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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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North Umpqua Closure...... Could it Happen Again?

Posted by Mark Tuesday, May 31, 2016 2 comments

Note: I wrote this in the fall of 2015 but with 100 degree days already forecast for early June of 2016 it is relevant today.  These issues need to be addressed before another closure happens without due cause.

Open Letter to the ODFW

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and now is a good time to start a discussion on this. I encourage any and all comments on the subject and would appreciate hearing from anyone else who observed anything similar or different from what I observed.

I would like to address a few issues concerning the North Umpqua River.  I was a bit perplexed as to why the closure happened this year and why it stayed in force for so long. In my observation and the taking of water temperatures on a regular basis, I did not see water temps much out of the normal range after the initial late June heat spell.

Flows this summer were very low as we all know. I did observe warm water conditions that were in the critical range between 67-70 in late June and early July but then saw the temperatures that  prompted the closures to drop back to normal ranges and continue to stay in a normal summer range through the rest of July and into August.

The month of August was completely normal as far as temp ranges yet the closure remained in effect for the entire month. I think the highest temp I recorded in the lower river was 65 in the afternoon in the lower fly water. I did not take temps every day but took dozens of temps during the course of the closure as did many of my friends. All of us came to much the same conclusion, pretty normal temps and no real reason for a closure in the afternoon at all. 

During this time it was obvious that no one from either the ODFW or any other agency was taking water temps on the North Umpqua to see that temps were in a normal range and those temps did not pose a threat to fish due to angling pressure. If they had been, the closure would have been lifted like the rest of the rivers.

Meanwhile during this same time the Deschutes hoot owl closure was lifted yet water temps hit 70 degrees at Moody at least 4 more times before dropping at the end of August. The Upper Rogue stayed open for the entire summer and then the middle and lower Rogue opened up from the 2PM closure around the 13 of August. The middle Rogue saw temps in the high 60’s and possibly 70’s after the closure was lifted. There was no consistency in the way that rivers were being managed during this time.

The North Umpqua in the fly water section is a unique water shed and should be managed that way and not thrown in with the rest of the state. Being primarily spring fed, water temps can and do stay lower than many other rivers.

The North Umpqua remained closed after 2 PM until September 1st. The September 1st lift of the closure proves that the closure was not based on temps but more of a date range and no matter what temps were, the decision was made to not open the river back up until September 1st. Temps at that point had been normal for more than two months.

If the river is going to be under a closure by ODFW we need to see temp ranges and data to show probable cause for it. I am a little surprised that the Steamboaters and other anglers on the river didn’t call for that.  

No one was squeaking about the closures on the North Umpqua, maybe I should have been more vocal during this time. I have no problem with protecting the fish when temps warrant it but for 95% of the duration of the closure the temperatures were well within normal limits. I’m all for being cautious but let’s act on real data.

Angling pressure may have dropped slightly but intensity did not, and I saw some interesting angler dynamics and potential issues going on while the closure was in place.

Those observations were-

  • ·        Relaxed fishing atmosphere becomes more frenzied due to limited time on the water.
  • ·        More anglers fishing harder in a shorter window of time
  • ·        More anglers fishing longer than they normally would fish due to their time being limited on the water during the hoot owl closure.
  • ·        Anglers fishing into the hottest part of the day due to the time constraints of not being allowed to fish in the evening.
  • ·        More anglers fishing sink tips because they are fishing in the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its highest angle making surface presentations less effective.
  • ·        More fish were actually being hooked at a time of day when most people would be resting or waiting for the evening session. 
  • ·        Many fish were being hooked when water temps were nearing their warmest of the day due to anglers using sink tips.

I see a bunch of problems with the closure and how it was put in place. 

  • ·        No one was monitoring temperatures to see when it would be safe to lift the closure
  • ·        No one was monitoring the angling dynamics that occurred due to the closure
  • ·        No one was patrolling the area to see if anglers were indeed obeying the closure.
  • ·        There were no threshold temperatures or parameters in place to monitor water temps and lift the closure when temps fell back into a normal range again.

The way the closure went down this year does not bode well for the future of the river. A precedent has now been set. A hoot owl closure occurred this year and there was no real reason for it after the late June and early July temperatures that we saw.  I have heard that a water temperature of 64 degrees will be the new high end of the scale and closures, either partial or complete, will occur if water temps exceed that mark. This will essentially put the river under a hoot owl closure every summer from July 1st to September 1st. The river could also be closed altogether if temps go higher than that.

64-67 degree temps are normal water temps for July and August in the lower fly water and are seen often in the afternoon during hot weather spells. The fish have adapted to these temps and will self-preserve by not actively chasing surface or near surface presentation. Basically, fishing will and has always been poor during warm water times and keeping people off the river does little to save the fish. Very few fish are being hooked when temps are in the upper 60’s it’s just a fact.

