Tag Archives: Terry Otto

New USFWS Director Talks Fishing, Hunting, More With Northwest Outdoor Reporters

Local hook-and-bullet reporters talked with new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith about expanding fishing and hunting access, building the base for conservation, hatchery salmon production and clean water at last weekend’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland.


Skipwith, a biologist and lawyer who was confirmed to the position 52-39 by the Senate in mid-December, also spoke with and before representatives from the region’s fishing and hunting industries and ODFW staffers.

And she stopped in at the nearby Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where she enjoyed a “phenomenal visit,” she told a radio show host.

Well known for its waterfowl hunting, the refuge is among many whose purchase was aided by Duck Stamp dollars.

“We recognize that hunters and fishers are the backbone of conservation,” Skipwith told Terry Otto of The Columbian when asked why she’d come West to the show, which she termed the second largest in the country.

“That is where we need to make sure that we are engaging with the industry, to come here and let them know that we appreciate what they are doing and that this aligns with what this administration is about,” she said.

During an interview with John Kruse of America Outdoors Radio for broadcast this Saturday, Skipwith termed the expansion of fishing and hunting opportunities on national wildlife refuges, which ramped up during the Obama Administration and has continued with the Trump Administration, “one of the bread and butters of what the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing right now,”

“How do we expand those opportunities. How do we look at access? Are we engaging all of the traditional audiences. Are we engaging the new audiences? Are we engaging the states as much as we can? And so we’re always looking at finding ways to do that. We look at ways our regulations allow for ways to increase fishing and hunting opportunities,” she said, adding that 1.4 million acres have been opened for our favorite activities over the past year alone.

USFWS also just announced that with public input it was developing a list of priority 640-plus-acre landlocked parcels to unlock, but the administration was also criticized at the same time by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers for contradicting that goal by proposing to slash the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 97 percent.

A marathon and trail runner originally from Indiana and with roots in the Deep South, Skipwith also talked about “cultivating” people to begin using public lands with Kruse.

She told Otto that with so many people in close proximity to national wildlife refuges, “(It’s) educating folks that you don’t have to go all the way to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. There are places in your backyard that you can go to experience the great outdoors as I have, and it’s something that is very important to me.”

Skipwith is the first black USFWS director. She holds degrees in biology, genetics and law. Prior to her confirmation, she was an assistant director in the agency for two and a half years, and before that worked for Monsanto.

Asked by Randall Bonner, a Corvallis-based outdoorsmen who freelances for this magazine and others, about recent administration moves around the Clean Water Act — “protections that ensure healthy ecosystems for our fish” — Bonner reported on his Rain or Shine blog that Skipwith replied, “The USFWS makes the best decisions they can based on science.”

Touching on proposed mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed as well, Bonner wrote, “Let Director Skipwith know what you think about conservation of our salmon, steelhead and trout streams that need clean water.”

Speaking of salmon, she confirmed to Otto that USFWS has a role in boosting production.

“You have commercial fishing, recreational fishing, tribal nations, and so knowing that this is a species that is important to various stakeholders, knowing that the federal government has an interest as well, we will be working with all the parties. It’s not going to be a single group that is going to have a solution. It’s going to be a team effort,” Skipwith stated.

Stumptown Part I of II

The Esteemed Mr. Whiskers Of Portland

By Terry Otto

Catfish are the Rodney Dangerfield  of Stumptown’s fishing scene: they never get any respect.
Salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other species get all the  glamour, all the press, all the covers, but catfish are a worthy target themselves. They grow big, they fight hard, bite easily, and their fillets are light and tasty. And while they get little respect from some, they are getting attention from an increasing number of anglers in Portland and Vancouver who have figured out how much fun Mr. Whiskers can be.
In fact, there are so many good local spots that I couldn’t fit them all in one article. So, this issue we’ll look at Portland-area catfisheries, and next month, discover the plentiful opportunities on the north side of the Columbia River.
Get your drawl on, grab some stinkbait and let’s look at PDX waters.

