A fishing derby on the Coquille River targeting smallmouth has been extended through October 1, and it and other population reduction efforts appear to having an effect on the smolt-eating bass.
Organizers say more than 8,600 have been removed from the river on Oregon’s South Coast this year – including around 2,000 by one angler alone – but one microchipped bass worth $10,000 is still swimming around.
“These bass are invasive species, and they prey on the salmon smolts, and that is doing incredible damage to the salmon runs,” said Coquille Indian Tribe Chair Brenda Meade in a tribal press release out today. “It is so important to continue to help salmon recovery in any way we can. It is important culturally, ecologically, economically, and this kind of event is producing amazing results in just its second year.”
Bucket biologists illegally brought smallmouth to the Coquille, possibly from the Umpqua, sometime in the early 2000s; they were first confirmed in the South Fork in 2011.
No doubt smallies are a prized game fish, but they are utterly unwanted in the Coquille, a system unlike others in the Northwest where bass and salmonids exist. Recent years have seen the rain-fed coastal river’s Chinook struggle and biologists pin the blame largely on the explosion of smallmouth.
Other predators in the system include largemouth bass and striped bass.
Last year saw around 3,000 smallies caught by anglers, one prong in a multifaceted reduction effort that includes electrofishing. Wild Steelheaders recently reported that they and a number of agencies and volunteer groups helped shock 2,567 bass out of the river during a four-day blitz the summer and that the fish were primarily young-of-the-year, which to them suggested past years’ work is “starting to pay dividends,” as the small bass aren’t big enough to prey on young salmon and steelhead like larger ones are.
ODFW has also legalized spearfishing and the use of bait in the system the last three summers. According to Facebook posts, angler Kerry Johnson has singlehandedly brought in about 2,000 bass, and it appears that his secret is kayak fishing with nightcrawlers.
Oregon House Bill 2966, passed this year with near-unanimous support from legislators, waives wastage rules in derbies that are meant to “benefit native fish species or the ecological health of the body of water,” allowing participants to not have to make use of any bass they remove, encouraging higher catches.
The derby is hosted by the Port of Coquille River and sponsored by the tribe, ODFW and 3J Ranches. Entry is $20. Besides the big-money bass, 79 other fish were tagged and are worth $50 or more.
Volunters are stationed at Sturdivant Park in Coquille on Saturdays from 2-8 p.m. and the Myrtle Point boat ramp on Sundays from 2-8 p.m. to scan catches for microchipped bass.