contribute to the wild population.

4. On the Nestucca River, the inherent productivity of the wild fish remained intact throughout a 20-year period of intensive hatchery management.

5. The Upper Clackamas wild winter steelhead have shown zero positive results to the removal of hatchery fish because those populations were and are at capacity. This is extremely inconvenient to recovery plans that deliver overly ambitious targets for the river's productivity. Furthermore, it appears that instead of the wild steelhead productivity remaining even the same, it appears to be actually trending downward. This further degradation of productivity remains not only unexplained, it's apparently not even on ODFW's radar.

6. The North Umpqua, from the findings of Lister's paper, is a river at carrying capacity. The hatchery fish are surplus to the function of the wild population.

7. Again, one would identify the Nehalem, Miami, Neskowin and Smith Rivers as rivers that are at capacity. Lack of hatchery fish n these populations is making no difference to the trend lines of their adult populations.

8. Trend lines of rivers with mixed stocks of wild and hatchery fish and those with no hatchery fish track similarly because carrying capacity is dictating the success of the wild population, not hatchery spawner influence.

9. Going by Lister's conclusions, hatchery silver salmon were successful above Willamette Falls because there were no wild fish occupying the habitat. With unfilled capacity, the hatchery fish were able to be successful.

Lister's paper explains the empirical evidence of hatchery and wild fish interactions that surround all of us in the region. Not one other paper produced by the most prolific writers on the subject comes close to answering these questions. I do not recollect a single one that introduces the concept of river capacity as a limiting factor for the spawning success of hatchery fish.

Let's tease out a little of the detail. I've spoken with Lister a few times by phone at this point confirm what I thought I was reading was actually as he intended.

"Natural productivity has generally been estimated as natural recruits per total parent spawners of natural and hatchery origin (Rnat /Stot ), or as natural recruits per natural parent spawner (Rnat /Snat ). The former method implies an assumption that hatchery spawners contribute to natural production, while the latter method infers that they do not (McClure et al. 2003). In this paper, I determined the utility of information provided by each productivity estimation method, and employed the findings to assess the effects of hatchery programs on natural productivity of steelhead populations in the study."

If you look back through the posted science, it's clear that as you add hatchery fish to a population the number of recruits per the total number of spawners goes down. What that measurement does is apply an average across the total population as if all fish are equal. It does not tease out the productivity of the wild fish within the total mixed population to see if it is altered, or remains intact, with the addition of hatchery fish. According to Lister, the productivity of the wild population remains intact.

"Absence of a statistically significant difference in Rnat /Snat productivity of a mixed and reference population pair was taken to indicate that the hatchery spawner component of the mixed population had no measurable effect on natural productivity of that population. Significantly higher Rnat /Snat productivity in the mixed population, relative to the reference population, suggested that hatchery spawners were contributing to natural productivity, or the hatchery program had created a positive density-dependent effect as a result of adult removals for broodstock or some other factor."

By comparative analysis, Lister was able to assess differences in the performance of control (wild only) and variable (wild/hatchery) populations. Where he saw a difference was in one creek where the wild fish were well below carrying capacity and the broodstock fish actively contributed to productivity.

Where previous science has been completely unsatisfying due to its inability to show what has or might happen to the adult population, Lister followed adult trend lines amongst his control and variable populations.

"Natural spawner abundance in mixed populations exhibited no significant trend in Deschutes (- 0.01/year, df = 29, P = 0.47) and Little Sheep (+ 0.04/year,
df = 16, P = 0.35) populations, which had the highest incidence of hatchery spawners (Table 1). The natural spawner abundance trend in the respective reference populations, Warm Springs (- 0.01/year) and Joseph (- 0.03/year), were also not statistically significant (P > 0.68). Significant positive trends were evident in natural adults returning to the Umatilla mixed population (+ 0.04/year, df = 22, P < 0.01) and Yakima
reference population (+ 0.07/year, df = 22, P < 0.001)."

In other words, the presence or absence of hatchery fish created no deviation in adult abundance between control and variable streams over a 25-year timeline.

So as these discussions continue, I'm often asked if I think the science brought to the table by preservation groups is jaded, wrong or influenced by advocacy for a particular outcome. I think the science is fine, however, I think it's being used completely inappropriately. Where people point to Blouin and say hatchery fish "foster a slow march toward hatchery-induced extinction," they're using the science completely inappropriately.

Lister concludes…
"One study purpose was to assess the effects of including or excluding hatchery spawners when estimating natural productivity of mixed steelhead populations that comprise hatchery and natural spawners. For each mixed population, inclusion of hatchery and natural individuals in the parent population resulted in a markedly lower natural productivity estimate (Rnat /Stot ) than one generated by including only natural fish in the parent population (Rnat /Snat ). Differences in productivity estimated by Rnat /Stot and Rnat /Snat were positively related to hatchery spawner proportion in the mixed population."

This comment validates the work done previously, however, by virtue of comparing wild-only populations to hatchery/wild mixed populations, Lister adds,

"These low Rnat /Stot productivities did not reflect natural spawner status in either population,"

It goes on…

"In this study and an earlier analysis of Oregon steelhead (Chilcote 2003), mean productivity estimates that included hatchery adults in the parent population (Rnat /Stot ) tended to decline in rough proportion to hatchery spawner incidence in the population. These results suggest a situation exists where relatively unproductive hatchery steelhead spawners are commonly surplus to a natural population operating at or near carrying capacity."

Hatchery fish are "surplus." When a population is at capacity, they cannot add anything. Of equal importance though, is that they also do not destroy the more fit wild population, as so many would like to believe.

"This suggests that, over a period of five generations, hatchery strays had no negative effect on reproductive success of the native population."


"Despite five generations of exposure to stray, multiple-generation hatchery spawners of local and nonlocal origin, there was no apparent effect on Deschutes natural steelhead productivity and status. A conservatively managed program to supplement natural production of Umatilla steelhead also had no measurable effect on productivity and status of that population. In contrast, natural productivity (Rnat /Snat ) of Little Sheep steelhead significantly exceeded that of the reference population, an apparent positive density dependent response to reduced natural spawner density, as well as a hatchery spawner contribution to natural production."

And finally,

"The study findings indicated that hatchery steelhead spawners are unlikely to contribute measurably to the natural production of a mixed population unless natural spawner abundance is generally below carrying capacity."

Lister's study has the potential to turn conventional wisdom of wild/hatchery fish interactions on its head. Where we've been lead to believe that lower reproductive success of hatchery fish has a negative impact on the adult abundance of wild fish, his comparative analysis does not bear that out as true. The lower reproductive success of hatchery fish has actually maintained the integrity of wild fish populations in a mixed population.

Darwin would be happy. The fit survive and the rest are "surplus."

The closer you look at it, the more it makes sense. We hinder hatchery fish tremendously. A wild adult steelhead, born in the river, came from a successful wild spawning event. Nature will lead her to the area that produced a successful spawning event. Lister discussed some of this within the paper.

"The nature of hatchery smolt-release practices, and their effect on smolt imprinting and adult homing (Kenaston et al. 2001), may constrain the ability of hatchery supplementation programs to achieve full utilization of river systems by hatchery spawners and their progeny. At Umatilla River, tracking adult steelhead movements by radiotelemetry indicated that most hatchery-origin adults select spawning areas near their smolt release sites on the river main stem and one tributary (Contor and Costi 2011). Apparent spawning locations of tracked natural origin adults were more widely distributed, primarily in tributary streams. In Birch Creek, a steelhead spawning tributary entering Umatilla River downstream from hatchery smolt release sites, weir counts revealed a hatchery spawner incidence that was just 6.8% of their incidence in the Umatilla steelhead population as a whole (B. Duke, ODFW, personal communication). In
Little Sheep Creek the juvenile progeny of natural steelhead spawners were recovered farther upstream than offspring of hatchery spawners, suggesting that natural spawners distributed more extensively upstream from the hatchery smolt release site (Moran and Waples 2004). Limited dispersal of hatchery steelhead adults to spawning areas upstream from smolt release sites has been observed in a number of studies (e.g., Mackey et al. 2001; Nelson et al. 2005). Selected spawning location has also been noted to affect reproductive success. Hatchery Chinook Salmon spawning in stream reaches used extensively by natural Chinook Salmon spawners had greater reproductive success
than hatchery Chinook Salmon spawning in a downstream reach near the hatchery smolt release site (Williamson et al. 2010)."

The paragraphs of Lister's paper are laden with quote-worthy text. It simply goes on and on with information that makes complete sense with what us common folk witness in the real world.

With as much enthusiasm as I read this paper, I sent it off to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Though the paper had just been published, they were well aware of it and looking it over.

In discussion, ODFW let me know they have serious reservations with regard to the study findings. I will be following up with the Department on their review of the study and am committed to reporting their comments back here.

I'm most concerned with finding the truth. Regardless of how the Department of Fish and Wildlife feels about this study in particular, I can only hope they're aggressively seeking answers to the questions that surround the events and empirical evidence that anglers see in the region.

Since the mid 1990's we've embarked on management that leans upon the removal of hatchery programs to derive benefits to wild populations. To date, those efforts have been wholly unsuccessful, and answers as to why remain non-existent. ODFW is unable to provide a single example where removal of hatchery fish has delivered any substantial benefit to wild fish. Instead, commentary includes the fact that if 100 biologists were lined up in a room, every single one of them would agree that hatchery fish pose "some risk" to wild fish. That's fine, but it needs to be quantified.