Every single source for this story pointed to the Gilbert River first, and it may well be the best catfishery in the Portland area. This Sauvie Island stream flows from Sturgeon Lake to the Multnomah Channel and is home to big channel cats, a few blue cats and plenty of bullheads. But despite giving the D River a run for its money as the state’s shortest, it’s long been well known for whiskerfish, says Mark Nebeker, the manager of the state wildlife refuge on the island.
“The Gilbert River is very popular for catfish,” he says. “The fishing platform at the mouth is open all year, and they catch a lot of bullheads there, but there are more and bigger catfish further up the river.”
Nebeker says that not all the bullheads are small, and some reach very respectable sizes. Channel cats can run as big as 18 to 20 pounds, and he once checked a blue catfish in the 30-pound range.
Eric Tonsager of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club is a bona fide catfisherman who spends most of his time on Eastern Oregon rivers, but he wets a line for cats near home once in a while. He likes to fish the Multnomah Channel and the Gilbert River, an area he confirms is no secret.
“There is lots of effort there,” says Tonsager. “There are people at the fishing platform all the time when the weather is warm.”
He says bank access is very good along the Gilbert, and he points to the Big Eddy as being one of the best spots.
“It’s a sharp, 90-degree turn in the river, and lots of big catfish are taken there,” he says.
Worms and other insects are good choices for bait, but Tonsager says anglers need to “gob that worm on the hook. If you leave tips trailing off, the perch and other small fish will nibble them off.”
From time to time, he also uses cutbaits such as northern pikeminnow cut into 1-inch cubes. He leaves them at room temperature for a bit; just to get some smell going.
“But don’t let it rot!” he warns.

There is a good population of channel catfish throughout the Willamette, and they migrate out of the big river into the tributaries in the spring to spawn.
“When the temperature hits about 60 degrees, the channel catfish move up into all the rivers that dump into the Willamette,” says Tonsager. “They move into the Tualatin, the Yamhill, and Oswego Creek – all of the tributaries.”
When the heat arrives, the fish head back down to the Willamette to spend the summer in the deep holes, and they become very nocturnal. The bite is best from dusk to dawn.

You might expect a set of waters with a name that hearkens to the country’s catfishing heartland to feature whiskerfish, and you would be correct.
“All of the St. Louis ponds have catfish,” confirms Gary Galovich, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife warmwater biologist. “They are in Ponds 1 through 7.”
He reports that there is no stocking schedule, but he puts channels into the small lakes along I-5 just south of Woodburn when his budget allows. Cats to 20 pounds  are sometimes caught here.
The species are also planted in Wilsonville Lake, Woodburn Lake and Hartman Pond on a semi-regular basis.
Henry Hagg Lake is popular for bullheads, which grow well and reach sizes of 12 to 15 inches. Of course, all warmwater habitats around Portland have bullheads, but they are predominately in the 5- to 7-inch range.

One of the enduring mysteries of whiskerfish in the Northwest is the story of the 15-pound white catfish caught in the Tualatin River in 1989. Deemed the Oregon record for the species, however, it is the only verified white catfish ever taken in the entire state. How did it get there?
That’s a good question, says Galovich. His research turned up records of 300 white catfish brought up from California in 1951, and placed in a defective holding pond.  “When they drained the pond they only found 12 left,” says Galovich.
While the rest escaped into the Willamette system, Galovich says the chances of them surviving, spawning, and continuing the line, and eventually producing the record fish is unlikely.
“It could have come from somebody’s private pond,” says Galovich. “Or it could have been released in the river, but we  don’t know.”
The Tualatin fishes well for channel cats in the spring, but a boat with a shallow draft is needed. There are few good bank access spots on the river. NS

Stumptown anglers have a lot of choices for local catfish. This leviathan was caught at the St Louis Ponds. (RICK SWART, ODFW)

Stumptown anglers have a lot of choices for local catfish. This leviathan was caught at the St Louis Ponds. (RICK SWART, ODFW)


Stumptown Part II of II

Catfish Lurks, Vancouver Edition

By Terry Otto

This story was featured in the May 2015 edition of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.

Editor’s note: Last issue Terry wrote about catfish and bullhead opportunities on the Portland side of the Columbia; this issue he takes up whiskerfish ops on its north bank.

