Wallowa County Outdoors: Skiers, snowboarders ride on thin veneer of snow

Mac Huff

Ferguson Ridge Ski Area received a minimal blanket of snow last week in a fortuitous winter storm that piled snow into the Wallowa Mountains and foothills, but left little snow elsewhere in the county. The foot of new snow at Fergi was sufficient to allow operation to begin late in the week. The light, new snow packed down to nearly nothing, an Eagle Cap Ski Club member reports, but manicured slopes allow skiers and snowboarders to ski and ride on this thin veneer of packed snow while the county awaits additional storms.

Fergi expects to operate through Jan. 1 this week, then reopen for the weekend. Joseph students return to class on Thursday and prompted the two-day closure this week.

Many of those that aren't skiing or snow boarding this week will be spending time steelhead angling or bird hunting and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds hunters and anglers that new hunting and angling licenses and tags are required before venturing afield.

Big game hunters may apply for controlled hunts at this time and spring bear hunters must submit their applications by Feb. 10. All other controlled hunt applications are due May 15.

Oregon's 2003 hunting and angling synopses, with current regulations and controlled hunt application information, are available from state license agents.

BIRD HUNTING

Chukar, Hungarian partridge and California quail seasons continue until Jan. 31, 2003, while mountain quail season ends Dec. 31 in Wallowa County.

Waterfowl seasons remain open in Wallowa County through Jan. 26, 2003.

Field reports for upland game bird hunting indicates that last week's snowfall wasn't enough to consolidate coveys of chukar and partridge. These birds remain widely scattered among the canyons and generally seem to be at higher elevations, perhaps maximizing their isolation from the nearest road.

Duck and goose numbers made some gains following recent storms and substantial snow cover in the Wallowa Valley is concentrating these birds in the best feeding areas when they move off of their roosting areas on Wallowa Lake.

FISHING REPORT

Holidays and winter weather are taking their toll on the anglers that are venturing to Wallowa County streams. The number of anglers on the rivers this week is a fraction of the number a couple months ago and fishing is following the usual inverse relationship to that number of anglers.

During the fall low water, few fish and abundant anglers combined to produce some paltry angling statistics, but last week angler numbers averaged fewer than a dozen each day on the Grande Ronde River and the catch rate averaged about eight hours per fish, a fraction of October and November rates.

Oregon anglers caught 18 hatchery and 16 wild steelhead and Washington anglers caught 15 hatchery and 17 wild steelhead. Both states are now recording more hatchery fish being kept, with nearly 80 percent of the legal steelhead that are caught are being retained.

The water level in the Grande Ronde River has hovered at one-half of average flow for the last week. Recent precipitation is stored on the hills in low to moderate accumulations of snow, awaiting a thaw to raise water levels. The Grande Ronde apparently remained ice free during Christmas week's cold weather. The water temperature was in the 30s early last week, but apparently retained enough heat to stave off ice in the river. The cold water is keeping the fish dormant during the morning, with fishing consistently improving after noon, when water temperatures usually rise between two and eight degrees each day.

Fly fishing is consistently effective using a variety of wet flies on floating or sink-tip lines. Gear anglers are reporting success with a variety of gear, including drift, bobber and jig, and plug fishing. Shrimp, worms and roe are all successful bait choices. The low, clear water may tend to favor smaller rigs than are typically used when there is some color in the water from runoff.

WOLF MEETING

ODFW added one more Town Hall meeting concerning wolves in Oregon to their agenda, scheduling a final meeting in Enterprise on Jan. 8, 2003 at 7:00 p.m. at Enterprise High School multipurpose room. This meeting was no on the original schedule presented in late October, but it offers citizens that are likely to receive some of the first migrants to offer their opinions about future state policies.

The meeting will open with a short presentation about the history of wolves in Oregon, their current biological and legal status, and information about their migration into Oregon. Individuals attending the meeting may then comment to meeting facilitators. Participants may also submit written comments.

Columbia Basin Bulletin, an on-line news service, this week offers a summary of the previous meeting held throughout Oregon. Titled "Portland Town Hall meeting has most saying yes to wolves," Mike O'Bryant's report states that, unlike the Pendleton and La Grande meetings, most participants in Portland thought it was a good idea to have wolves in Oregon. The story concedes that, in effect, the further away the wolves are expected to reside, the better they look.

"There was a marked difference in how participants view wolves between the meeting held in urban Portland and those in the eastern part of the state where most participants opposed allowing wolves into the state," O'Bryant writes.

2003 FISH OUTLOOK

Preliminary forecasts for 2003 anadromous fish returns are in and the prospects are generally better than might be expected following some years with low water levels in Pacific Northwest rivers.

The outlook for steelhead is for 360,900 steelhead at Bonneville Dam, slightly above the five-year average, which were record returns of 630,200 and 478,000 steelhead in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

The "A" component of the 2003 return is predicted at 279,600 steelhead, compared to 323,100 last year.

Chinook salmon forecast is very favorable, but the 145,400 fish count that is predicted is small compared to the 333,700 fish in the 2002 run. The 2003 return is commendable because it could be the fourth largest return since 1973.

The sockeye salmon forecast represents a severe decline from last year, coming in at 22,000 fish, compared to last year's return of 49,600 sockeye. The majority of these fish are destined for the upper Columbia River, with 80 forecast to enter the Snake River system.

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