Columbia river steelhead are struggling. That’s old news. They’ve been having a rough go of it for a while now. Since Whitey showed up, really. But, the numbers out of the Big C and it’s feeder rivers are especially sad this summer. Unprecedented, say some officials. Early summer counts were putting just 4,000 steelhead past the Bonneville dam. That’s down from 20,000 the previous year.
The diminished run prompted officials in Idaho to not allow for the retention (i.e. killing) of any steelhead on the Snake river. That’s for both wild and hatchery fish. But, the river has remained open for catch-and-release fishing. There are a lot of factors to blame: dams, mismanagement, an ever-warming globe. Add to that record heat and lack of precipitation we’ve been experiencing here in the Pacific Northwest and you’ve got the makings of one of the worst summer steelhead seasons ever.
I wanted to see for myself. And, I’m lucky enough to have a buddy who has a boat. Curtis Ciszek guides for Fish The Swing and has spent more than a decade swinging for fish on the Lower Deschutes. He had a day between gigs and so did photographer Darcy Bacha. So, the three of us pinned it up river just before sunset and set up tents at a spot Curtis called “the best camp water on the river.”
The next day were were up before the sun and into fish in the first couple hours. Curtis had bites all morning and brought a hatchery fish to hand by the end of the day. Darcy lost a few and landed a wild one. I fell in. The wading was treacherous. But, the fishing was better than expected. As Darcy put it, “I guess it’s better to be making the report than hearing it.”
And I talked to Curtis just a day ago and he said the fishing has picked up considerably since we fished together. He got five with a client earlier in the week. And he said they’re counting 2,000 fish a day over the dam.
So, that’s our report of sorts from just one day on the Deschutes River.