All risks are not created equal and Lister's paper seems to deliver common sense answers to questions of hatchery and wild fish interactions. I'm hopeful that if Oregon refutes Lister's findings that they're able to offer answers that are both understandable and supported by what all of us are able to witness in the environments that surround us.

January 21, 2014

Comments on the Multi-Species Coastal Plan

by Carmen Macdonald

Last Thursday I made the evening meeting at ODFW headquarters in Salem regarding the proposed Multi-Species Management and Conservation Plan. I've been watching the plan for more than a year, keeping tabs as it maneuvered and changed within the process.

Just a few thoughts...

It's a hatchery and harvest plan, not a comprehensive management plan.
Make no mistake, this plan is about hatcheries and harvest. ODFW has pumped up the pages concerning habitat, but in essence the habitat plan is to outline a plan for making a plan and then punt to other venues. What so many of us anglers don't understand is that ODFW has no control over habitat. They talk about it a lot. They clearly described the future of fish in Oregon as requiring habitat work as issue number one, but they're powerless to do anything about it.
So all ODFW can manage is hatcheries and harvest. Without a habitat piece with teeth, calling this plan comprehensive is calling a glass of milk a well-rounded meal.

Deja vu
We did this same plan in the 1990's- minus all the hoopla and focus groups Governor Kitzhaber has associated with the process this time around, and yes, the Governor is behind this plan, as he was in the 1990's. In the 1990's all the hatchery programs were revised, most switched from segregated stocks to broodstock and nearly all were reduced in size or eliminated.
The operative question for the rest of the public meetings is- "what was accomplished the last time we did this?" ODFW owes anglers some answers. In the present state, the proposed plan would run 12 years and then go through review (oddly similar to the 1990s and now). If were not going to do any assessment of what happens, are we just going to get together again in 12 years and talk about how we have to cut hatcheries and harvest yet again? Frankly it's a little maddening.

No measurables
The only thing measured in numbers in the plan are the changes to hatchery fish production. The rest is broadly described in verbiage. Let's see some hard numbers. If removing hatchery fish from the Kilches is going to produce a "significant positive effect" as one of the straw man documents states, how many wild fish are there now and what is the expected number after a decade? Anglers deserve to know what the goals are and whether or not anything meaningful is being accomplished in cold hard numbers.
WIth regard to hatchery and wild fish interactions, ODFW is using a general statement that hatchery fish "pose some risk" to wild fish. It's time to define that statement. The "hatchery fish are bad" crowd interprets the science to say hatchery fish destroy wild fish. The "hatchery fish are good" crowd look at rivers like the Nehalem, Miami, Tillamook Neskowin, Smith and others and wonder if those totally unremarkable streams are the best we can do. ODFW needs to put some measurement to it- quantify what the science says in the real world. They've failed in this regard for at least the last 15 years. Do we want to offer another 12?

Opportunity missed
Within this plan there was an opportunity that's not taken. Like the wildlife side of ODFW has done with mule deer emphasis units, this plan could have described a couple intensive wild fish emphasis rivers. Where current wild fish management includes doing nothing except removing hatchery fish and catch-and-release fishing regulations because ODFW has no power over habitat, this plan could have rounded up other agencies to descend on a couple rivers to make them the examples of what could be done with regard to wild fish.

This plan could have taken a river like the Nehalem and defined action items to address the water temperatures, flows, sediment and every other evil apparent in the river. It's sad this opportunity was not taken. All anglers want thriving populations of wild fish, a lot of where we differ is in regards to whether or not they're attainable.

In total, I grow tired of hearing "less is more" from ODFW. Anglers vote with their time and from what I can see, they're voting for programs like the WIlson and the Nestucca in droves. Increasing the number of these quality opportunities are not part of the plan.

If removing hatchery programs is going to save fish...show me. Show me some demonstrative results, because at this point ODFW and Governor Kitzhaber completely lack this. If it's and buts were candies and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas.

It's a shame.

December 18, 2013

North River and Clemens Replace Wounded Warrior Boat

by Carmen Macdonald

Tuesday, December 17th was a good day for Puyallup, Washington's Jeff Mason.

About a month ago, Mason's 20-foot North River was stolen from his home in broad daylight. A new neighbor actually watched it happen, but did not think much of it in the daylight.

What separates Mason's boat from many thousands of other North River hulls in the market was its purpose. Mason, having retired from 34 years with 7-Eleven as a market manger, had the boat custom outfitted to accommodate a wheelchair. His retirement endeavor was to be Fish'n Trips For Heroes, a non-profit with a singular goal "To take Wounded Warriors in the Warrior Transition Battalion, over at JBLM, out on one-on-one fishing trips in the Northwest," said Mason.

Word spreads quickly, and in no time the news had made it to the North River factory, Clemens Marine and North RIver CEO Brent Hutchings.

In a shorter amount of time than it took for me to hear about the story, North River and Clemens had replaced Mason's boat, yesterday in fact.

101.9 Kink FM has the interview and full story.

More about Mason and his stolen boat from Komonews.com.

Merry Christmas to all, and thank you to the members of our armed forces, active, retired, wounded and not.

December 05, 2013

Letter To James Lichatowich

by Carmen Macdonald

The growth of online forums has been incredible. Nowhere previously has there been such an amazing exchange of information and opinion available literally at ones fingertips. In my ongoing quest to understand the history of development and the pressures, or all out destruction, of wild salmon and steelhead runs, I came across this video of Jim Lichatowich.

Lichatowich was a past head of ODFW's science division. He's better known as the author of the book Salmon Without Rivers. The video frankly left me puzzled. In speaking to a group of habitat scientists, with an amazing amount of work ahead of them if salmon are ever to be restored to their former glory, Lichatowich focuses his time on the subject of hatcheries. I can agree with Lichatowich that hatcheries "facilitated the development and degradation of the rivers," but I'm completely lost as to how removing hatcheries restores lost habitat...at all...in any way whatsoever. We have examples all around us of hatchery-free rivers that are, sadly, unremarkable in every way.

After watching the video the other evening, I decided to write Lichatowich a letter, having searched for and found an email address for him online. Upon sending, the email came back, the address, relating to his book, has been closed.

So a note to a scientist becomes a blog piece to stir discussion. Perhaps someone on ifish knows Lichatowich. If so, please let me know.

Here's the video. For the letter to make sense, you have to watch it.

Sorry for just the link...I seem to not be able to make the embed code work here.

Hello Mr. Lichatowich,

I keep myself fairly involved with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in regards to salmon and steelhead issues. Having moved to Oregon at 14 years of age and now raising a family here, fishing is what has connected me to this state.

I've recently watched a video of one of your presentations online. It was to a California habitat group, yet revolved squarely around hatcheries. In your presentation, I agree with you completely that hatcheries "facilitated the development and degradation of the rivers". I might disagree in the order of events. On the grand scale, hydro development and natural resource extraction made this region livable. Hatcheries fulfilled a role that maintained the connection of the fish to our "story". Rather than the enemy of wild fish, I see hatchery fish as the connector to today and one of the only reasons salmon are still part of our story.

But where the video troubled me is that you appeared to say that removal of hatcheries will somehow undo what has been done. That "removing the influence of the myth" somehow brings the fish back. I'm wondering how the removal of hatchery fish repairs temperatures, flows, rearing habitat, migration corridors and the ecosystem as a whole? While hatcheries made the destruction of habitat easier, or more easily justified, hatcheries were not the body of the destruction.

What I see in the broad community of Northwest citizens is a vast percentage that care not for salmon when faced with the hard and expensive decisions that will be necessary to restore what has been lost. I see a smaller group that maintains the fish within their story through rod and reel. These anglers are holding onto salmon by a thread, with a large part of their caring centering around the opportunities created of hatchery fish. It might not be the connection you desire for the people, but it's a connection. Cut the hatcheries and that group vanishes. The final group is tiny. It's the group that will carry salmon onward in their souls, fishing or not, though most of them began as anglers. To restore salmon, it will take an army of concerned individuals.

Instead of working towards "removing the influence of the myth," I see the HSRG and recent actions by NOAA fisheries and the Corps of Engineers as specifically working to erode the salmon's base of support. Rather than focusing on the habitat that is the driver of productivity and populations, placing the focal point on hatcheries feigns action and activity while delivering zero results. This process erodes the base of support for the fish, normalizes scarcity of these populations and serves as a diversion while more people populate this region, consume resources, and more of those that remember the story and history of salmon die.

My thoughts are driven by the reality of what is around us. I name rivers like the Nehalem, Miami, Tillamook, Neskowin, Smith (Umpqua system), Upper Clackamas, Molalla, Salmonberry, Rock Creek... and nobody cares. Unimpeded by hatchery fish on the spawning grounds (the Molalla maintains hatchery spring chinook, but steelhead had been eliminated) these rivers show no growth. They're all still subject to the injustices delivered upon the habitat and there is no action plan.

Instead of creating examples of what's possible on these rivers, I see those that speak against hatchery fish as simply walking away from opportunities immediately in front of them. The Native Fish Society's lawsuit on the Sandy River will not recover a single fish. It will, almost certainly, terminate the presence of the salmon in the story of many to whom the Sandy River's hatchery fish were the conduit for their connection.

To date, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife cannot provide a single example where the removal of hatchery steelhead has created an increase in the adult abundance of wild steelhead. I can provide clear examples where the removal of hatchery fish has eliminated businesses and the connection of people to both communities and the fish themselves.

I believe there is an alternate path.

