Monthly Archives: January, 2017

Watersheds and Rivers are Inseparable

January 15th, 2017 Posted by chinook, Fishing, rivers 0 thoughts on “Watersheds and Rivers are Inseparable”

“There is no final ecological truth. All knowledge is a current approximation, and each addition to that knowledge is but a small, incremental step toward understanding. Not only are ecosystems more complex than we think; they are more complex than we can think.”
Jack Ward Thomas, 1992.

We could feel the dampness of spring lingering in the early morning hours, two, maybe three weeks after the passing of the vernal equinox. Sun filtering through massive old-growth Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar brought out brightly colored American Goldfinches to feed on huckleberry and salal lining riverside glades. It had only been four months since winter floods had scoured rock strewn meadows of debris. Early summer had come to the forests and streams of the Pacific Northwest.
Fallen alders crossed the riparian boundaries of old growth forest. The air hung heavy with the characteristic dusky smell of delicate oyster mushrooms clinging to their decaying trunks. As we made our way over and around dead falls blocking the anglers trail I strained to catch glimpses of each section of the river, rushing torrents dominating the soundscape. I was looking for a secret forest shaded pool I had visited in past seasons, a home for fall salmon. Had it survived the winter high water?
My companion and I moved up the bank to follow a ridge, then laterally into the heart of yet untouched Olympic rain forest. As we made our way through thick understory we talked in low voices so as not to disturb the trees. We had heard rumors that salvage loggers were again scheduled to cut down the “unproductive” old growth forest to create a tree farm along this stream.
They said salvage to protect the forest from the very diseases and rot that afflicts the collage of elderly trees nature had destined to provide food and nutrients to the forest floor, eventually succoring new generations of trees – and fish. But the salvage logging was to create unsustainable jobs, at the expense of a new generation of lowland foresters growing trees where tree farms are most productive.
In both of us heartbreak accompanied memories of pristine runs and pools now exposed to sun long since filled with the silt remnants of steep slope logging roads and skid paths. At the same time our hearts filled at the excitement of visiting an old friend, the forest. Like that now-obliterated hole we so fondly remembered, the salmon pool that was our destination today would become our memory tomorrow. What would that memory bring?
We made our way out on to a high bank edge that I knew overlooked my secret pool. When we finally squeezed through the forest to open riverside I was at first surprised, then exhilarated at a sight I did not expect to see. High winter water had filled the pool with pea-sized gravel and golf ball rocks. A pair of native Chinook salmon finned in the gentle current near the tail out. They were remnants of the thousands that had once been.
Where one pool fills another pool is formed. Such is the changing life of an undisturbed river. This pool was a perfect nuptial bedroom for spawning Chinook salmon.
My companion and I picked up our fly rods and prepared to move on. We wanted to enjoy the forest while there was still time.
As long as the natural resources that sustain salmon populations are more profitable for other purposes than the venture restoration of salmon runs, salmon will continue in the end take a back seat. But this applies to both fish and human health alike.

You can’t separate a healthy planet from a healthy person (author: or healthy fish runs) . . . We have leaders who have got to grow up and face this issue. Without nature, we have nothing.” Ocean explorer David de Rothschild

Some fish are too valuable to be caught only once

January 1st, 2017 Posted by Cutthroat, Fishing 0 thoughts on “Some fish are too valuable to be caught only once”

The late great Lee Wulff that said that a sport fish is too valuable to be caught only once.

Wulff was an ardent angler/conservationist until he died in an angling-related accident in 1991. He was 86. His 1953 Piper Cub crashed into a wooded hillside near Hancock, N.Y while on a pilot re-licensing flight. As the story goes, his intent was to continue to fly his own plane remote areas of the North American wilderness to fish, despite his age. Wulff was one of my angling and conservation heroes.

Catch and release fisheries conservation is relatively minor in the larger scheme of serious environmental issues. It is nevertheless important for many angler-conservationists, myself included. There is no question among we anglers and fisheries biologists alike that releasing fish is often a valuable conservation activity. This is especially true for some stressed fish populations including specific populations of salmon and trout. In fact, it is the law that wild Hood Canal cutthroat be released.

But the million-dollar question is whether or not released fish actually survive the ordeal.

There are many factors that affect the survival of released fish. Playing a fish to exhaustion can cause irreversible and fatal oxygen debt. Hooking fish in the gills, tongue, eyes, and can cause excessive bleeding most often resulting in mortality. Dragging hooked fish up onto beaches can remove the outer mucous coating, which can lead to deadly infections. Handling fish too firmly can cause irreversible damage to vital organs. Keeping a fish out of the water more than 30 seconds can cause unrecoverable gill collapse.

The survival of released sport fish has been a subject of sporadic scientific research for more than 30 years. I recently re-read a paper published in North American Journal of Fisheries Management. The paper compared the mortality of Puget Sound sea run cutthroat caught with artificial lures to those caught on bait. The authors concluded that as many as 58% of bait-caught fish died within 72 hours of release. Conversely, the 72-hour mortality of cutthroat caught on artificial lures was 24%.

Other studies have shown that rate of survival is even higher with fly fishing. The vast majority of fly caught fish are hooked in and around the gums. This area is much less susceptible to bleeding and infection. Further, catch and release has been long understood and practiced among fly anglers. Catch and release philosophy is strongly promoted by the International Federation of Fly Fishers ,the International Game Fish Association, and a very broad-based range of fly fishing clubs, businesses, and organizations.

In this time of mass environmental degradation it makes sense that anglers protect stressed fish populations to some large extent. Further, I think it is the moral obligation of natural resource user groups, especially sport anglers, to do their part in protecting fish And the environments that support them.

There are exceptions to the efficacy of catch-and-release. There are healthy stocks of some sport fishes in the Puget Sound basin. I am of the personal opinion that most hatchery generated trout and salmon should be kept up to the legal limit so as to not to interbreed or compete with wild fish. On the other hand, releasing native salmon, steelhead and cutthroat using methods that do the least injury to the fish seems right. The barbless hook rule for saltwater salmon in Puget Sound areas makes release of wild (non-fin clipped) salmon makes release easier.

Many of our stressed wild fish runs need all the protection they can get.


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