Wallowa County Outdoors: Time for the white stuff, think snow

Mac Huff

Skiers and snowboarders welcomed a return of snow this week, hoping for more, but not surprised with the results.

Ferguson Ridge Ski Area is prepared to open with the arrival of sufficient snow. Eagle Cap Ski Club members are completing maintenance work on the lift and club president Charlie Kissinger says the crews have the vital projects, like spring boxes and the safety system, under control and are waiting for a foot of snow to accumulate so the area can open.

Other late-fall outdoor activities on the agenda include bird hunting and steelhead angling. Both activities seem to be lacking any great enthusiastic following at this time.

Brad Snook at Sports Corral in Joseph could only relate reports of fair to poor waterfowl hunting last week and Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store says the Imnaha River canyon was fogged in for the last week and there were no hunters or anglers in the field.

Tuesday's morning snow gave waterfowl hunters a brief window of opportunity when birds were forced out of grainfields and into open water, chukar hunters may benefit slightly longer from snowfall on ridge tops that will move birds to lower elevations.

Steelhead anglers expect to benefit from the snow as it melts and raises water levels in the rivers. The Imnaha River remained ice-free last week under the layer of fog, but the telemetry equipment that reports the water level there apparently froze and there has not been any information about the water level for the last week. Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store says that daily temperatures under the blanket of fog last week held in the mid 30s .

The Grande Ronde River moved from low to lower during the week, settling at 578 cfs on Tuesday, which is less water than we expect to find in August. These flows, as well as the other rivers, should begin rising this week as the snow melts.

Creel data for the Grande Ronde River was not available this week, but Bill Vail at Boggan's Oasis reports that crowds are light along the river and the fishing is typical steelhead fishing. If you are there on the right day, it seems easy. On Monday the report indicated slow fishing, with only two fish landed for a boat backtrolling plugs, but on Saturday one fly angler hooked eight and landed five in a few hours in the afternoon. On most days anglers can expect a fish and on good days there is a chance for several.

Boggan's Oasis is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the next few months and daily hours are 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. on weekends.

FALL CHINOOK REDDS

Fall chinook salmon in the Snake River system have shown a remarkable increase during the last few years. During the last decade I considered it a special day if I could find a fall chinook or two during the fall steelhead season on the Grande Ronde River and a banner day if I could locate a single redd (nest) somewhere on the river during the fall. Finding redds or fish weren't annual occurrences. Fishing this fall brought to my attention the dramatic improvement in the return of fall Chinook. With record returns of anadromous fish in recent year, there is hope, but no certainty that fall chinook numbers will improve.

I initially located two redds in the Grande Ronde River in mid-October in a tailout of smooth, clear water a few miles above Highway 129 in Washington. Two redds seemed like an outstanding year. They were 10 feet wide and nearly 15 feet long and each was packed with several thousand eggs. A week later I located a pair of Chinook a few miles upriver and a short distance upriver from this pair there were about a dozen fish digging about a half-dozen redds and a few miles further upriver were three more redds, a total of almost a dozen and a half redds in a river that recently had previously revealed less than one redd per year.

Questioning Don Bryson, fisheries biologist for the Nez Perce Tribe, I learned that the run was improving throughout the Snake River basin.

Recent historical data provided by the Annual Report 2000, prepared for Bonneville Power Administration reveal that redds in the Snake River between Lower Granite and Hells Canyon dams ranged from seven redds in 1986 to a peak of 579 in 1999. Redd counts were relatively steady at about 100 redds per year from 1986 through 1995, when spawning success showed a notable improvement. Bryson says, "much of the increase coincides with the start of acclimated releases of fall Chinook initiated by the [Nez Perce] Tribe in the Clearwater ... and main Snake" rivers.

The Grande Ronde River produced 97 redds this fall, nearly doubling the next largest return between 1986 and 2000 was 55 redds in 1997.

The Imnaha River showed similar improvements this year, amassing 37 redds this fall. The next best count for the Imnaha River was 13 redds in 1998 and prior to that counts ranged between zero and four redds each fall.

2003 HUNTING AND FISHING

Oregon game and angling synopsises are now available at licence outlets. Hunters and anglers can purchase 2003 licenses, tags and controlled hunt applications now.

Northeast Oregon anglers have only minor regulation changes this year, including an increase in the bass daily bag limit from five to six in the Snake River zone. Anglers may also want to read the health advisory on page 14 in the 2003 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.

A few notable changes in the 2003 hunting regulations include the sale of excess spring bear tags. Spring bear hunts that have fewer applications than tags available with have the tags offered for sale on a first-come, first-serve basis on Mar. 15.

Hunters that purchase the Sports Pac will now have a choice of spring or fall bear hunts.

Big game decoys with moveable parts are illegal this year. This includes any moveable parts that are not rigid after the decoy is positioned.

Gamebird decoys may not have battery or other self-propelled methods of operation. They may be moveable by human actions (pull-string) or wind powered.

These regulations and others are explained in the 2003 Oregon Big Game Regulations booklet.

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