My vision would be to demonstrate that thriving wild populations of salmon and steelhead are achievable. To choose individual rivers as the focal points for habitat groups exactly like that to which you spoke directly, and descend upon these rivers with clear intent and measurable goals. Meanwhile, alternate streams embrace the fish factory approach to serve as connecting points that invite the salmon into the story of the masses. In the absence of direct experience with these fish, it's extremely difficult to make them important to an individual.

Rather than eliminating the primary point of connection, I believe we should be embracing hatcheries and utilizing them with fervor as part of a strategy to continue the story of the salmon. Regardless of what has transpired in the past, at this point in history hatcheries are critical to the continuation of the story. Removing a hatchery, or even all the hatcheries in say the Willamette Valley, does absolutely nothing to restore function to the habitat.

I'd love to discuss it with you at some time.


Carmen Macdonald

August 20, 2013

Storm and Williamson Lures Level The Playing Field

by Carmen Macdonald

Last month, tackle manufacturers from around the world converged upon Las Vegas for the annual ICAST Show. An industry get together, ICAST attendees have access to view nearly every new product that will be available to retailers the following year. I don't generally have an opportunity to go through the details of every booth, but having attended this show for the past 17 years, between a lot of friends and contacts, it's pretty easy to get a sense of what's truly new and different. Within lures, there are always an exceptional quantity of new size introductions, as well as new finishes. This year, from both Storm and Williamson brands, I actually got to check out something extremely unique, different and to my knowledge, never before done in the tackle industry.

New Storm Arashi and Williamson Speed Pro Deep each share new Patent-Pending, self-tuning line ties.

The Northwest has a reputation for containing some of the most detail-oriented anglers in the whole country. I guess it's really not surprising to understand why. Where many fisheries around the country host robust populations of fish, it seems like the finicky nature of salmon and steelhead and competitive nature of the fisheries drive anglers to elaborate preparation for their time on the water. In the Northwest, you could be fishing for one singe bite that will change the complexion of your whole day.

Tuning plugs is a large point of separation between the "haves" and "have nots" when it comes to pulling plugs throughout salmon and steelhead country. Those with the skills to fine-tune plug action catch a lot of fish. Those without the skill take their chances with out of the package performance. Many lures are labeled with "no tuning necessary" or some derivative. I don't know one serious angler that takes such claims to heart. A nudge or tweak here or there can make a lot of difference.

To date, the perfectly-tuned lure has been approached with screw eyes and molded in line ties, each getting more precise in their location over the years, but all with their limitations in the manufacturing process.

And there at the ICAST Show, Storm Lures and Williamson Lures released fascinating new technology that could prove to be game-changing; a Self-Tuning or Auto-Tuning line tie.

Two new lure families are the Storm Arashi (arashi means Storm in Japanese) and the Williamson Speed Pro Deep; two distinctly different lures sharing Patent-Pending technology. The Storm Arashi is targeted at largemouth and smallmouth bass (with one model that may hold promise for steelhead and coho). The Williamson Speed Pro Deep will play for Northwest albacore anglers, touting maximum troll speeds of an incredible 15 knots.

On the underside of each diving bill you can clearly see the free-floating extension running from its anchor point in the body of the lure.

In both lures the line connection floats in the bill of the plug. It's not that these plugs are easy to tune, you cannot tune them if you wanted to. When pulled through the water, as the plug begins to favor one side the floating line tie self-adjusts to bring the plug back into tune. In concept, it's genius. And if it excels, one could only expect to see the technology expand through different lure actions.

There are three performance measures to diving plugs: dive, wiggle and hunt. Dive and wiggle are generally understood- how deep the lure dives and its inherent action- being wide, tight, etc. Hunt is the one that most people miss. A lure that "hunts" does not run in a taught, straight line. It floats back and forth, from side-to-side, covering a wide swath of water rather than just the immediate space of its back and forth wiggle. In back-trolling applications, a hunting plug covers more water and whether challenges fish or excites them, draws more strikes.

The Arashi Deep 10 holds immediate promise for salmon and steelhead anglers. Anglers who want to troll fast for fall silvers should offer it an immediate look and back-trolling for steelhead will not be far behind. You'll notice the unique bill on the lure. It's cut from incredibly durable computer circuit board material. High-strength and highly durable, its thin profile does not inhibit side-to-side action.

The freedom of movement offered by a free-floating line tie could potentially offer the strongest and most consistent delivery of "hunt" from manufactured lures to date.

If it seems that I'm pretty excited…you're correct. In our fast-flowing, uneven, and boiling river currents, this technology could be the tool that brings success to a great number of newly-initiated plug pullers.

May 31, 2013

ODFW Does Not Create. ODFW Manages.

by Carmen Macdonald

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employees rarely create policy. Instead, they implement and manage policy.

If those couple of sentences make complete sense to you, there's nothing to read in this blog. If you're scratching your head, keep on reading.

My introduction to fisheries meetings and management was a huge wake-up call. I walked in with an exceptional amount of preconceived notions, virtually all of which turned out to be untrue.

With just a little bit of understanding about state government, I had known that the amount of general fund funding of ODFW had been in a downward spiral. Rather than an agency being funded by all citizen's tax dollars, the agency's budget was funded most prominently by license fees. I knew that hunters and anglers funded the largest portion of the budget, first through direct license fees, and secondly through federal taxes paid by manufacturers on all the recreational gear we buy (commercial gear is exempt) then redistributed to the states based on the number of anglers.

My mistake was that, given the funding, I felt that the department naturally put anglers and hunters first. That's not necessarily true. As a state agency, everybody has their say. It matters not that general fund dollars and commercial fishing fees each equal just 2% of the agency's budget.

But even more importantly, I thought that the agency's meetings were where policies were created. Like most anglers, I confused the payment of my fees to the agency with a responsibility on their part to be responsive to my needs. In my erroneous vision, I pictured department employees entering their office everyday with a focus on what could be done to create more and better fishing and hunting. That's not immediately false, but it's also not completely true. I would say that attitude upon entering their office is 100% dictated by the personal beliefs of the agency employee in question. And even more so, it's dictated by political climate and if the subject at hand has strong feelings behind it at the legislative level.

It took years of packing the halls with fellow anglers, speaking within public processes and shooting emails to ODFW to truly realize that while I saw the agency as responsible for policy, that policy was actually being created, shaped and directed elsewhere.

There are two places where ODFW policy can truly be effected. The first is within the legislature and the second is the ODFW Commission. As a state agency, though funded primarily by anglers and hunters, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is responsible to the state legislature and members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission (which is appointed by the Governor, so in a sense is simply an extension of the governing body).

To be effective, anglers and hunters need to communicate with the Governor, members of the state legislature and the Commission. It's at these levels that policy is truly being created, then passed to ODFW for shaping and implementation.

Just look at how many times the names Kitzhaber, Krieger, Johnson, Dingfelder, Olson, Ferrioli, Witt, Boone and others are quoted in articles about ODFW policy. Or watch as Commission members shape policy in front of everyone at Commission meetings.

To be effective, sporting, conservation, preservation and extractive groups pool membership resources in order to afford representation at the state capitol via professional lobbyists. Whatever your passion, there are groups that share your goals.

In the end though, there is no substitute for direct communication. Too often, when frustrated by impending action, sportsmen unleash upon ODFW. I don't want to say that path is worthless, but it can be futile. That same note or letter, written to members of the legislative body, is ensuring it's reaching the people responsible for advancing policy.

For most sporting people I know, jumping into letter writing and mixing with politicians is something that can be difficult. Generally, we're the people that work, pay our taxes and look to enjoy ourselves during our limited free time. We're not zealots, but reasonable thinkers, and we expect the same from government. This is no longer workable, however. Fish and wildlife management has become a social engineering platform.

When urban Senator Jackie Dingfelder positions herself in a gateway position to hatchery funding and wolf management, one has to wonder what the hell she's doing there, and why, as an urban legislator she would preclude a vote on wolf management that would allow the counties that actually have wolves to manage their living spaces. Senator Dingfelder also needs to understand that Oregon hatcheries were fixed in the 1990's and rather than advocate for less hatchery fish, we're at a point where some reflection on what, if anything, has been accomplished by the sweeping changes of the late 1990's. Or perhaps, Dingfelder could pay closer attention to the lost habitat associated with the Bull Run complex and the suite of regional holdings by Portland-based PGE.

Governor John Kitzhaber's first administration was in charge during the massive El Nino of the mid-1990's. Within this first two terms, many of the sweeping changes in Oregon hatchery policy and operations were initiated. He is now in a unique position, more than a decade later, to be Governor again. Our politicians are rarely around to feel the long-term effects of policy. Governor Kitzhaber needs to hear from sporting Oregonians about where his first term policies have landed us today. You know where I'm at. From all I can gather, we reduced hatchery fisheries, ejected the economics associated with them and wild runs of steelhead show no appreciable growth. Emphasis placed on hatchery fish conveniently offers a pass to dam operators and municipalities.

Also to Governor Kitzhaber, strong kudos and support are due for maintaining Oregon's participation in the ongoing Columbia River BiOp. Washington sold out, and it's only Oregon that's holding the Bonneville Power Administration accountable for their ongoing impact to the Columbia River.

Representative Wayne Krieger is deserving of many thanks from our communities. The man takes the time to show up, listen, and engage on the issues.

And if you're really in a writing mood, there are the federal players involved. The Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Land Management, each hold key responsibilities, yet generally receive about zero input direct from anglers and hunters.

When the Corps drops press releases about "surplus hatchery fish," Colonel John W. Eisenhauer can certainly be reminded that surplus wild fish were not an issue before the Corps dams cut off Willamette basin spawning habitat and completely restructured river flow and temperature regimes.

