Wallowa County Outdoors: Rising rivers offer a change of fortune for fishing, birding

Mac Huff

Steelhead anglers' hopes this week in northeast Oregon are rising as fast as the local river levels.

The decisive arrival of "November" weather this week offers a change of fortune for steelheaders and bird hunters alike. The "gales or November" arrived two weeks late, but brought with them the expected precipitation of late fall.

Widespread precipitation and rising river levels will account for a fresh influx of steelhead into Wallowa County rivers, snowfall on canyon ridge tops will improve chukar hunting and windy conditions will usher in new flocks of waterfowl from Canada and Washington. An observation concerning recent winds from a participant in last Sunday's Christmas Bird Count cautioned that the high winds blew about as many species out of the county as it blew in, but duck hunters aren't interested in species diversity, they are looking for lots of mallards.

Steelhead angling pressure is showing the usual winter slump. On Sunday the creel checker on the Grande Ronde River says she counted about 35 anglers on the river by noon, with most of those gathering in Oregon. No creel data was available this week, but fishing was fair to good on Saturday and Sunday. The creel checker says she counted about five steelhead caught each morning, which has been the slow part of the day. Surprisingly, even with 40 degree water, the fish were slow starting in the morning, but more active in the afternoon and were occasionally rolling at the surface.

Last week's creel data shows Oregon anglers averaged 13 hours per fish, landing nine hatchery and four wild steelhead, while Washington anglers averaged 5.5 hours per fish landing 21 hatchery and 14 wild steelhead. The majority of the hatchery fish are being kept, but that will become less critical now that the river is rising and steelhead will begin moving upstream out of the Snake River. Angler counts averaged about seven anglers per count period for each state.

Washington's busiest day was Sunday morning with about a dozen anglers for each morning count. Oregon's busy day was Saturday with more than a dozen anglers for each count in the morning. Wednesday had the busiest single count for each state. There were 16 anglers in Oregon in the late morning count, then they moved down river to Washington where the count was 14 anglers in the early afternoon.

Bait fishing is by far the most popular technique this month, but there are still some fly fishers that are having some success. The creel checker noted that the fish seemed to be concentrated in particular holes in the river, which were producing the lion's share of the catch, but my observation was that most holes held fish and in about half of the holes a bite could be coaxed out of at least one of the fish residing there.

The focus of the weekend's precipitation seems to be on the south side of the Wallow Mountains.

The Imnaha River more than doubled in volume over the weekend, rising from about 130 cfs a week ago to more than 350 cfs on Saturday.

The Grande Ronde River showed more modest changes in water volume, rising from about 700 cfs late last week to just less than 900 cfs on Sunday, before leveling off in the middle 800s cfs.

Often, rising water is the end to steelhead catching, but in the Grande Ronde the rise was slow enough that it didn't seem to greatly effect the fishing.

The Imnaha River was affected. Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store says several parties of fishermen went down river over the weekend, but nothing was caught.

Bird hunters have several species with open seasons. Upland bird hunters can hunt chukar, Hungarian partridge and California and mountain quail. Mountain quail season closes Dec. 31, and the other upland species are open until Jan. 31, 2003. Hunters are allowed eight chukar and

Hungarian partridge per day, 10 California quail and two mountain quail per day.

Waterfowl hunters can hunt ducks until Jan. 26. Note that pintail ducks may not be harvested through the rest of this season. Coot season runs concurrent with duck season, but common snipe season is closed until Dec. 28 and then continues through Feb. 23.

Goose hunters can begin hunting again on Friday. The second portion of the season runs from Dec. 20 through Jan. 26, 2003.

SKIING PROSPECTS

It's no surprise that the SNOTEL sites in the Wallowa Mountains report scarce precipitation this week. With good fortune that value will approach normal during the next few weeks.

This week the Mt. Howard site showed that 59 percent of normal precipitation has fallen this water year and the snow presently holds 49 percent of normal water content. Aneroid is only barely better with 59 percent for both precipitation and water content. These lamentable recordings are encouraging when compared to the averages for the rest of the basin, which are 44 percent of normal precipitation and 43 percent of normal water content.

This weekend the slopes at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area turned white again. There were no reports of new snow accumulation, but it's safe to bet that there are only a few inches. The good news is that Fergi doesn't need many inches to open. The area is ready to open once sufficient snow has accumulated. Fergi isn't the only ski area with snow woes. Checking other Oregon ski areas, only Mt. Bachelor, which is making snow this season, and Timberline had partial operation early this week. A promising weather forecast give hope that Cascade resorts will get enough snow this week to open or increase operation and perhaps a little of that snow will drift east to Fergi.

TRAP SHOOTING

Wallowa Rod and Gun Club will host a meat shoot on Sunday at the club's trap range on Lower Diamond Lane near Wallowa Forest Products mill.

Shooting begins at 9:00 a.m. with shooting events for novices as well as experienced trap shooters, plus games for non shooters to win prizes. The club is offering several innovations at this shoot, including a "guaranteed card" for novice shooters which allows novice shooters to turn in the punch card for a prize if they don't win a prize shooting, and "instant winners" for shooters that hit the occasional green target.

Prizes include bacon, hams and frankfurters from Hill's Meat in Pendleton.

For more information call Randal Johnson at 886-4625.

FAMILY RABBIT HUNT

A spinoff of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Becoming and Outdoors Woman is a Family Rabbit Hunt workshop at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area near Corvallis. Participants will have an opportunity to learn about equipment, ethics, safety and proper clothing. In conjunction

with the workshop, participants may improve shotgun skills at a range and during a field hunting experience. The workshop is Jan. 11, 2003.

Breakfast, lunch and all equipment, including hounds, will be provided as part of the workshop.

Participants will need hunting licenses and hunters less than 18 years of age will need a Hunter

Education Card. Registration information is available at the ODFW web site at www.dfw.state.or.us.

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