Wallowa County Outdoors: Steelheaders and elk hunters having slow fall

A steelheader tries his luck on the Grande Ronde River on Friday. Temperatures were mild, but the fish weren't cooperating very well and only a few anglers had any luck. Photo by Michael Lane

Our weather during the last week is letting us know that fall is gone and winter is coming. The days are more on the verge of cold than the crisp edge on the warm autumn days of October. Our traditional Halloween snow fall was expected, but the pleasant days following are bonuses. This time last year the Grande Ronde River had ice flowing in it, but no threat so far this fall.

A paltry number of elk hunters are in the field this week, a mere fraction of the number of hunters participating less than a decade ago.

Opening weekend results for second elk season in Wallowa County were identical to 2003 at 7 percent, with a range from 12 percent to zero, depending on the hunting unit.

Chesnimnus, with only one rifle elk season, produced the highest success rate at 12 percent. Harvest here was 26 yearling and 10 medium bulls. The Imnaha Unit averaged 8 percent with seven yearling bulls harvested. Wenaha unit tallied 3 percent with four yearlings, one medium bull and one cow harvested by a disabled hunter. The Sled Springs Unit averaged 1 percent with one yearling and one cow harvested. The Minam and Snake River units each yielded zero harvest for the first two days of the season.

There were no reports of harvest for bear or cougar during the weekend field check. Chesnimnus and Imnaha units had two and one cows, respectively, illegally killed by hunters. Citations were issued for littering (2), road closure violation (1), and criminal trespass (3.) Notes from biologist on the weekend report included observations that last week's storms pushed elk out of the Wallowa Mountains and increased the number of animals in the Imnaha Unit. There were a number of dead and crippled elk among the large herds on the Zumwalt Prairie as a result of careless and long-range shooting. They also noted an increase in property line disputes among the public trespassing in the Zumwalt Prairie area and Land-Owner-Preferrence tag holders hunting off of the private property that their tags were designated to.

Second elk season continues through Sunday.

FISHING REPORT

Steelhead fishing is easing out of the chaos of October. Crowds are lighter this week than last month, but not vanished. Last week's three-day creel survey tallied 92 anglers in Oregon and 59 in Washington during three days of survey, numbers that are about one half of the count presented for three days in mid October. Weekend crowds now resemble October midweek fishing pressure and during the week it's relatively easy to find a break in the action at the popular drifts.

Weather seemed to take a toll on the catching last week. Water levels showed only a slight change and there was not a significant change in water temperature or barometric pressure, but the creel statistics reveal that there was a widespread slowing in fishing success in the Grande Ronde River.

Statistics for the end of October showed catch rates near six hours per fish for both Oregon and Washington. For the first week of November the rate slumped to eight hours per fish in Oregon and nearly 10 hours per fish in Washington. A personal observation for the week was that all of the fish except one landed in my boat were males, suggesting that fish were on the move upstream during the week during and following the precipitation on Nov. 2.

Gear fishermen have predictably fared best. Plugs and bait are often producing a dozen or more hookups a day. Fly anglers have generally worked hard since mid October for a few hookups a day. The quirky nature of these fish continually has anglers second-guessing themselves. One story from October related that an anglers fished a drift with roe for a time without success; switched to a spinner and had four landed in about 30 minutes. Along those lines the reliable purple woolly bugger, a stalwart of the Grande Ronde, has not produced even a bite this season. They'll keep until they are back in favor next year.

BROOD STOCK COLLECTION

The Oregon Department of fish and Wildlife completed the second year of a proposed four-year project to influence the arrival time of Grande Ronde River hatchery steelhead.

The project focuses on capturing early-arriving steelhead in the Grande Ronde River and using them in the hatchery production in hopes that these fish will return earlier and with a stronger homing instinct to their river of origin.

This year ODFW staff and volunteers collected 107 adult hatchery steelhead from the Grande Ronde River in the Troy area, a number similar to last year's collection effort.

An ODFW news release explains the collection process which was conducted with hook and line, which as one biologist described it was "... a lot like fishing. The fish were collected during a two-week period in October by 33 volunteer anglers and ODFW and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation staff. After landing a hatchery steelhead, the anglers placed the fish into a tube and laid the tube in shallow, moving water with the nose of the fish facing upstream. They then placed flags along the road to indicate the location of the tubes. ODFW officials collected the tubed fish each day, injected them with an identifying tag and transported them to Wallowa Hatchery in Enterprise. The fish will stay at the hatchery until they mature and will then be spawned." This year's progeny will be reared at Irrigon Hatchery, separate from other steelhead progeny, given a unique identification mark and released in the river in spring 2006.

Biologists will compare the return timing and straying of the "early broodstock" with the results of existing Wallowa stock to determine the success of the project.

ODFW reports that, "historically, most of the returning wild adult steelhead arrived in the lower Grande Ronde in the fall, and a large number still do. Adult hatchery steelhead also begin to arrive in the fall with the run continuing through March, with a higher proportion arriving later. More adult hatchery steelhead returning to the river in the fall should improve the fishery as anglers are allowed to keep hatchery fish only."

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