NOAA needs to hear that emphasizing hatchery reform as a means to recovery is a complete cop out. They need to start holding those responsible for major impacts to fish populations truly accountable, or convene the God Squad and declare the damned (pun intended) fish extinct and move on. "Recovery" has been allowed to become an industry all its own, with fat budgets that appear to have a goal of doing nothing meaningful.

Many express feelings that they go to meetings only to feel like the outcome has already been decided. When pressure has been applied in the background by the legislative body, those feelings have merit. Will the impending Coastal Multi-Species Management Plan be a representation of community wants and needs, or dominated by special interests? Make your voice heard.

For most all of us, recreational fishing is simply that- something we enjoy when away from work, not something that should necessitate additional work. The modern reality is that resource management continues to become more and more political. More threatening it seems, is that within this reality, radical preservationists are able to find common ground with big industry and their common goals include elimination of angling opportunity. On both sides their target is hatchery fish, though for different reasons. As a recovery plan it holds no weight. It's a diversion.

In so many instances, whether fish or wildlife, it's time for the common man to call bull. The quiet but powerful voices behind policy need to address the large limiting factors directly and meaningfully, or acknowledge the lack of will do so and get back to maintaining promises made. ODFW in many occasions is a middleman, an insulator of the power brokers. It's time to engage the source.

March 12, 2013

Three Experts on Barbless Kwikfish

by Carmen Macdonald

Sportsmen's shows always provide great opportunities to connect with folks. At this year's show in Portland, one of my first stops was the Camp Cooking area where I knew I'd find Herb Good, Jack Smith and Dub Burnham. Between the three of these guys, there are mountains of plug fishing experience...and when faced with what appears to be a compact Columbia River Spring Chinook season and a new regulation requiring barbless hooks, well, experience matters.

Kwikfish come packaged with VMC Perma Steel treble hooks. In light of new Columbia River barbless hook regulations,
should we simply pinch barbs, or are single hooks better?

The question I had for them was centered on the barbless hooks: given the regulation, should I be converting to single hooks or simply pinching the barbs on stock trebles? It's a question making the rounds at a feverish pace these days.

Herb Good has been there, done that. Now retired from guiding, his input is exceptional because for decades he transitioned from Oregon/Washington to Alaska's Kenai and back again every year. With Kwikfish being an integral part of his playbook, differing regulations required he experience different hook setups.

After all these years, Herb's thoughts were very straightforward: type of hook does not matter. Where the difference is made, he described, is the reaction to the strike. "You have to let them eat it," Good said. By eating it, he means the fish hook themselves. Kwikfish bodies are big, there's a lot of mass there. When the fish strikes the plug, initially they can get a mouth full of lure body. Jerking too soon, or jerking at all, can simply pull the big lure from the fish's mouth. By resisting the temptation to set the hook on the initial explosive strike, the fish, by working against the power of the rod, will set the hook itself.

By waiting until the rod is loaded under steady pressure, Good maximizes his hookups. Overall, he feels that a fish hooked on a large single hook is less likely to fall off during the fight, but cautions that with single hooks it becomes even more important to let the fish hook themselves.

Jack Smith, operator of one of Oregon's highest quality guide businesses, was quick to point out that barbless hooks are not new to Oregon's salmon fisheries. In the early 1990's, there was a short period where barbless hooks were previously mandated on our rivers. The regulation was removed when it was shown to be of little benefit.

In Smith's experience, barbless treble hooks made no difference to his hook-to-land ratio with Kwikfish. In fact, he felt that by pinching the large barbs on the treble hooks, he achieved better hook penetration due to the smaller diameter of the hook point overall. His thoughts were that the smaller diameter equaled less resistance, which equaled deeper penetration and better hold overall.

Surprisingly, Smith said that once the barbless regulation was removed, he continued to pinch the barbs on his Kwikfish hooks for a long period because of the advantage of deeper penetration with barbless hooks.

Dub Burnham covers a lot of ground and puts in a lot of time on the water. You won't see him giving seminars at retailers, but paying attention to the whereabouts of his black sled can pay serious dividends.

Burnham described a period in the early 2000's where he documented the landing of 96 plug-caught spring chinook with different hook types, single versus treble. All hooks were barbless. In his experience, overall hook-to-land ratio was not effected by single or treble hooks, at all. The two hook types performed equally. What Burnham did remember clearly, was that single hooks, set back on swivels, were more apt to hook fish in the gills or through the eye socket.

He did not communicate this happening at alarming levels. But where hook injury was inflicted, it was most often with single siwash hooks.

Burnham's comments become very important because many anglers are switching to single hooks to have a lighter touch on wild fish. The core thought is that one hook point has to be easier on the fish than three, and therefore single hooks are better. What the studies say, however, is that mortality from hooks is based upon where the fish are hooked, not how. In essence, single hooks which normally have longer shanks and larger gaps than trebles, could prove to be more damaging overall.

On the Deschutes River, barbless single hook rules were eliminated because larger gap single hooks were negatively impacting wild steelhead, at levels high enough to backtrack out of well-intentioned regulations without resistance. In the process of adopting barbless regulations for the Columbia, the state of Washington wanted also to mandate single hooks. Thankfully, Oregon's direct experience with hook types prevailed.

Spring chinook are not overly large, so while steelhead are a different fish, hook location is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Change can often be a source of excitement and nervous tension, and the barbless hook rule on the Columbia is certainly no exception. From the experience of three top anglers, the nerves could prove to be much ado about nothing.

For me, the plan of attack is to pinch barbs and go fishing, making changes to successful systems only when necessary.

Have fun out there.

February 05, 2013

North River Boats, Back On The Throttle

by Carmen Macdonald

You just might notice a few more North River Boats on the show floor this week at the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show at the Portland Expo Center.

At January's Portland Boat Show, I couldn't help but notice a reinvigorated selection of North River hulls at Clemen's Marine.

The brand seemed to all but disappear when past owner Brian Brush led the company to financial ruin and then sealed his own path to hell by committing murder.

As Brush stood trial and awaited his impending life sentence, talk of the company was overshadowed by the sadness for the life Brush took and it was probably assumed that the company, and all of its' employees, had faded away.

That's certainly what I would have expected.

Surprisingly, however, the company never went anywhere. Downsized for sure. Owned by the banks and massively restricted by loss of available credit, absolutely. Unable to floor boats with retailers and without a motor company distribution deal, yep. But not gone.

Rather than going away, North River was held together by commercial contracts that kept a steady flow of craft moving through the production facility east of Roseburg. For the remaining employees, it was a stressful period. Under bank ownership, the company could have been shut down on any given day.

Buoyed by the strength of design, materials and construction quality that have always defined North River, the company pressed on. Contracts continued to come, and even some recreational boat dealers paid cash for boats so they could offer the North River product line to their customers.

Clean lines, beautiful fit and finish and excellent handling qualities positioned North River as the hard-core riverboat with the finer detail points that allowed them to cross over into the family boat market.

For three and a half years, North River Boats operated day-to-day-to-day. On August 15, 2012, however, purchase of the company's assets was finalized by Oregon-based NW Bend Boats. The company does business as North River Boats. The investment firm has no intention of moving the brand's production facilities from Roseburg, Oregon.

Over the last five months, North River has continued to book orders from its recreational, commercial and government customers.

Brent Hutchings, new North River CEO said, "There's no longer the burden of receivership. Thanks to the efforts of North River's outstanding employees and the exceptional financial strength of the new parent company, the company has a bright future."

Fans of North River Boats will be excited about what has not changed within the company. Of 75 employees, a vast percentage have been with the company longer than 10 years. Jay, Mike, Gary, Jordan… all the familiar names are there.

Over 2 years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Jay Conn, North River General Manager. He mentioned that at the time when the company seemed to be falling apart, he made a commitment to the crew that if they stuck it out, he'd stand by them and be the guy to turn the lights out.

Fans of the Seahawk, Scout, Commander and Trapper will certainly be happy that switch was never flipped.

December 31, 2012

Anti-Hatchery or Anti-Angler?

by Carmen Macdonald

I've always been a pretty good reader. I consider my reading comprehension to be pretty solid. As I read over the history of our greater Columbia basin salmon and steelhead runs, the story laid out is pretty straightforward.

Euro-man came to region. Euro-man harvested the hell out of trees and salmon. Euro-man needed food and electricity also, so Euro-man placed over 200 dams within the basin. At the time, Euro-man understood that the dams, agriculture and growth would eliminate much of the productivity of the region's salmon, but that was cool because cheap power, irrigation, flood control and harvest of other natural resources would make the region actually livable. To replace the natural productivity of salmon that would be destroyed, man would construct hatcheries.

I clearly understand that there are some dramatic examples of over-harvest, a couple world wars and several injustices to fish alongside this concise history, but still, that's the snapshot.

Yet in the modern day, history is morphing. It's being rewritten. On the pages of Ifish, the declarations are specific. It wasn't the fact that we dammed the rivers, cut off access to a massive percentage of the spawning habitat, radically altered the temperature and flow regimes of the rivers and diked, rip rapped and built in the flood plains that created today's salmon situation. Nope, quite clearly it is proclaimed that it was the addition of hatchery fish that caused the decline of our great fish.

Ifish is one thing, the law protects freedom of religion and the religion of wild fish is no different I suppose. But where this revisionist history is much more troubling is in the courtroom. The Native Fish Society, as well as the McKenzie Flyfishers have either launched lawsuits or filed notice of intent to sue the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife over hatchery fish. Their beef? That hatchery fish are impeding the recovery of wild fish.

