Snow was late arriving in Wallowa County, but recent storms are building the snowpack to near average and greater depths. This week the Mt. Howard SNOTEL site reports the water content of the snow there is 120 percent of normal and the Aneroid site measures 83 percent of normal.
Skiers aren't the only ones losing interest in their winter pastime. Steelheaders'interests are also waning as the season draws to a close. Bill Vail at Boggan's Oasis says this is typical end-of-the-season fishing. The weekends are busy, but the first part of the week is quiet.
It' unclear why interest is lagging. It's certainly not lack of fish or action. Last week's creel survey recorded a catch rate of three hours per fish with 199 hatchery and 18 wild steelhead caught in Washington. The creel in Oregon didn't account for any fish being caught, but Vail says that Del Zollman, Joseph, caught a couple fish in Oregon in not many more hours of fishing.
Upstream steelhead angling success shows a declining trend during the last two weeks of March. The Wallowa River produced 53 hatchery and 11 wild steelhead last week for a catch rate of 12.5 hours per fish, but the week before anglers caught117 hatchery fish and, apparently, the same 11 wild steelhead, turning in a catch rate of less than seven hours per fish.
An additional observation offered by Vail is that steelhead are working the surface in the afternoons during small stonefly hatches.
Steelheaders along the Wallowa River are getting a second chance at many of the extra hatchery fish that are entering the Big Canyon trapping facility. An experimental program that released hatchery steelhead from the trap back into the river is being tested to better utilize the abundant hatchery fish in the Wallowa River system. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released 100 hatchery steelhead above the mouth of Deer Creek, the entrance to Big Canyon, and 100 hatchery steelhead downstream. Greg Davis, Wallowa Hatchery manager, says they haven't found these "recycled" fish returning to the trap. The results of the experiment won't be determined until later in the year when creel data is analyzed.
In addition to recycling some of the hatchery fish, ODFW is blocking the entrance to Deer Creek from Thursday through Sunday to hold more fish in the river.
Another bonus to steelheaders is the later release of smolts this spring to address concerns expressed by anglers about hooking so many of the small, juvenile fish as they migrate downstream. Davis doesn't anticipate any adverse influence on the smolts with the later release. The April is the first of two releases and he says the smolts don't exhibit the restlessness at this time that they do during the later release period in May. This spring when the gates are opened on April 11, the season will be closed by the time most of the smolts are in the river.
Surplus steelhead are stocked in Marr and Wallowa Wildlife ponds in Wallowa County as well as some ponds in Union County. ODFW is stocking 100 surplus adult steelhead into each of the ponds, as has been the case for the past few years. When the outplant project to the ponds was initiated fish were liberally stocked in the ponds, but a small percentage were caught and the resulting dead fish in the ponds tended to turn a PR plus into a PR negative, Davis says.
The Rondowa creel survey for the last two weeks has produced a zero tally.
The Imnaha River creel trend runs counter to the Wallowa River with improving conditions during the last two weeks. From March 17 - 23 anglers on the Imnaha River caught four hatchery and five wild steelhead for a catch rate of just under 20 hours per fish. Last week they still caught four hatchery fish but upped the wild fish catch to 16 fish and lowered the catch rate to about 12 hours per fish.
BEARS AND BIRDS
Spring black bear and turkey seasons open April 15. Hunters are beginning their scouting forays, locating flocks of turkey, but so far there are no reports of bear sightings. It's still early for black bears to be very active, so this isn't a surprise.
With snow still lingering below 5,000 feet turkeys are going to be holding in the canyons and valleys for a couple more weeks before the receding snow allows them to move into the forests for the summer.
SPRING CHINOOK SEASONS
Spring chinook salmon angling opportunities begin regionally on April 15 with the opening of a season on the Deschutes River that runs through Oct. 31. A second opportunity opens on the Umatilla River on April 16.
The Deschutes River season is the result of another strong return of spring chinook into that river. Fishery biologists anticipate 9,000 hatchery spring chinook to return to two hatcheries on the river along with 10,000 wild fall chinook.
Specific regulations are available at the ODFW web site.