The absence of snow in the Wallowa Valley this winter is detrimental to may winter sports. Skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers are likely to turn to steelhead fishing and bird hunting for amusement for the next few weeks.
One of the minor mysteries this fall is why anglers in Oregon on the Grande Ronde River have better catch rates than anglers in Washington. Not always, but often this fall Oregon has turned in a lower catch rate, as happened last week. The difference doesn't seem attributable to differences in angling pressure, since each state averaged about 20 anglers per count last week. In October there was a possibility that bait angling in Oregon was making a difference, but, beginning in November, Washington anglers were also allowed to use bait and the discrepancy continues.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Bill Knox didn't have an explanation. "We release about three ties as many smolts ain Oregon as they do in Washington, but they all have to swim through Washington to get here," he says.
One significant difference could be the number of hatchery fish released in Oregon, compared to the number released in Washington. This week Oregon averaged slightly more than eight hours per fish caught, which Washington averaged slightly less than 12 hours per fish caught. Oregon anglers reported a total of 29 hatchery steelhead caught and 13 wild steelhead landed, while Washington anglers claimed 22 hatchery fish and 11 wild fish. Similar numbers of both hatchery and wild steelhead landed, but Oregon anglers released 14 hatchery fish, nearly half of those fish caught, while Washington anglers released five hatchery steelhead, reducing the supply by more than 75 percent. This harvest may be making a noticeable difference during this low water year, when recruitment of new fish out of the Snake River seems to be low, compared to higher-water years when new fish move readily into the Grande Ronde River.
Early this week the Grande Ronde remains very low at 682 cfs, almost one-half of the average flow reported for the date.
Other rivers in the region are low, but not that far below average. The Wallowa River measures 162 cfs and the Imnaha Rivers is flowing at 129 cfs.
Water temperatures took a plunge last week in the Grande Ronde as freezing nighttime temperatures returned to the region. The water temperatures quickly dropped from the low 40s a week earlier to 32 degrees on Friday, reaching a high of 34 degrees, where it held all day on Saturday under a layer of fog that blanketed the canyon floor. The cold water temperatures may have put off the fish for a day with Friday producing little action until after 2 p.m. and then only delivering one steelhead for the day. Saturday was a different story, however, with three hooked and one landed in the first hole, ending up with eight hooked and four landed for the day.
The Wallowa River still measured in the upper 30s early this week and the warmer water was producing fair mayfly and midge hatches and some rising trout. There are not likely to be fishable numbers of steelhead in the Wallowa until February, but there are large numbers of whitefish in the river.
The Imnaha River is low and holding near 125 cfs and remains very clear, conditions that are not inviting to large numbers of steelhead. This river will improve when runoff adds some depth and color to the water.
Like anglers, skiers and snowmobilers, bird hunters will welcome some stormy weather. Waterfowl hunters have few birds to hunt, because stormy weather in Canada and Washington have not been adequate to force birds south. The few birds that remain in the Wallowa Valley are widely scattered and have their choice of foraging areas in the open valley floor.
Chukar hunters are equally disadvantaged with the open winter. ODFW biologist Vic Coggins speculates that there are decent numbers of chukar in the county, but they are on the ridge tops and widely scattered over, perhaps, several thousand feet of elevation. Coggins thinks the birds move up the slopes where they find warmer conditions - out of the cold valley bottoms and into areas that have more sunshine. Range conditions in these higher elevations are better, too, he says, thanks to August rains that gave grasses a boost before drier, cooler weather set in in the fall.
Hunters and anglers have brief access into the Norgaard area west of Wallowa for a few weeks this fall. The road closure ended last week and gates were opened on Monday to allow hunters to get camps and gear out of the area before winter. Curtis Mattson, from ODFW, reports the roads will be open until Dec. 15, when Boise Cascade may begin relocking some of the gates. Mattson says there is currently logging in progress in the area and those roads will remain open as long as logging continues, but gates will be locked once the loggers are out.
2003 LICENSES AVAILABLE
Oregon 2003 game licenses went on sale this week.
Prices for licenses and tags are unchanged from 2002, but there are two changes in 2003 that will benefit sportsmen. First, additional harvest cards are now available through the computerized licensing system and are more readily available that last year, when they were not in the computer system and many license agents chose not to sell them. The second change concerns SportsPac purchasers. In 2003 these purchasers may choose between spring and fall bear tag options. Last year the fall season was the only choice in the SportsPac.
Also going on sale this week are big-game hunt raffle tickets to benefit Access and Habitat Program projects. Raffle hunts that are offered included statewide deer, statewide deer and elk, northeast Oregon deer, southeast Oregon deer, central Oregon deer, northeast Oregon elk, high desert elk, western Oregon elk, and statewide elk. Winners have from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, 2003 to fill their tag.
Bring your old license. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds sportsmen to bring their 2002 licenses when they purchase 2003 licenses and tags. "While not required," the news release assures, "this simple step speeds service at agent counters because all the information necessary to issue a new license is located on the old license. ODFW also reminds Oregon resident license buyers to bring a picture identification with them to prove residency."
Oregon's 2003 Sport Fishing Regulations are due at license agents this week and 2003 Oregon Big Game Regulations are anticipated to arrive on Dec. 16.
ACCESS AND HABITAT PROJECTS
ODFW's Access and Habitat Board is seeking proposals to fund that increase public hunting access or improves wildlife habitat on private lands.
"Typical projects," according to ODFW, "include wildlife forage seeding, water development, riparian protection, meadow fertilization, wetland restoration, regulated hunt programs, law enforcement patrol, travel management areas, hunting leases and land acquisition."
The application deadline is Jan. 2, 2003. Applications and information is available from ODFW through Susan Barnes at (503) 872-5260, ext. 5349.