They cite studies authored by Katryn Kostow and many others that show suppression to productivity based on the mixed spawning of hatchery and wild fish. In two such studies, one on the Clackamas and one on the Siletz, Kostow outlines "estimated carrying capacities" of wild fish in these rivers with the removal of hatchery fish. In these instances, the hatchery fish in question were removed, and now 15 or so years later, the wild fish have failed to respond. In each case, the reality of the wild population proves to be about half of Kostow's estimates.

Looking at this graph of Siletz, what has been gained? I see a run that's the same as it was in the 1970's that's gone through a severe El Nino and bounced back to what it was. I also see a successful fishery that is now gone.

Unfortunately, reality doesn't seem to trump a good theory and these studies are regularly utilized as the basis for continued removal of hatchery fish throughout the region.

Political science was a passion of mine at Oregon State University. The key point of learning over four years in the subject was that you can understand any political move by understanding "who benefits." Because the political work of these groups include fish, I might also add, "what benefits" because surely the fish ought to be on the receiving end of some good stuff if we're going to court.

You can probably guess at this point that I believe these lawsuits are frivolous at best and extremely destructive at worst. Here's why.

In the late 1800's there was a collapse of Columbia River fish runs based on massive over-harvest. This time period is often documented in the literature. What is less documented is that the habitat, being intact, was flexible to the injustice and delivered two more harvest booms. This fact is important because the first hatcheries went in during the very late 1800's and more were added throughout the next 40 years, the period leading to the wartime harvest of 1941.

It's too tough to post screen shots of the whole document, but here's a key excerpt.

By 1941, the dam building era was well underway, but it would not come to an end for 30 more years. Over a period of nearly 50 years, the Columbia Basin would be transformed from a salmonid ecotopia, to a modern industrial environment.

Harvest graphs from the period clearly outline the ramifications of dam building as harvest plummeted. It's important to note here, that the dramatic decline in harvest rates would have been even worse if it were not for hatchery production. Clearly, we cut off the productivity of the wild populations.

As we built dams throughout the region, we destroyed not only the elasticity of the populations to support high harvest rates, but the ability of the populations to sustain themselves at all.

At the time, power, flood control, irrigation…they all made sense. I'd take a guess that put to a popular vote today, these projects still would, and do, command the approval of residents, by a landslide. The collective "we" made choices, conscious decisions, over these decades. Portland wanted water…the Bull Run complex was built and the watershed dammed. The Willamette and its tributaries were summarily dammed, most without fish passage. The Columbia and it's tributaries…all the same.

Power, flood control, irrigation and logging made this region livable.

Dams are a big deal. When someone wants to build one there are hoops, more hoops and then probably legal action to contend with prior to construction. Within these processes, "mitigation" for known destruction included the production of hatchery fish. There was clarity. When you cut off more than 10,000 miles of spawning habitat completely and change the temperatures and flows of the rivers that remain, you end up with remnant runs of wild fish in the small niches of habitat that persist.

Meanwhile, we zoned most of the remaining land for forestry, farming, industrial, residential and more. In smaller chunks the habitat was changed, altered… converted. Of course there were not environmental impact statements when, by little bits and pieces, flood plains were plowed under and planted, a parking lot was paved and hillsides logged. Many thousands of small injustices to the fish, none remarkable on their own, but in combination massive, removed the refuges and added to sediment and pollution loads.

Wild fish are incredibly adept at filling suitable habitat. That is exactly what they do today, and exist in numbers commensurate with the habitat that is left.

So who benefits by the revisionist history?

1. The preservation groups. A political entity is only as good as its latest campaign. Hatchery fish as the cause for the decline of wild fish is easy, actionable and sellable to membership.

2. Dam operators. In development of the watersheds and destruction of the habitat, funding for hatchery fish are the ongoing responsibility of power and utility companies. Get rid of the hatchery fish and these entities run the river and alleviate themselves of ongoing costs and grow profits. Even the City of Portland who pays for hatchery fish on the Sandy because the Bull Run complex has no fish passage sent in their letter stating "…the City believes that the current hatchery programs for spring Chinook are having a significant impact on the integrity of the natural origin fish." It's perfect logic. You have a mitigation responsibility with costs tied to hatchery fish. Instead of balking at costs, just get on the anti-hatchery bandwagon.

3. People who are anti-angler. In conversation with anglers who are fish preservationists, there is a common trend. Deep down, they loathe other anglers. Oftentimes it's due to differences in fishing techniques. Sometimes they just can't stand a crowd. But it seems that their goals of eliminating hatchery fish are really based upon eliminate the hatchery fish angler…and have the water to themselves.

Who loses?

1. Anglers. Fishermen have always been the push over in the middle of this debate. For the most part, we're realists. We're thankful the region was developed to advance our quality of life. We also like our fish. But with each hatchery cut, we lose opportunity, directly losing fish. Those with solid experience and history here have witnessed fisheries become shadows of their former selves, with no tangible response from wild populations. Promises have been broken by the hundreds.

If you started steelhead fishing after 1992, I can't say that you've ever seen a really good steelhead fishery.

2. Communities. Hatchery fish create arteries through which dollars flow from urban to rural areas. With each program cut, the dollars stop flowing. The little tackle shop disappears, the burger joint goes away and the town constricts.

3. The fish. In the modern world, if resources cannot rally a mountain of support for their existence, they're eradicated. I love to fish. I'm not necessarily in love with fish. I think they're beautiful, amazing and inspiring creatures, but my connection with them is through a rod and reel, not on an emotional level. We're losing anglers with every fishery reduction. In losing anglers, we're losing the base of support that is truly the only way to ensure the species' ongoing survival.

What makes an actual difference for salmonids?

This whole debate started in the mid-1990's. I remember it clearly. El Nino crippled stocks throughout the region. EVERYBODY wanted answers. At the time, I worked at Frank Amato Publications. Obviously, our office was extremely concerned. Marty Sherman, then editor of FlyFishing magazine, laid out a fantastic argument that fingered hatchery fish as the cause: genetic drift, inferior genetics, feedlot type breeding. This was the case championed by Oregon Trout at the time.

I was 100% on board with Marty and the Oregon Trout mantra.

Even remember arguing with Nick Amato, editor of Salmon Trout Steelheader about it. Nick was incredibly calm. Growing up with Frank Amato as a father delivers an extremely tight relationship to these fish. Nick had the history to understand that runs cycle, based upon ocean conditions.

A flurry of management actions have taken place since the massive El Nino of the mid 1990's. Removal of hatchery fish, downsizing of programs, changes in broodstock. I've paid attention to it all and while all the runs rebounded from the El Nino, only two examples fall outside the curve.

1. Oregon Coastal Coho. In the 1970's and 1980's it was Coho rather than Chinook salmon that commanded participation in ocean fisheries. As a participant who remembers the fisheries, they were amazing, world-class events. Within these monster fisheries, however, wild fish protection was weak. As we harvested masses of hatchery fish, we harvested wild fish right alongside them. Total exploitation rates ranged as high as 90% of the spawning population. It was egregious.

When the El Nino crippled the availability of fish, harvest was dramatically cut back. Maintaining lower exploitation rates of 10- to 15% since, the populations have once again expanded greatly. The anti-hatchery folks will say the expansion is due to the removal of hatchery fish. I urge anyone with a simple understanding of bar graphs to draw their own conclusions from the chart below.

Did we save coho by removing hatchery fish, or simply by not harvesting 80% of the adults every year?

2. Columbia River Spring and Summer Chinook. In the winter of 1996, Mother Nature took control of the Columbia River migration corridor for salmon. Massive flooding overwhelmed the ability of the hydropower system to "control" river flow. Salmon smolts went over spillways and rode massive flows to an ocean that had rebounded from the El Nino. Following that year, federal judge James Redden ordered hydropower operators to meet flow and spill requirements for the benefit of migrating salmon.

The result of changes to the hydropower system was exponential growth in Spring Chinook and Summer Chinook runs. Fisheries that had been closed for 24 years were reopened. Quickly, we've come to take these fisheries for granted. New anglers know nothing different. Know nothing of the history.

On the contrary, we've now approaching twenty years of reductions to hatchery plants or complete elimination of hatchery runs. We have examples of rivers that have not been stocked with hatchery fish for a much longer timeline.

What are the results? From my perspective, the results are pretty obvious.

1. We've eliminated tons of fisheries, the economics that accompany them and the connection between tens of thousands of anglers and the resource.

2. The wild fish populations have persisted as they did in the presence of hatchery fish. They rise and fall bases on outmigration conditions and the fertility of the ocean on a given year. Nothing more, nothing less.

Why are wild fish, steelhead in particular, not responding to the reduction and/or elimination of hatchery fish? Why are results similar to the Columbia not being seen after 15 years?

My answer is cause and effect. Hatchery fish did not cause the decline of wild fish, therefor it seems a little absurd to believe that removing hatchery fish would create a rebound. This is what seriously chaps my hide. As these "suppression" studies roll out, no one is going back to quantify any results, or at least any meaningful results.

On January 27, 2011, Kathryn Kostow of ODFW delivered an update to her Clackamas River study and sent it out directly to wild fish groups. Within it, she cited a wild winter steelhead run numbering 3,100 adults as proof of the expansion of the population since the removal of hatchery summer steelhead. They only problem is, the wild fish numbering 3,100 did not exist. The actual number was 2,100, per PGE's direct fish count of wild fish ascending the dam. The actual run size of 2,100 and the 2010 run size of 2,200 are exactly similar to run sizes that existed when the hatchery summer steelhead were present.

