The interweb fishing boards are ablaze with news of the huge Columbia River steelhead returns. And while any steeleheader worth his whiskey should be planning a fall trip (or several) to the diverse tributaries of the Big C, we might pause to consider: wouldn’t it be cool if every August was this promising?
If there is a god responsible for this year’s bounty, his name is U.S. District Court Judge James Redden. This year’s bonus returns are largely the result of spilling more water over dams when this year’s returning fish were migrating out to the ocean as juveniles. Judge Redden ordered in-river flow improvements after conservation and fishing groups fought to have them instituted—over the vehement objections of federal agencies.
Jeff Hickman, famed steelhead guide and Hunter/Angler liaison for the Oregon Sierra Club, encourages anglers to keep up the pressure. “Federal agencies continue to repeat the ridiculous notion that steelhead prefer barges and trucks to migrating naturally in the river. But the fish are telling us an entirely different story. Since Judge Redden ordered spill flows, we’ve seen the best in-river juvenile steelhead survival. And now we’re seeing the best adult returns too. What this year’s strong returns are telling us should be brutally obvious: when rivers run just a bit more like rivers, rather than a series of warm, slack-water reservoirs, salmon and steelhead are resilient enough to rebound in force. With the help of positive ocean conditions we are seeing the start of what is already an amazing year for Columbia steelhead.”
The 2008 Bush plan, which is still pending in court, rolls back these flow improvements. The Obama administration is reviewing the salmon plan now. Let’s hope they follow Judge Redden and give our steelhead a river to run in.