ODFW Urges Anglers To Avoid Rebounding Wild Santiam Winters, Focus On Hatchery Springers, Summers

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to remind anglers that fishing for wild winter steelhead is closed throughout the Santiam Basin including the North and South Santiam rivers.

THE NORTH FORK SANTIAM AT THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT’S FISHERMEN’S BEND RECREATION SITE. (BLM, VIA FLICKR)

Wild winter steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, have been moving into the Santiam basin in greater numbers this year than in the recent past, and prompting cautious optimism that the fish are experiencing a resurgence after dropping to an all-time low of 822 returning adult fish in 2017. Since those historically low counts ODFW has implemented measures to protect the iconic fish, including removing California sea lions that were preying on them below Willamette Falls. Those efforts seem to be helping this year’s returns. As of April 19, 5,255 native winter steelhead have made it past ODFW’s fish counting station at Willamette Falls and into the upper Willamette River on their way to their spawning grounds.

“We’re glad to see a healthier run of wild winter steelhead this year and want to see these fish help the overall population,” said Elise Kelley, ODFW’s Mid-Willamette District Fish Biologist.

Anglers can help in this regard, according to Kelley, by leaving the fish alone. 

Kelley explained that the Santiam Basin rivers are closed to angling for wild winter steelhead under Oregon’s Sport Fishing Regulations.  With the arrival of sunny weather more people are itching to get out and do some fishing, which ODFW is glad to see, but would like anglers to focus their efforts on the spring Chinook and summer steelhead which have just started crossing Willamette Falls, or on trout in waters where angling is currently allowed. 

“It would be most helpful if folks left winter steelhead alone,” said Kelley, adding, “Often anglers, particularly fly and lure anglers, feel that the impact they have is minimal. However it takes energy for a steelhead to fight an angler, energy that could be better spent moving to their spawning grounds and reproducing.”  If an angler accidentally hooks a winter steelhead while fishing for a summer steelhead, they should release it with care (information on how to do this is in ODFW’s Sport Fish Regulations under Freshwater Angling Ethics, Page 15 of 2020 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations).  Winter steelhead can be identified by their intact adipose fins, hatchery summer steelhead have had that fin removed. 

Kelley suggests that anglers feeling the urge to get outside to go fishing target other species that will soon be available in the Santiam basin, including hatchery-reared spring Chinook and hatchery-reared summer steelhead. Those fisheries typically pick up in mid-May to early June, according to Kelley.