Notice the winter steelhead counts now, versus the 1980's. I challenge anyone to show a difference in the wild population.

And here's what we've given up for an increase of nothing in the wild population. A thriving summer steelhead fishery.

Within Kostow's update, there was this gigantic out clause: "The population appreas to be able to grow again, which should increase the chance for recovery of this ESA-listed species. Two factors, population grow rate and basin carrying capacity, will determine how rapid the population abundance will increase and how big it can become. Recent modeling results (still in progress) suggest that population growth could take as long [as] 5 or 6 generations and will continue to be influenced by external factors that influence smolt-to-adult survival, such as migration survival, ocean productivity cycles, and harvest rates."

In other words, there's a whole bunch of other factors that are much more important to wild fish survival than the presence of hatchery fish and Kostow has inserted her placeholder for the very real probability that no expansion of the wild run takes place.

What's been accomplished on the Clackamas and other rivers has not been an expansion of the wild runs, but destruction of the hatchery run and the promises made to anglers during the era of dam building.

At what point will we go back and test the hypothesis about wild and hatchery fish interactions on actual populations? We now have abundant case studies, yet the preservation groups ask for no validation.

I can only wonder if they're anti-hatchery fish for the sake of the resource or just simply anti-angler, anti-hatchery –fish-angler specifically. Given the lack of measurable success to date associated with the removal of hatchery fish, I can only believe the latter.

November 28, 2012

Meet Your Local Firearm Accessory Company

by Carmen Macdonald

For one of the most liberal states in the union, Oregon does a really nice job with shooting and hunting related companies. Leupold, Nosler, HeviShot, Crimson Trace, Benchmade, Kershaw (always loved the old Kershaw commercials back when they were ranch oriented) and a host of others call the state home.

One of Oregon's most beloved shooting sports companies was Michaels of Oregon. If that name doesn't mean anything to you, certainly Hoppe's, Butler Creek, Uncle Mike's and Stoney Point, the consumer brands beneath the Michael's of Oregon banner, will ring a bell. In 2005, Michaels of Oregon was sold to Bushnell. It was the end of the company's machine shop in Oregon, the end of top-quality swivel studs, sling swivels, rifle slings and ammo accessories from a U.S. manufacturer. Or was it?

As the Michaels factory in Oregon City was shutting down, Bob Grover was a part of the process. He travelled overseas to train a new workforce to build the products for Bushnell. The whole endeavor did not sit well with him. Being Michael's production manager, and holder of an engineering degree, Grover was in a position to effect change.

As the machines in the American factory sat idle in the plant's final days, Grover approached Bushnell with an offer to purchase the machines in order to start his own company and service Bushnell with American-made products necessary to do business with the United States military.

They agreed.

In 2006 GrovTec US, Incorporated began with a staff of five and a tremendous amount of experience, passion and ideas. At first occupying a single little office and shop in a cookie cutter little strip mall looking building off 213 in Clackamas, GrovTec set off creating and improving processes and practices, knocking back patents on their ideas whenever possible.

Within just a couple years, the company doubled the space it occupied, adding a commercial sewing operation and entering the soft goods side of the business. Along the way, Kim Graham, past regional sales manager for Michaels, joined in the GrovTec effort. Add sales experience to product and the pace quickened.

Thing about Bob Grover is, he's an idea machine and a stickler for process. Step through the door of his office and you're guaranteed to see drawings, lots of technical drawings, for the products that may or may not make final production. His company wears its ISO registration (a certification that relates to lean manufacturing and quality control processes) like a badge of honor. Both components would be necessary to success.

The hunting community is a fierce stronghold of "buy American" thinking. At the same time, however, it's become a frugal community. Want to sell a big game rifle? All of the sales volume of the last five years has been in accurate, yet no frills entry-level rifles. To GrovTec's advantage, they've recognized from the beginning that American Made is not a substitute for quality and competitive pricing. Competing for space against entrenched, heavily marketed brands, imported or not, would require they hit on all cylinders.

In the first years, GrovTec found its' stronghold in supplying OEM products to manufacturers. If you've purchased a rifle in the last five years, have a look at the swivel studs. If they're quality steel and adorn a true black-oxide finish, chances are they were cut on a screw machine right here in Oregon.

Retail consumer goods came next. GrovTec's expertise in machined metal parts was apparent from the beginning. Grover has amassed numerous patents on swivels and the company delivers a broad range of swivel sets for all types of firearms. The surprising enterprise was soft goods: slings, ammo accessories and holsters. To me, metal products on screw and CNC machines made sense for an American manufacturer. The raw materials are heavy to ship and there's not an immense quantity of human contact required in manufacturing. Soft goods, however, well how could an American manufacturer compete?

Soft goods are the strength of the import market. Certainly consumers would appreciate an American made sling. The problem would be that they would not pay the premium price for it. The wild thing here is, there is no premium price. GrovTec's soft good go head-to-head with the top brands on both quality and price. Oregon's newest firearms related manufacturer is growing fast.

There's a lot of pride over in Milwaukie, between Lowe's and McFarland's, then back a block. With each step the GrovTec brand employs more members of the community, more of your neighbors. You can find their products at Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor, Keith's, and most of the local gun shops. If goods on a peg hook do not satisfy your interest, stop by the company's facility in Milwaukie and say hello. Damn fine people that'd love to show you around.

August 10, 2012

Governor Kitzhaber Moves Decidedly On Gillnets

by Carmen Macdonald

I'm shocked, nervous, excited, scared and franticly doing a re-write of what was a difficult indictment of Oregon leadership with regard to allowing the the issue of gillnets to get to a ballot measure.

Yesterday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber released this letter to Roy Elicker, Director of ODFW, and Bobby Levy, Chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Governor's Letter

The Governor is paid to lead, to make the hard decisions…and now within his third term, he's stepped up to the plate on the topic of gillnets.

Initiative petitions are a last resort. They're a way of telling government that they've failed to do their job with regard to an issue, and that the voters are taking back control of their government. One can only imagine that the higher a person's rank in government, the more the initiative process feels inflammatory. I would have to expect that Ballot Measure 81 hit the tipping point.

Do I love Ballot Measure 81, brought forward by CCA? Not word for word, but my now round-filed draft was 100% behind it because the issue has been in denial for decades and I'd support CCA absolutely for creating actual action. A tanglenet, the leading "advancement" of the last two decades, is a resized gillnet. It is progress that can be waved around in a press release, and perhaps can be used to clear an extremely low-set bar for "selectivity," but it's weak at best.

The letter from the Governor has lots of potential for excitement:

"Until this recovery occurs, it is important to enhance recreational and commercial economic benefits within ESA constraints and in ways that complement recovery efforts."

Hopefully, this means:
1. Constraining the economic output of sport fisheries to run gillnet fisheries is not providing the best return to the people of Oregon.
2. We've transferred an enormous amount of hatchery production to the SAFE areas of the lower Columbia River over the last 15 years. When this program started, it was to transfer gillnet effort off of the mainstem Columbia. It's time to advance the intent of this program.
3. Non-selective gillnetting of about 100,000 late run coho that have been marked for selective harvest is simply not acceptable.
4. Anytime your placing a non-selective gillnet, or some derivative like a tanglenet, in the water instead of a sport fishery, you're selling Oregon short.

"Proposals that fail to enhance benefits for both recreational and commercial interests in the lower Columbia within a conservation framework are an unacceptable solution, as is the status quo."

Hopefully this recognizes that sport fisheries are vital arteries of economic activity that penetrate small towns throughout a large percentage of Oregon and wholesale transfers of hatchery production of say spring chinook from the Southern Willamette Valley to terminal areas does not fly.

"The Department should continue leadership in promoting fish recovery, including better in-river migration conditions and reduced mortality caused by the Columbia River hydropower system."

The hydropower system has either eliminated, or sufficiently impeded, the spawning, rearing and migration habitat within the Columbia River to the point that our wild runs no longer have the resiliency to sustain intensive harvest. I applaud the recognition of this and Oregon's ongoing support for meaningful change to dam operations. The hatchery system we know today was a response to the destruction caused by dam construction; it was not the source of the destruction. Changes are necessary to harvest methods to be consistent with recovery, but true recovery will only happen within alterations to the hydropower system. In a pointed example, we cannot expect recovery of Willamette River spring chinook to be accomplished by hatchery and harvest policy when their spawning habitat is locked behind dams on the Clackamas, Santiams, McKenzie and Upper Willamette Rivers.

"The Department should continue development and use of alternative selective fishing gear for commercial mainstem fisheries, and implement these fisheries to optimize conservation and economic benefits when recreational fishery objectives are met."

In broad thinking, I'm very much hoping this is a recognition of the size of ocean commercial fisheries on Columbia River stocks from Oregon to Alaska and their role in delivering massive quantities of fish to the public. The last numbers I pulled on fall chinook impacts detailed 76% of those impacts going to non-tribal and tribal commercial fisheries and 24% going to sport fisheries. I also hope it's recognizing that when you enter the Columbia River, you gain tremendous accessibility for the sport fishing public, those that fish from both the bank and from boats. These inland fisheries are huge economic opportunities for the states of Oregon and Washington that, given the stability of a sport fishing priority, can return handsomely to our economies.

In a grand total, I'm hopeful that the components of the outline break the stalemate of sport versus commercial on the Columbia River and eliminate the ongoing jockeying and non-productive animosity between the user groups.

The long-term future of both sport and commercial fishing in the Columbia basin is held in the productivity of the rivers. The challenges in hydropower and habitat are exceptional. Energy expended towards these solutions is the best way to secure a future that includes both people and salmonids, sport and commercial fishing.

