Monday, January 2, 2017

New Kill Limits For Lake Roosevelt/Upper Columbia Redband

Winter ~ Columbia-American Reach  by Doris Loiseau
     Definitely a step in the right direction, finally. Though, as we've come to expect, WDFW still falls short. Following is a copy of the letter containing my commentary, sent to involved agency personnel:

  As a professional guide and Northport area resident engaged with the upper Columbia native trout fishery since 1973, I am very happy to learn the daily kill limit on UC native redband trout has been reduced to 2 for 2017. A positive stewardship policy long overdue. Particularly when considering increased angling pressure as well as increasing predation from invasive smallmouth bass and northern pike, as well as walleye.

That said, I and other UC guides don’t understand the reason for an 18” minimum keeper length on redband, from the Dalles powerline to the border. Perhaps you can explain that, maybe I’m missing something. Though a biologist, my ticket is in silvaculture, so my observations on the fishery are anecdotal (though long- practiced, for what that’s worth).

Regarding the American Reach (segment from Dalles powerline to the border), it is my own view that two natives, any size, would serve as a more reasoned daily kill limit. Why develop a model wherein bait fishers and those fishing treble-hook hardware are forced to cull through trout under 18” in order to harvest only valuable spawning class trout of 18” and better? There are more fish in the 14”- 17” class, and most anglers would be more than happy taking these as all or part of their 2-trout limit. Mature fish of 18” and up are less susceptible to predation, produce more eggs, and serve to provide the world class fishery that is an economic gain to the Northport area. Why would we want to be harvesting just these big fish? I fear we’ll be seeing a lot of torn maxillaries and fatally released trout with the 18” minimum reg. And it’d be a disaster if, in a few years, it’s hard to find a fish over 17 and ¾ inches long.  Recent studies I’ve looked at seem to indicate that could be the result of that particular minimum size reg. I side with the opinion it’s generally best to disperse pressure as much as possible – and that serves to refine regs as well. Hope you will give this one further consideration.

Interesting to learn native redband in LR proper only comprise 20% of the trout take. Remarkable, really, when you consider native redband comprise 99% of the take upriver of the Dalles powerline. Though it certainly isn’t impassable, LR triploids seem to lack the propensity to pass through the Little Dalles in any great number. Perhaps serves to illustrate just one of several dramatic differences between LR and the more riverine American Reach above the Dalles powerline.

And BTW, I couldn’t be happier you chose the Dalles powerline rather than Northport as the stewardship segment to the border. Exactly right. Now we’ve finally defined the extent of the American Reach more accurately, as a segment of river, different from LR. Interesting to note: Little Dalles is where we begin to see the abundant and diverse aquatic insect populations of the natural river, the habitat extending upriver to Castlegar B.C. I can’t stress enough how valuable the American/Canadian Reach segment and its feeder streams are.

In summary, I’m encouraged at the direction recent LR/American Reach regs have taken. We’ve finally got to where I thought we should be, 30 years ago. I know, The Wheel is ponderous in its turning, and those dragging feet slow it all the more. Going in an encouraging direction, but we still have a way to go. Here are a few issues I see as particularly pressing:

Onion, Deep, and Big Sheep creeks, receive spawning redband to their respective barrier falls, with Big Sheep of particular importance. Unfortunately ‘recreational’ dredging below the first barrier falls is a seriously damaging, seemingly wide-open free-for-all, and certainly nowhere near enough gold in it to merit the damage done. One dredger told me he “felt bad" because the sediment and debris his operation stirred up attracted smolts, which were then sucked into the dredge hose along with the overburden, resulting in a lot of dead and injured smolts coming out the other end for the trip down the sluice.

Closing Sheep to gold dredging below the first barrier falls should receive swift consideration, imo. And all three of those creeks should be closed to the first barrier falls until June 1 (or altogether), so as to protect spawning redband and kokanee. As we know first-hand the damaging affect recreational dredging on lower Big Sheep is having on native redband populations, I and my friends will continue to pursue a dredging closure. This particular issue has been put before WDFW by others several times in the past, yet without resolution, so we’ll be contacting all agencies involved, stepping up our efforts toward stewarding and preserving our native fish. Sad to say, historically, WDFW policies have served more to degrade rather than enhance the upper Columbia fishery, and we see that as still true in some respect. We are encouraged by recent changes, though hope WDFW will continue to achieve fluency on the nature of the American Reach and its tributaries.          

Random observations:

We saw (American Reach) increasing numbers of larger redband in 2016, the average around 20”, up quite a bit over recent years (attached a pic of a 30” buck redband I caught on a dryfly in June). The past 4 years have been down in both size and numbers, the result, we believe, of the fish-kill caused by a gillnet survey about 5 years ago. Spoke to a local who helped out with that, and he was of the opinion that it was “not good” (something about needing a certain number of 8” trout to survey, and an excessive number of larger fish netted while looking for that particular size slot…).  For some reason I’m unable to locate the results of that survey. Would much appreciate it if you can shed some light on that, and the agencies involved.

Smallmouth bass are definitely on the increase; seeming to prefer the softer side-water that immature redband also prefer. I’m not certain what the result of this will be. Devastating results from the introduction of smallmouth into Maine native brook trout rivers do not bode well for our model. I think it ironic the Calispel tribe is raising smallmouth bass for stocking into the Pend Oreille, while simultaneously operating a gillnet program in an attempt to remove northern pike. And this while claiming the operation is an effort to restore native cutthroat?...  And yes, we are seeing increasing numbers of northern pike in the American Reach, though I see smallmouth bass as the greater threat to native trout. A smallmouth has no qualms about trying to eat a trout nearly as large as itself. And both walleye and smallmouth, when on an aggressive tear, will attack and bite trout quite a bit larger than themselves, and even though they can’t swallow the prey, the bite may result in fatality. We catch quite a few trout bearing tooth scrapes and injuries, the result of this behavior.

Cutthroat trout seem to be on the decrease. Neither I or my clients caught a single cutthroat in 2016, while 10 years ago cutthroat comprised 10% of our trout catch on the AR. Numbers dropped off at about the time of the aforementioned gillnet survey, though there are other factors, not the least, what appears to be increasing predation on their mainstem spawning beds.  A local angler relates that he caught three large brown trout while fishing a known cutthroat spawning area (Sheep Sheds) last spring, all of these fish “puking cutthroat eggs” when he brought them to hand. The same angler caught several large northern pike in the same area, through the early spring season.

There seems to be a recent increase of brown trout between the Dalles and the border. Though they’ve been present in the Reach since before my time, they’ve been very rare. Until this year I’ve only caught 2 in the last 30 years. Then I and clients caught a total of 4 in 2016, and the other guides working the Reach reported catches as well. These representing several age groups, though for the most part good sized brown trout – I caught one of 23”.  Don’t know the reason for the increase, but thought to share that. Interesting.

In closing, I hope the Department will consider the dredging situation on lower Sheep Creek, as well as my thoughts regarding the 18” minimum length for retained redband in the American Reach segment above LR.

Steven Bird with Columbia/American Reach Redband