While catfish may not be a major player on the local fishing scene, the species continues to grow more popular all the time. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has responded to that interest by increasing the stockings of whiskerfish in local lakes, and promoting the simple and fun activity that is catfishing.
Stacie Kelsey of the agency’s Inland Fish Program at the Vancouver office says that when channel catfish are stocked, people take notice.
“Oh, yeah, it’s huge,” she says of the reaction. “There’s a lot of effort for catfish.”
It’s easy to see why. Catfish are eager biters, terrific fighters and they taste very good. In addition, channels grow quickly, reaching a size of 3 to 5 pounds in just three to four years. And they keep growing throughout their life. Catfish from 20 to 30 pounds are present in the state of Washington, and near Vancouver too.

While cats can be found in many lakes and sloughs around Vancouver, the best fishing takes place in three lakes. A bona fide catfishery has been established at Kress Lake, and Kelsey reports that WDFW regularly stocks the 24-acre water just north of Kalama off I-5’s exit 32. Lots of anglers flock there to catch them.
“There is a lot of easy access there, and there is a really big hole in back of the lake,” she says. “Three years ago I saw a 15-pound channel catfish that was caught there.”
Swofford Pond is another stocked catfishery, and Kelsey says the 216-acre lake produces less catfish than Kress, but it has some sizable ones.
“Swofford kicks out a lot of big, big catfish,” she says.
While camping is not allowed at the wildlife area surrounding most of the lake, which itself lies right alongside Green Mountain Road outside Mossyrock, Kelsey says it is legal to night fish there.
However, as good as these two fisheries are, there is another lesser known catfish hotspot much closer to Southwest Washington’s main city.
“Vancouver Lake is kind of our secret catfish lake,” Kelsey says.
She and the rest of her team are hoping to get the word out on this shallow, but excellent water.
It has a self-sustaining population, and since it is open to the Columbia, migrations into the lake from the river happen naturally. The fish must like what they find, for the numbers and size of catfish in the tidally affected 2,300-acre lake are impressive.
Actually, it’s not that secret. Kelsey  reports that anglers fish regularly for  channels here.
“People fish for them at the boat ramp, the flushing channel and off the beach at (Vancouver Lake Regional) Park,” she says.
And with a warm winter, those catfish should be friskier earlier.
“They get more active as the water temp rises to about 60 degrees,” says Kelsey.
The lake’s boat launch is at the south end, at the end of La Frambois Road, which is off Fruit Valley Road. The park is off Highway 501. Access to the flushing channel, or Lake River as it is also known, is via two public ramps in Ridgefield, off Division and Mill Streets.
Then there’s the Lacamas Lake system, on the east side of Vancouver. The prehistoric channel of the Columbia is known for having produced some extraordinarily large channel cats – a 28-pounder in 2011 and a 33 in 2005 –  but according to local outdoor reporter Allen Thomas, it may have been as much as two decades since the last release. Lacamas also suffers from water-quality issues and these days is said to be “OK” for bullheads, but that’s about all.

As the days warm into summer, channel cats turn nocturnal. This is especially true of the larger ones. They hole up in the day, and then go on the prowl for food once the sun disappears.
This often means that they move shallow to feed on small fish and crawdads, or anything they can scavenge.
Savvy catfish anglers know this, and local lakes can get pretty busy on warm summer nights. Fishermen line up along the banks with lanterns, throw out cutbaits and wait for Mr. Whiskers to come along.
Remember that catfish are opportunists, and if they aren’t feeding deep, they can often be found shallow. Don’t be afraid to fish near shoreline cover, and sometimes baits suspended under a float will draw catfish.
They will bite on just about any kind of bait, but favorites at the  aforementioned lakes include stinky  cheeses, cutbaits, shrimp, crawfish and worms. Anything bloody will attract cats too, so give chicken livers or hearts a try. One angler uses dough balls infused with peanut butter. NS

Channel catfish are a long-lived species and can grow large in Southwest Washington’s fertile lakes. This 30-pounder was caught in Round Lake, a part of Lacamas Lake, in 2005, more than 10 years after the last known release of the species there. After a pause in stocking, WDFW has begun putting channels into local lakes, including Kress Lake and Swofford Pond. (WDFW)

Channel catfish are a long-lived species and can grow large in Southwest Washington’s fertile lakes. This 30-pounder was caught in Round Lake, a part of Lacamas Lake, in 2005, more than 10 years after the last known release of the species there. After a pause in stocking, WDFW has begun putting channels into local lakes, including Kress Lake and Swofford Pond. (WDFW)