I cannot say that I've ever seen a printed document sent from the Governor's office to the Director and Commission that's been worded to deliver such strength of action.

Governor John Kitzhaber has stepped up.

Is his document perfect? I assume many will find ample areas of fault. I have a lot of "hope" wrapped up in my understanding of what I've read. Nevertheless, it represents numerous steps down a path, and a negative issue that's been at a standstill is now on the move.

The obvious question here is what becomes of Ballot Measure 81? Does the Governor's action eliminate the need? While the sponsors of 81 can be the only ones to make that determination, I'm sure most parties involved could do without the expense, animosity and public bloodletting that tend to accompany these events.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet via teleconference on Tuesday, August 14th to discuss the issue. When the time is announced, you can watch it here: Commission

July 19, 2012

ICAST 2012 A Boomer

by Carmen Macdonald

For most anglers the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, or ICAST show, has very little meaning or recognition. It's very odd when I think about it, because anglers like you are the sole focus of the show.

The ICAST show is the fishing trade's annual gathering where new products for the following year are put on display. Retailers, from sole-proprietors who own the local shop, to large entourages representing huge chain stores, work the show floor to finalize decisions about rods, reels, lures, terminal gear, accessories and clothing that you'll have access to in the coming year. Meanwhile, representatives from every known media form describe why and how their vehicle is the best to connect products with you, the angling consumer, while editors and bloggers search for those products they feel will have a strong connection to their audiences.

Everyone is looking for winning combinations that will produce growth, profits and a sound future. The competition is fierce, and in the end, you are in the driver's seat.

Though you don't attend the show, you're represented through your collective purchase history. In every sub-category of fishing, your past and recent purchase volumes, mixed with measurable variables as well as gut instinct and hard-earned experience, determine the selections you'll be offered in the future. Good performance of salmon products begets more salmon products. Tuna purchases create more tuna gear opportunities. You vote with your dollars for high-end, low-end or somewhere in between. Where there are opportunities, both large and small, there's a host of companies seeking them out.

The cynical consumer might view the show as a display of what will "catch" anglers and not necessarily fish. For sure, an angler could put together five or ten core items and catch fish for the rest of their lives, but that's not how you behave.

Anglers are internal optimists. The pursuit of fish, the exploration of techniques, the dabbler's spirit, these qualities are equally important to the results of a day on the water. Either that, or simple boredom sets in from doing the same thing every trip out no matter how productive it is. In both cases, your interests, as dictated by your purchases, ebb and flow like the tide, heading off in one direction for a period, then at some date returning.

How many proven techniques from the past have you seen resurface as the new hot thing? Quite a few as time goes on.

Advancements in gear can drive these resurgences. In the early 1980's I thought I'd purchased my last spinning reel. I now have more spinning rods than baitcast reels in my boat when steelhead fishing. It certainly helps that the spinning gear of today makes the old stuff look like relics, both in feel and performance. Similarly, in the age of side-drifting, I found myself again plug fishing more this year than any time in the last decade. Side-drifting doesn't get them all, and watching a rod fold and a summer steelhead explode out of the water with a K11, Wiggle Wart or something else in its' mouth is a great change of pace.

To the cynic I'd say, rest assured, as a lot of people have your back. Nobody walks on to the show floor to fail. From the manufacturers to the retailers to the media, the over-hyped, over-promised and under-performing are rooted out quickly. If the collective "you" doesn't like a product, it's altered, changed, fixed or eliminated quickly. The environment is simply too competitive.

So what made this year's show so great? You did. Through the recession, there's been fear at all levels, coupled with poor weather nationally. A highly cautious environment has ruled. You've purchased guns and ammo like they're going to stop making them, but cut back on your fishing.

This year, however, you've gone fishing at a good clip. Could be fuel prices that rose and then fell back to acceptable levels. Could be great spring weather (everywhere outside of the Northwest!). Could be an improving economy. Or maybe, it takes a little break to realize just how nice a day spent on the water really is. Whatever the reason, inventories moved, pressures eased and folks actually allowed themselves to smile.

Great things can be achieved in threatening environments, but oftentimes the coolest innovations are the product of confidence and having some space to dream a little. An upbeat show is how it begins, and this year was solid.

Every day, your purchases are driving the future selections manufacturers will create. How and where you make your purchases will directly effect what those retailers will carry.

About the images:

1. You can find just about anything related to fishing on the show floor, even the stuff you'll never see in stores.

2. Luhr-Jensen has a new fleet of Kwikfish colors on their way.

3. Okuma released two spinning reels with carbon fiber frames and rotors beginning at just 6.8-ounces. Pictured is the top-end Helios ($139.99), but the real mover might be the RTX with a sub $100 MSRP!

4. Do tuna like rattles? Anglers are going to find out. An X-Rap series with Rapala's Clackin' Cadence Chamber is LOUD!

5. Tuf-Line released two new lines, a sinking braid as well as a new entry to the premium handling category.

June 26, 2012

Redefining Reel Sizes

by Carmen Macdonald

It's been more than 20 years since Tuf-Line released the first braided Spectra fiber fishing line. In the first ten years, only a few knew what it was. Over the next ten years, braids exploded to the point that manufacturers from Tuf-Line to Sufix to Berkley are now producing designer braids with specific applications in mind.

Spectra fiber fishing lines exponentially increased breaking strengths in comparison to monofilament lines of similar diameter. What we have come to take for granted at the tackle shop was, and is, revolutionary.

As anglers, we took this incredible increase in breaking strength with extremely small diameters and, and, and… fished it on the same gear we'd always used for monofilament lines. Kind of anti-climactic isn't it? 300 yards of 25-pound monofilament takes up X amount of space. 400 yards of 50-pound braid takes up less space. Shouldn't we gain in this equation with lighter weight and a reduced footprint throughout our gear?

The simple fact is that braided lines constructed of Spectra and Dyneema fibers so radically altered the game, fishing reels have just begun to catch up. Reels designs now have the capability to be much smaller, with drag outputs suitable for much stronger braided lines. Yet to date, very few maximize this opportunity. And those that are out there seem to suffer from impressions and expectations with regard to physical size that are grounded in a world dominated by monofilament.

Last month I had the opportunity to visit Venice, Louisiana with the Northwest sales representatives from Okuma Fishing Tackle, as well as two members of the team at Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor. Of course, we were equipped for anything with Makaira, Cedros, Andros and Isis reels, Makaira, Andros and Cedros Coastal rods.

We met our captain for day one ay 5:30 in the morning. Two dock carts were brimming with outfits. Upon laying eyes on the carts, the captain glances around his boat, then back at the carts. It was quickly obvious that some sorting of gear was going to take place.

Let's take these, leave these, take these. You can picture the conversation. I had stepped away, but by the end of it, all of the Andros reels and the rods they were on were summarily dismissed and packed back in the rented minivan.

On the first day anywhere, you have to differ to the experience of the captain.

The Okuma Andros is one reel that was designed and constructed specifically for 50-pound braid. It's an incredibly compact two-speed lever drag featuring 15-pounds of drag at strike, 24-pounds at full. It's backed by a 17-4 stainless steel drive system and holds a touch over 400-yards of 50-pound braid, all in a reel that you can lay out in the palm of your hand.

The captain was unfamiliar with it, judged it simply by size and the discussion was over.

We caught four yellowfin tuna that day from about 30- to 65-pounds. All of them came on Makaira 20 or 30 sized offshore reels. It was overkill at it's best. For a bunch of Northwesterners, fighting the gear was as much work as the fish themselves.

Day two, different captain. We skipped the conversation about what gear to bring along and simply loaded it all quickly, making it work. Off we go, headed 65 miles offshore to a location called Devil's Tower.

I tied short six-foot bumpers of 50-pound fluorocarbon to the 50-pound braid on three Andros combos, along with a Makaira 10. About 30 minutes out from our destination, the deckhand leans over to me and asks, "Which rods do you want to use for live bait?"

When I pointed them out, I got the look back that can only mean "really?" Yes, really.

I had to go through the one-two on specs to get past the deckhand. In the end it came down to the fact that if we got the crap beat out of us by a fish, we'd rather go down on the small gear than to walk all over sub-hundred pound tuna with gear fit for fish two and three times that size.

The deckhand smiled, "Let's do it!"

Arriving at Devil's Tower, busting yellowfin covered a half a mile. Two baits get pinned on the Makaira 20's… we had no confirmation of size at this point, better safe than sorry on the first one. The Venice area has plenty of tuna in the 100- to 200-pound class.

It took maybe a minute for the clicker to go nuts. Come tight, Randy is on it. 35-pounder.

We circle back and I grab an Andros. Rather than slow trolling a bait off the outrigger, we're going to do it more West Coast style, dead boat and free-swimming baits.

It took about 12 seconds to get bit on the lighter 50-pound leader. Everybody grabs a rod at this point. Braille a few baits over the side and the school is suddenly trying to chew the paint off the bottom of the boat.

What followed was an intoxicating blur. Controlled chaos. Baits went over the side and were eaten immediately. Yellowfin boiled everywhere. They darted in all directions, dark silhouettes amazingly visible in the crystal clear, purple-tinted water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Laughter and high-fives. Of course it's fun when the fishing is wide open, but it's even more so when you're matched properly with gear. The little Andros 5 and Makaira 10 two-speeds owned these fish of 25- to maybe 50-pounds, with plenty to spare. We'd have been fine with 80-pounders. Beyond that, it might have gotten interesting.

Comfortable, controllable, light, easy, fun…that's how we fished.

