Wallowa County Outdoors: Hopes alive for Fergi opening

Mac Huff

The end of this year's ski season looms desperately close as Eagle Cap Ski Club members work frantically to repair damaged bearings in the lower bull wheel to salvage the final days of the season.

Charlie Kissinger, spokesman for the ski club says that damaged parts have been identified and replacements are being sent, but how soon the parts will arrive is the question. Individuals working to repair the damage have been communicating with Dopplemeyer USA and Dopplemeyer Austria since the lift broke down more than a week ago. Dick Stangel at Stangel Industries in Enterprise says, the bearings that are needed for the repair are standard industrial components and are available domestically, but some seals and gaskets that fit the specific dimensions of this lift are only available from Austria. The consensus is that the parts should be here late in the week and, with some luck, the unit could be reassembled by the weekend and ready to return to the hill, but nobody thinks there is a chance of operating the ski hill this weekend. The ski club's hope is that the repairs will be completed during the next week and that the lift will be ready for operation during Spring Vacation, which begins on the weekend of Mar. 22.

FISHING REPORT

Steelheaders may have been unhappy with the cold weather snow fall early last week, but the warm weather and rain later in the week turned out to be worse. The Grande Ronde River was most affected by the change in the weather and it began rising last Thursday and continued a steady rise into Tuesday this week where it reached 6,260 cfs that morning. Prior to the rise in water level the Grande Ronde was producing fantastic results for steelheaders with Washington anglers tallying a credible catch rate of about three hours per fish. The Washington creel checker counted 43 hatchery and 19 wild steelhead caught in Washington. Upstream in Oregon the creel checker recorded a catch rate near four hours per fish for nine wild and six hatchery fish caught. This was early last week - by the weekend the river has risen from levels below 2,000 cfs to more than 5,000 cfs and most anglers didn't bother to show up. Bill Vale at Boggan's Oasis says the weekend turnout was less than one-tenth of normal and he thought there might have been a dozen anglers on the river each day. He says a few fish were caught, but nothing compared to the low-water success.

Most of the lower elevation snow has melted, which will stabilize the rivers and cooler weather is in the forecast later this week, but there is a possibility of rain instead of snow, so the river may not drop as much as steelheaders would like. There are so many fish in the river, however, that simply having the water stabilize should be enough to bring back great fishing.

An Oregon creel checker looked at the Grande Ronde, Wallowa and Imnaha rivers last week. The Wallowa River produced surprisingly slow results. Although the river didn't seem to rise a great deal several tributaries raised water levels some and Rock Creek below Wallowa was muddying the water late last week. By late Sunday afternoon most of the anglers had given up, with only two or three still working the water near Big Canyon. The creel survey through the weekend shows a catch rate of nearly 38 hours per fish, with four hatchery and one wild steelhead caught among the 66 anglers interviewed.

At the mouth of the Wallowa River the catch rate was just over three hours per fish and the four anglers there reported catching four hatchery and four wild steelhead

The Imnaha River turned in a respectable five hours per fish last week under fairly heavy pressure. The creel checker interviewed 94 anglers that reported catching 27 hatchery and 40 unmarked steelhead. It's not reasonable to consider unmarked steelhead in this river "wild" anymore because the Nez Perce Tribes received permission to release unmarked hatchery fish a few years ago and those fish are now returning in countable numbers. If you are curious, you will usually be able to tell these unmarked hatchery fish by examining their dorsal fins. Usually they will be quite deformed, but sometimes it takes careful examination, but if you detect any bent rays in the dorsal fin it's a hatchery fish.

MARKING FISH

This week Columbia Basin Bullet, an internet news service reports that Reb. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. Is pushing legislation requiring all hatchery salmon and steelhead be physically marked before release.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams "told Dicks the agency stands ready to implement the mass marking program for salmoides, which would be required at all federally operated and funded hatcheries, many of which are run by state fisheries agencies in the Northwest. Much of the work will be done at the state level, including the federal Mitchell Act hatcheries on the Columbia River operated by Washington and Oregon and the Columbia River hatcheries operated by Oregon," CBB recounts.

Most northwest hatchery salmoides are marked at this time, but some federal and tribal fisheries officials express concerns about "potential implications of the universal marking requirement for tribal fish allocations, U.S.-Canada salmon treaty conflicts and other problems," CBB says

Federal agencies threw up smokescreens about the new proposal costing "quite a few millions of dollars" to implement, CBB says. "If the federal agency needs more equipment for national fish hatchery markings, Dicks will consider securing more funding, the requirement adds little to the agency's management costs," a spokesperson for Dicks said.

"Dicks said that marking hatchery fish to make them readily distinguishable to sports and commercial fishermen will help reduce losses of endangered wild salmon during selective harvests, assure availability of harvestable stocks and boost salmon recovery efforts," CBB reports.

There is automated technology available today to process large numbers of salmoides quickly,

"In addition to the marking requirement, the final bill provides $6.6 million in federal funds to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to buy more mobile fin-clipping equipment and trailers and to perform mass markings. Most of the money comes from the Pacific Salmon Recovery Fund. Of the total, $2,185,000 will go to Oregon to buy two new and one used mass marking trailers; $1.1 million to Oregon for mass markings at Columbia River hatcheries; and $1,590,000 each to Washington and Idaho to buy new mass-marking trailers. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is a leading advocate of mass marking," CBB reports

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