Fishing report: up and down with river flows

Nick Arnold didn’t have any trouble catching a fish Saturday at the deadline below Foster Dam.

The salmon just about wore out his thumbs as he calmly fought it to shore.

“I haven’t got to fish that much this year,” Arnold said. “That’s only like my fourth fish.”

Frank Garcia of Lebanon gets out to fish quite a bit, he said. This year is “slower than last year, that’s for sure.”

Fishing is kind of sporadic, Garcia said. Anglers can catch fish any time of the day.

“It’s a flip of the coin,” Garcia said. “But it’s fishing, and that’s the whole thing.”

Garcia has been fishing on the South Santiam for seven years, he said. “I learned how to fish steelhead over here.”

Chris Ensley of Lebanon was fishing alongside him. The two were busy talking about fishing.

“You actually meet a lot of people up here,” Garcia said. “It’s like a community.”

“I usually get one each time I come out at least,” Ensley said, but last year, it could easily have been seven or eight a day.

Jamie Kincaid of Silverton had other ideas.

“It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve caught seven steelhead so far and two salmon. I fish all over the place. Right now, this is the place to be.”

The Corps of Engineers reduces river flows this time of year, South Santiam Fish Hatchery Manager Bill Nyra said. Green Peter is now taking priority over Detroit Dam for keeping Willamette flow levels up, so the water has been higher than previous year.

Water levels were high early on this summer, Nyra said. “We had a lot of complaints and questions about why the river was so high,” which the hatchery does not control.

“It’s a dry year, but we’ve had higher flows than usual,” Nyra said. “Now that it’s dropped down to what may be more normal flows, that’s a drastic difference.”

Flows have been reduced to 650 cubic feet per second.

How it impacts fishing, “depends on who you are and where you’re fishing,” Nyra said. “I’ve heard generally speaking, most people I’ve talked to, it wasn’t as good as last year, but I know some people who have filled several tags.”

This year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will have better information about fishing in the area, with two employees, instead of one, doing creel surveys. When complete, there will be better information than usual.

The South Santiam Fish Hatchery produces summer steelhead and spring Chinook. As of Thursday, the hatchery had counted 4,070 summer steelhead returning to the Foster trap, down from 6,940 last year. For spring Chinook, numbers were up to 5,002 from 4,643.

Both years are strong runs for Chinook, Nyra said. In steelhead there have been some years when. In 1995 and 2000, the trap barely cleared 4,000 steelhead.

“It’s still a better than average run in recent history,” Nyra said. Foster trap has just been closed for annual maintenance for at least a month.

This means the hatchery will not be recycling fish, Nyra said. Everything that is surplus to hatchery needs, taken upstream and planting elsewhere, is taken downstream and released, giving anglers a second shot at the fish. The hatchery program uses 1,500 steelhead and 1,200 Chinook for brood stock. So far this year, the program has passed 450 Chinook over Foster Dam. Last year, that figure was 700.

The trap will remain closed past the maintenance time depending on how long it takes the Chinook remaining in the river to spawn and die, then the hatchery will resume recycling.

“There’s a downside to a strong run,” Nyra said. “Even with our recycling efforts, the fishermen just can’t catch enough.”

Some fish are recycled several times, Nyra said. “We know we see some fish four times.”

In 2000, the hatchery marked fish each time they were recycled.

This year, the hatchery is numbering fish it recycles and tracking how the fish moves, whether it’s trapped again or founding a creel.

The numbered tags will help the hatchery figure out what the fish do after they are released at Pleasant Valley, Waterloo and Lebanon.

“You don’t really know if they don’t have a numbered tag,” Nyra said.