April 11, 2016 – J. W. Snyder – NWFN
Wallowa County steelhead season extended until April 30 on several rivers
ENTERPRISE, Ore. – Spring steelhead anglers can fish the Grande Ronde, Wallowa, and Imnaha Rivers including Big Sheep Creek through April 30 due to 2016 regulation changes that went into effect Jan. 1. The old closure date was April 15.
The extension was a result of ODFW’s regulation simplification process last year. Through public input, ODFW learned that local anglers thought steelhead fishing was cut short in some years despite great catch rates in mid-April. “The suggestions from anglers led to changes in the regulations, resulting in increased fishing opportunities”, said Jeff Yanke, district fish biologist in Enterprise.
Anglers should note that the Rondowa area, at the confluence with the Wallowa and Grande Ronde Rivers, will still be closed to ATV access after April 15.; Anglers can still hike in from Minam or Palmer Junction.
Not all hatchery steelhead reach their final destination at trapping facilities before mid-April, and the extension is intended to increase harvest of those fish. For example, according to Yanke, in the Imnaha River approximately 35 percent of the expected run is holding in fishery areas, which equates to about 400 steelhead that are still available for harvest.
April showers sometimes cause local rivers to rise which can dampen fishing success. “Despite the variability of spring river conditions, this extension will help increase steelhead harvest during years with low snowpack or late runoff”, said Yanke. “Last year on the Imnaha was a great example where some of the best catch rates were during mid-April.”
Extending the season does come with a few additional challenges, according to Yanke. For example, steelhead smolt releases occur in April which irritates anglers because they are catching the six-inch smolt versus the adult steelhead.
“I know it can be frustrating trying to keep smolt from your bait, but the good news is that they don’t hang around very long,” said Yanke. And for a majority of the anglers, the annoyance is worth it. Approximately one million smolts are released from the Grande Ronde and Imnaha Rivers to begin their long journey to the ocean.
“Our research clearly indicates that releasing smolts in April maximizes their chances of survival, which in turn produces more adult steelhead to catch one to two years later.”