Wallowa County Outdoors: Warm weather woes a major setback for skiers

Mac Huff

Ski season in the Wallowa Mountains took a major setback last weekend as warm weather stripped off snow in the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains.

Following one of the busiest days of the season at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area on Saturday, warm weather and rain throughout the county created a general malaise among lift skiers and very few even bothered driving to the hill. Managers and volunteers at the hill for the day's operation finally ran the T-bar for an hour at noon and skied a few runs before calling it a day. Good snow coverage remained on the upper half of the hill, but grass was showing through on the lower slopes and a small pool formed in the loading area.

With snow in the forecast Fergi should be operational again this weekend. Call Wallowa Outdoors in Enterprise for a current ski report.

FISHING REPORT

The disappearing snow in the Wallowa Mountains - and apparently the Blues and Elkhorns - the Grande Ronde River retired the weekend on an up note, tripling its volume by Monday and toping 3,800 cfs by Monday night.

The weekend report was that fishing was good on Saturday, but a friend said his son continued on Sunday without a bite. Early on Sunday the river began its rise and the changing water level put an end to the catching.

Snow in the mountains on Monday will mean that water will stabilize and begin falling - quickly if it cools a lot and slowly if temperatures remain mild. Either way, the water level is fine for angling and more fish will be on their way.

The angling report for last week shows angling continuing at a good pace. Oregon anglers averaged slightly more than six ours per fish and Washington anglers averaged more than seven hours per fish. Oregon anglers caught 44 hatchery fish during four days last week and 34 wild steelhead. Washington anglers caught 29 hatchery and 13 wild steelhead. The fishing pressure remains considerably higher in Oregon, as anglers move to the most successful fishing. Oregon averaged 29 anglers per count and Washington averaged 20. High counts for each state were midday Saturday with Oregon accounting for 65 anglers and Washington for 34 anglers during that single count.

A friend last week made the comment that fishing hadn't really picked up yet this season. I was puzzled by the question, because anytime steelhead fishing success falls into the single digits for a catch rate, it's darned good fishing. Quizzing Brad Smith, ODFW fisheries biologist, he says that a management guideline that the department uses to provide a viable sport fishery is 15 hours per steelhead caught, so recent averages that are one-half to one-third of that rate confirm my contention that we have a pretty darned good fishery - now.

The rise in water level in the Grande Ronde more than tripled the flow in about 24 hours and brought the river well above double the long-term average flow for that date, perhaps steadying just below triple the volume.

The muddy water on Monday discouraged anglers for that day, but fishing will be back a day or so after the river levels off.

Fishing reports suggest that a great deal of effort has shifted to bobber and jig fishing for Grande Ronde steelhead. Fly anglers should still find conditions favorable, however, and a fresh batch of fish will improve conditions for everyone.

The Wallowa River showed a much smaller change, perhaps because of the dam at Wallowa Lake. The Lostine River nearly quadrupled on Sunday, rising from 32 cfs on Saturday to 115 cfs on Monday.

On Saturday there were a half-dozen anglers fishing the Wallowa River, but on Sunday morning the same stretch of river held one angler, suggesting that it is still a little early for this river.

The Imnaha River more than doubled in volume on Sunday, rising from about 200 cfs on Saturday to more than 400 cfs on Monday.

Fishing here has been spotty at best. Occasionally anglers will catch some fish, but so far they seem scattered and scarce. This freshet should encourage fish into the system.

SHEEP TAG AUCTION

Oregon's bighorn sheep tag sold for $78,000 at the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep auction held last week in Reno, Nev.

Don Snyder from Canton, Penn, was the high bidder for the auction tag that gives him the opportunity to hunt either a Rocky Mountain or California bighorn sheep in any of the state's sheep hunting units.

This year's tag generated $4,000 more than last year and since 1987 the auction tag has generated $986,600 for Oregon's bighorn sheep.

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife news release states that "money raised through the auction of this tag helps fund Oregon's bighorn sheep management and research programs."

Oregon is one of many states and provinces in North America that auctions tags at the annual Foundation banquet and the bid for Oregon's tag was in the middle ground of bids, which ranged from $31,000 for a Navaho Nation desert bighorn to $200,000 for a Rocky Mountain bighorn in Alberta. Neighboring states had similar price tags to Oregon's with Idaho garnering $90,000 and Washington $50,000. This year's auction generated the second largest fund on record with more than $1.7 million collected for the 21 sheep tags that were auctioned. The largest fund was generated at the 1998 auction at $1.86 million for 16 tags.

Oregon also raffles a bighorn sheep tag each year at the Oregon Hunters Association Banquet. This year the drawing is May 17 at the Associations meeting in Redmond. The raffle has generated nearly $445,300 since its inception in 1992.

The raffle and auction tags are exempt from Oregon's once-in-a-lifetime limit on bighorn sheep tags, which is imposed on successful applicants in the controlled hunt drawings.

BIG GAME & WOLF HEARINGS

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on revised management plans for elk and mule deer at its regular meeting on Feb. 7 at the Portland Expo Center. Work is continuing on the black-tailed deer management plan. The meeting coincides with the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show.

The Commission will receive a briefing about the 15 town hall meetings concerning wolves and legal research completed and then retire to an Executive Session to discuss issues related to wolves and the Endangered Species Act and the relation of Oregon statutes. The commission will hear public testimony on any of the agenda items except the informational briefing on wolves.

The Commission will also view the submissions for the 2003-2004 Oregon Upland Bird Stamp and vote on a winner.

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