Voices for Wild Native Fish
Clark Rector, a passionate angler and advocate shared his opinion on the release of wild steelhead in southern Oregon. Although new to the Pacific Northwest, Clark shares his experience on the Rogue River with River Steward Jim Andras which has driven his passion for wild fish.
On October, 15th 2021 a groundswell of advocates for wild fish will be testifying to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission asking for Alternative A: Catch and Release for wild steelhead. If you are interested in joining us, please follow this link today. Share this information with anyone willing to stand up for wild fish.
Let's plan carefully for future anglers and advocates
Five years ago, before I lived in Oregon, I floated the upper Rogue with longtime guide Jim Andras of Andras Outfitters. On that rainy November day, we landed numerous steelhead, and I thought to myself, “Steelhead fishing is easy!” I was captivated by the beauty, behavior, and power of these amazing fish. I was impressed by Jim’s passion for wild fish.
Then, four years ago, my wife and I moved to Oregon, like so many other modern-day settlers. Some of my biological ancestors came across on the Oregon trail in the mid 1800’s, so I suppose we have about as many Oregon roots as the next Oregonian.
After moving here, we quickly discovered the rivers around us were teeming with trout (most likely juvenile steelhead and smolts, I would learn), and unlike California, streams here are more likely to be open to angling. Excited, I bought steelhead spinning rods, and then a spey rod (I’ve been fishing for over 30 years but lacked steelhead gear). Over the past four years, I have spent a great deal of time on the water angling for winter and summer steelhead.
As the years went on, I learned that hooking and landing a steelhead was not so easy after all, and my expectations sunk lower each season. Even seeing a steelhead has been a rare event. Luckily for me, during the pandemic, I’ve managed to get out and fish more than usual, improving my odds.
Over the four years of fishing since moving here, I’ve landed and released a total of three steelhead in Oregon (all in the past nine months). That’s very few fish, considering the time I’ve put in on the water. All three fish were wild, and my reasoning, based on my humble data set of three fish over four years, is that wild steelhead are apparently 1) more resilient, and/or 2) more likely to hit a fly. In other words, my experience is that mother nature is the best producer of beautiful, catchable steelhead.
A wild, healthy river is the most productive “fish hatchery” of all, especially if we continue to take action to protect it. And next, I wonder: what would happen to steelhead numbers in Oregon if all wild steelhead were released? I expect the numbers would stabilize or go up, depending on the many other factors at play.
Let’s look at the current data. Do we know how many fish are returning? Shouldn’t we have better population estimates of adult steelhead? Increasing the availability of usable, accurate measurements will allow us to track changes in fish populations and help us better manage our fisheries. Only then should there be conversations around harvesting wild steelhead.
Meanwhile, it is well past time to enact catch and release regulations for wild steelhead on all Oregon streams to help ensure the survival of these epic fish. I recognize that fisheries management issues are complex, at the crossroads of biology, ecology, cultural traditions, personal preferences, politics, economics, agriculture, and more. However, it is critical we not decimate this valuable resource if we don't know population estimates.
Let’s think carefully, plan realistically, and take action to ensure our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to catch a wild steelhead, right here on their homewaters. Oregon anglers who plan for tomorrow are wise to smash their barbs and release wild steelhead, today.
Passionate angler and advocate