Last weekend's snow flurries definitely thwarted the faint-of-heart, but for the hearty souls that braved the weather, the rewards were small crowds and some decent fishing.
The best fishing may have been at Marr Pond in Enterprise where the youth Free Fishing Weekend clinic was held. Wallowa Lake was also a contender, turning out many limits of kokanee and rainbow trout throughout the weekend. Gina Barstad at Wallowa Lake Marina says the weekend as awesome, and self-described as "dressed to climb Mt. McKinley," she and husband Bob filled limits of kokanee daily with fish between 10 and 15 inches in length. And the snow? She thought the fishing might have been better whenever it was snowing.
She found the bluebacks between 30 feet and 50 feet at the south end of the lake. Last week I fished at the north end of the lake and saw schools of kokanee feeding at the surface. The surface feeding last week was possibly a result of warmer water near the outlet or possibly just warmer weather last week.
Rainbow fishing at the lake was also fast and furious and for bigger fish. Many of the rainbows caught last weekend were 18 to 20 inches long and, once the schools were located, they were fairly easy to catch. Fishing with bait and casting spinners were effective for trout, but anglers trolling for kokanee also caught and released many rainbows.
Kinney Lake, east of Joseph, is another good prospect, recently stocked and with easily access, as well as Wallowa Wildlife and Victor ponds near Wallowa.
The rivers held little appeal last weekend. Creeks were a little high and with cold weather stifling insect hatches, stream anglers generally were at home watching NBA finals or fishing the lakes and ponds. The silver lining in this cloudy - and cold - weekend is that the rivers are quickly dropping and by Monday were back below seasonal-average flows. Better hurry when the weather warms a little, because the new snow that accumulated in the mountains could bring river flows quickly to higher levels.
In spite of the cold weather there were mayfly and caddis hatches each afternoon, but, typical of Wallowa County streams, the fish rise was small to nonexistent. Swallows swooping over the water, and sometimes picking mayflies off of the water surface, confirmed the hatch, but the trout seemed to key on subsurface nymphs. On Saturday afternoon a size 14 or 16 cream-colored mayfly brought a few trout to the surface, but not nearly the number that would be expected for the number of insects at the surface. On Sunday a similar hatch got the attention of swallows, but hardly a trout showed itself.
The Imnaha River drew a little interest from salmon anglers, but the high water generally discouraged trout fishing. The high water was also discouraging to salmon anglers that lost fish in the current, but Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store said one angler tagged his two salmon two days in a row. Many of the salmon anglers, that weren't having any luck with salmon, were landing bull trout.
Hat Point gathered about a foot of new snow over the weekend, according to one local skier that took advantage of the storm. They were able to drive within less than a mile of the lookout. The road is open, although they were breaking trail through the new snow, with several tries still partially blocking the road. Four-wheel drive is still recommended to access the upper limits of the road.
NEW LICENSE FEES
Oregon hunters and anglers face increased license and tag fees in 2004.
Most tags and licenses were recommended $5 and $10 jumps. Resident angling or hunting licenses, combined angling harvest, deer and elk tags are proposed for $5 increases. This would price resident angling license at $24.74, deer tags at $19.50 and elk tags at $34.50.
The $10 fee increase is proposed for resident combination licenses, antelope, bighorn sheep and mountain goat tags. These licenses and tags would cost $43.75 for a combination license, $36.50 for antelope, and $101.50 for bighorn sheep and mountain goat tags.
Daily angling licenses would increase by $4, pricing a one-day license at $12, a two-day license at $18.50, a three-day license at $25, and a four-day license at $31.50. The seven-day license is proposed to jump $9 to $43.75.
Nonresident hunting licenses would increase by $18 to $76.50, nonresident deer tags would rise by $73 to $264.50, and nonresident elk tags would hike by $55 to $361.50.
Resident turkey tags would rise $6.50 to $18 and nonresident turkey tags would jump by $22.50 to $64.
The "Sportpack" would increase by $25, to $130.
The increased fees are expected to raise an additional $10.14 million in the 2004-05 biennium. Without the additional income Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife forecasts a staff reduction of 45.5 positions, closing of two hatcheries, reduced enforcement, and reduced wildlife damage and habitat programs.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a 6.4 percent reduction in this year's controlled big game seasons, compared to 2001, as proposed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.
The news release reports, "The decline is largely the result of a 20 percent drop in the number of antlerless deer tags due to reduced buck to doe ratios and some reduced deer populations."
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission gave Central Oregon steelhead anglers the same liberal three-steelhead daily limit that northeast Oregon enjoys.
This season Deschutes River anglers will be able to keep three hatchery steelhead per day. The liberalized regulation is due to a forecast of an above average steelhead return.
Coastal streams did not receive the same consideration because forecasts suggest that steelhead returns there will generally be near normal levels.
An ODFW study of spring chinook salmon caught and released by anglers in theWillamette River shows an 87.8 percent survival rate.
The results of the study suggest that the position of the hook was crucial in determining whether the fish later died. Fish hooked in the jaw or tongue were less likely to die than those hooked in the gills or stomach.
The ODFW report states that "the results indicate that a sport fishery targeting adipose fin-clipped hatchery spring chinook can be used to protect wild populations."
ODFW reports that follow up testing for whirling disease in Clear Creek, a tributary of the Clackamas River, show the organism is in one out of 70 fish tested.
The testing was prompted by a steelhead that tested positive for the whirling disease organism last year. Spores of the parasite were found in privately raised rainbow trout in December 2001. This is the first confirmation of the disease in western Oregon. The disease was discovered in northeast Oregon in 1986 and occurs in other western states, "but the low to moderate infection levels seen here have not produced severe symptoms that can affect population levels," the news release reports.
REDFISH LAKE SETBACK
ODFW announced that 43,000 juvenile sockeye salmon were euthanized because of an incurable virus. The salmon were being raised at Bonneville Hatchery for Idaho Department of Fish and Game to supplement stocks of salmon at Redfish Lake in Idaho.
The juvenile fish contracted IHN (infectious hematopoietic necrosis) virus, which occurs throughout the Columbia River basin.
Bonneville Hatchery is raising the sockeye salmon as an agent for National Marine Fisheries Service and the juveniles are progeny of Redfish Lake sockeye salmon, which are listed on the federal registry of the Endangered Species Act.
"A cooperative captive brood program is in place to enhance wild populations using conservation hatcheries in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Although the loss of the sockeye smolts will reduce the number of adults returning from the ocean in 2004, the Bonneville-reared fish comprise only one component of the sockeye restoration program for central Idaho. Out-migrating smolts from Redfish and other central Idaho lakes are now estimated at 68,000 in 2002," the ODFW report concludes.
The juvenile fish were the remnants of 70,000 eggs that were transferred to Bonneville Hatchery for rearing in January 2001.
An ODFW fishery biologist speculated that the IHN virus originated from a steelhead that swam up Tanner Creek above the water intake for the hatchery.