After a couple hour melee, we went on to other things (both days included lights out fishing for a host of species on the rigs). The deckhand twice went over the Andros and Makaira throughout the rest of the day. How much drag? How much line pickup? Complete freespool at those numbers?

Seeing is believing, and he now had the bug.

In my albeit limited experience in saltwater fishing on two coasts and south to Costa Rica, fish over 100-pounds have been the exception rather than the rule, with the only exception being billfish. Dorado, yellowtail, amberjack, rooster fish, snappers, most halibut and tuna, big lings, they're all in the wheelhouse of these small, easily-handled and incredibly fun next-gen reels.

With modern design and materials including carbon fiber drags and premium stainless steel gears, there's only one limitation to how small a reel can get. That's spool diameter. You can only make the diameter of a reel so small and spin it with so high of a gear ratio. In a big fish reel, in addition to drag output and raw strength, you also have to be able to gain line to win the battle. As spool diameters get smaller and smaller, there's only so many tricks to play before you're just not gaining line when cranking. In the Andros, a custom spool and frame design maximizes the diameter of the spool within the overall frame size. In high gear it picks up 42.1-inches of line with each turn of the handle. Keep in mind though that that is with a nearly full spool. Dump half that line on a big fish and the number goes down. Something to keep in mind anyway as more reels enter the category and you're making comparisons.

In addition to the Okuma Andros, have a look at the Avet Raptor SX and Shimano Talica II. In all cases, you're looking for strike drag ratings roughly 30% of the breaking strength of the leader. To get the most out of 40- to 50pound line, you'll want drag output in the range of 15-pounds of drag at strike.

The next ten years should be outstanding as companies invest in new tooling and designs to begin to take full advantage of braided lines. Fishing is not getting any less expensive. With every day on the water precious, refined and balanced equipment that maximizes the enjoyment of every fish becomes more and more important. My only question is how long, as anglers, our predispositions to "understood" reel sizes, their drag outputs and capabilities will take to catch up to the gear as it comes out.

June 05, 2012

Willamette Sturgeon- Go Big or Go Home

by Carmen Macdonald

If you have yet to notice, there's a ton of over-sized sturgeon in the Willamette River right now.

Over the last few years, it seems like their numbers have been growing. From what I understand, the biologists are a bit mystified also. Food source is the leading theory. The hypothesis is that the fish are simply following the food, in this case shad. Just as with salmon and steelhead though, you cannot over look temperature and flow as motivational features, capable of causing change in fish behavior. And lastly, maybe inside their tiny little brains, they're simply tired of being eaten by an escalating number of sea lions.

Nevertheless, if you can hit a deep spot in the Willamette River between the falls and Lake Oswego, perhaps further down too, you're almost certain to hookup with a river monster.

That's not to say that you should.

A group of us put in at Cedaroak on Sunday for a last ditch springer effort (trip was a bust, 63-degree water temp, La Boheme echoed through the area). There were a number of boats fishing sturgeon, many of which seemed well under-gunned for the fishery, evidenced by the fact that they were fighting these fish for around an hour.

In the slow current of the WIllamette and with the proper gear, these fish can be bested pretty quickly, as they should be. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing at all against targeting these fish. It can be a ton of fun to watch someone else manhandle one of these big Bertas. But at the same time, you have to have the gear to ensure you can win the battle as quickly as possible. In speaking with guides on the Columbia prior to that fishery being shut down, their target number was 15 minutes, in a lot more powerful river.

The big fish in the Willamette right now are all the big spawners. Not every one of them is there to spawn this year, but they are all spawners nonetheless. They hold the keys to the future of a population that seems to be suffering from poor recruitment.

These fish cannot be legally harvested. Fishing for them is 100% for sport. Here are a few thoughts on how to minimize the cortisone buildup within these fish to make sure you're releasing them in the best condition.

1. Power up the reel. Leave the star drag reels with 10-pounds of maximum drag output at home. They're great keeper reels but don't have the power for the over-sized fish. Get a lever drag reel with much greater drag output. They don't have to be the shiny marlin stuff. Many brands make affordable graphite framed lever drags. Okuma Solterra and Shimano TLD come to mind.

2. Heavy up the rod. Perhaps more important than the reel because if you cannot move the fish, it's pretty difficult to gain line. Think heavy, halibut-type rods with ratings in the 50-100 or 80-120 pound line range.

3. Stay right on top of the fish. Keep the boat right over the fish and don't give an inch. A good operator can save both the angler and the fish a lot of time and effort. Staying over top of the fish maximizes the available leverage in the rod.

I don't believe that the over-sized fishery at Bonneville dam played any role whatsoever in the recent decline of available keeper-sized sturgeon. I do think, from a simple common sense standpoint, that if these fish of spawning size are going to be targeted for catch-and-release, that doing so in a manner that minimized stress is simply good policy for anglers.

Have fun out there! Last night at Fisherman's I saw an end cap of big, slide-on rod butt cushions. I might recommend one of them too. It'll save your groin, stomach, kidney, liver and arm pits!

May 29, 2012

Why Feed Stores Should Be Avoided In Spring

by Carmen Macdonald

In hindsight, a lot of work could have been avoided if I simply had not answered the phone. Phone calls from a trip running errands have the distinct possibility of becoming expensive, and in this case, laborious.

But in this day and age of micro-instant connectivity, I guess it's expected. Plus there's the outside chance that something was wrong, at least that was the justification for cell phones so many years ago.

I took the call from my wife Jen.

"What are you doing?"

Maybe it's just an acquired skill after more than a decade of marriage, but I'm always leery of the painfully obvious question. It was a Wednesday, mid-morning.


"I'm picking up some flea stuff for the cats….they've got the cutest baby chicks here."

A few years ago I wanted to get some chickens. Part of the self-sufficient trend. Big garden, fruit trees, chickens… come a small-sized disaster we'd eat good for a bit. Kind of like amateur-hour prepping. I got over it with time.

I must have paused for a sec, a sure sign of weakness. The pace got quicker, I caught every third or fourth word. "Buff Orpingtons…cute…says they're nice…kids…bye!"

It took her 10 minutes to make the purchase. It would take me three full weekends to get a place built for them to live.

When I got home that night and looked around, initially I found nothing more than a little box. "Look! They're so cute!" Apparently the old dog crate had been converted into a chick pen, complete with heat lamp.

In all honesty they were cute. Balls of yellow/orange fluff.

I knew the kids were my first priority here. They needed a talk before the little critters took hold of them.

"Okay you two. Chickens are not pets. They're low on the food chain animals and outside of producing eggs, it's pretty probable a dog, coyote or cat will at least get one of these. Don't name them. I don't want a bunch of tears when these things end up on the dinner table or suffer some other form of traumatic end someday."

"Quicky, Pokey, Pipsqueek and Z" an immediate response from my daughter. My son just nodded in agreement. Being the older of the two, he can't be caught verbally agreeing with his sister. That would be, uncool.

Counter-measures were necessary. If there were to be names, I needed something identifiable, something to do with the realities of life. "How about broiled, baked, fried and barbecued," I shot back.

It was pretty apparent that after building a coop, I'd need to construct my own dog house if I wanted to continue the comments.

One adult Buff Orpington hen can produce over 200 eggs in a year. We now had four of them in training. I doubt Sylvester Stallone in his Rocky prime could have powered down the production to come of these four chicks. What the heck are we going to do with nearly 1000 eggs? I tend to get caught up too much in the details.

The city of West Linn allows you to raise 5 hens for eggs with no special permits or regulations (surprising because everything in this town seems to have a permit attached). Being that she only picked up four chicks was an obvious display of moderation on Jen's part.

When the idea of chickens crossed my mind a few years back, I was enamored with a coop design called a chicken tractor. The design, in theory, made sense. For just a few chickens, the coop is mobile, with no floor. So rather than the chickens pounding on one primary section of ground, the tractor can be moved around the yard so no one area takes too hard a beating. It also keeps the manure moving around, fertilizing and keeping any smell down. With a coop over a scratching/feeding area, it seems like it has sun shade and rain cover built in.

I found pictures online, but no real plans. No bother, I probably wouldn't have followed directions anyway. Off to the lumber store. I picked up 8, 2 x 4's, a couple 2 x 10's (forgot why at this point, in my head a couple longer boards made sense) and a sheet of plywood. If I needed anything else, I had a few scraps of this and that in the woodpile.

This was going to be coop "on the fly." Probably not the best way to go. Between rain storms, a minor heat wave and an out of town wedding, it took me three weekends to get the tractor put together, sealed, painted and fenced in. I'm no expert, but it seems too big, too tall and too heavy. Other than that it seems to work. Big door in the bottom. On side of the top has two doors that fold down on hinges. The "stairs" retract on a string to seal the chickens in, predators out, at night. For now I have the heat lamp hanging in there to keep 'em warm for a bit longer.

The chicks moved outside just over a week ago. All in all it seems pretty painless. They hang around the yard with minimal problems and they seem to be a slug's worst nightmare. We're letting them get a little bigger before we give them complete unsupervised run of the yard. We've got a cat that's a pretty solid hunter.

I have to admit, at this point, they're pretty innocuous. Couple of them follow the kids around and Jen got a bag of some kind of grain that with a single shake of it they come sprinting over. Other than that, they scratch their way around the yard and simply do their thing, including putting themselves to bed at night.

So as a first time chicken guy, what am I missing? I'm not 100% convinced yet that they'll be worth the effort. If it goes the other way, I've got a special bottle of barbecue sauce in the fridge, and I'm not afraid to use it!
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