The ease at which this recent closure was accepted by the anglers of the river shocked me really. Again, I’m all for being cautious and erring on the side of the fish but let’s have real time data to go on.

We are looking at an uncertain future for angling opportunity going forward if no one says anything.  If 64 degrees does become the new goal post for lethal high water temperatures next year, we will indeed see those temps and the subsequent closures associated with them for sure, no matter the snowpack or water level coming out of the hills.

My questions to the ODFW are:
  • ·        Is a hoot owl closure every summer from now on something you would like to see?
  • ·        Is anyone worried that the angler opportunity may be seriously affected by the changing policy and new closures?
  • ·        Are you aware that the river the Steamboaters and many other group have worked so hard to steward and protect may be entering a new era that may limit anglers unnecessarily under the guise of protecting fish?
  • ·        Where’s the data that proves the angler is the problem on a catch and release and highly regulated fly fishery such as the North Umpqua?
  • ·        Where is the data that says keeping anglers off the river in the afternoon saves fish that are hooked in the morning?
  • ·        Where is the data that shows over the last 50-60 years or so years that the wild fish population has been diminished on the North Umpqua due to intense fly angler pressure?

·        Would the ODFW be in favor of getting behind a no sink tip rule during summer instead of a closure? This rule in my opinion would be a better solution to the issues I observed and would allow the fish to self-preserve by only allowing a near surface or surface presentation. Fish will be very reluctant to move to the surface when temps are high.Subsequently, fish hooked will be minimal while still allowing the fishery to continue until water temps improve.

The facts are undeniable, the wild North Umpqua summer steelhead are doing fairly well despite all of the issues they have been through. We have in our midst some of the strongest wild winter and wild summer runs of fish anywhere in the lower 48.

Look at the historical numbers over Winchester in the last 60 years. The run has actually gotten slightly more robust despite man’s efforts to destroy the fish and their habitat. Many of the early decades after the dam was in place, wild fish kill was allowed and people harvested many fish in those years.

Modern day factors that negatively impact fish include continued loss of habitat due to logging, irrigation affecting water flows, building, pesticides, dredging, mining etc. etc. There are a hundred areas of concern that have affected the overall health of the fishery over the years and the catch and release fishery in the fly water is not one of them. The river is already the most highly regulated stream in perhaps all of the PNW steelhead rivers. These regulations that are in place have stood the test of time and are good for the fishery. 

Keeping anglers off the river for an afternoon hoot owl closure did not save any fish this year in my opinion.   It is my belief that the closure actually encouraged more people to fish with sink tips and more fish were probably hooked overall.

Our overall impact as anglers on this highly regulated catch and release river is minimal. Look at the dam counts and they will bear this out. If we closed the river tomorrow for 10 years and did not allow any fishing whatsoever the returns would stay about where they are. We would continue to see annual returns in the range of 3000-6000 wild summer fish. 

My concern is always for the fish and if the data and water temps show lethal temps for fish, then sure lets close the river. But, if temperatures are in a range that these fish have been accustomed to for millennia, closing the river does nothing but make some people feel good, and may actually be a determent due to the angling methods outlined above.

In conclusion I have some parting thoughts. First and foremost, I love this river and want to see a healthy run of these fish for my kids and their kids after them. I am also a Steamboater and an NFS River Steward and have a deep respect for the river and the work the Steamboaters have done to maintain this world class fishery. The river would not be what it is without them that’s for sure. We as Steamboaters have a responsibility to steward the resource and make good decisions for the river and fish, this is true. We also have a responsibility to future generations to be able enjoy and continue on with the fine traditions that make the river such a special place. We need to make sure that the opportunities to fish are not restricted by suspect and/or unwarranted reasons.When precedent starts to be set in place it can be hard to reverse.

I hope to never see a closure on the river again in my lifetime. But if future closures happen, there must be common sense rules in place for instituting a closure, monitoring conditions and also the lifting of that closure as soon as conditions allow it.

We need to think about the idea of pushing for a sink tip ban as an option rather than a closure when and if water temps get into a critical range again. Doing so will still allow anglers to fish but will limit the number of fish hooked. Allowing for a deep water sanctuary in times of warm water will allow fish to rest in the cooler water unhindered.

We as anglers,river lovers,Steamboaters all of us need to be involved in these processes and not sit on our collective hands and watch a storied history slip away. It can happen that fast. Do we want to see the North Umpqua angler regulated right off the river and the place turned into a Wild Steelhead Sanctuary? Its happening on other rivers to the north.......

The angling tradition is strong on the North Umpqua and it can continue to be if we all work together.

Please, if you are not already a member of the Steamboaters, become one today

All comments are welcomed


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