Category Archives: Trout and Salmon

Tips to Catch More Trout This Winter

Dedicated fly-anglers don’t stop fishing in the winter. Instead they adjust their tactics to the colder conditions.

Popular trout rivers take on a different character in winter. The barren landscape reveals a different sort of beauty, the crowds diminish and the fishing becomes more challenging.

For some, it may be enough “to just be there.” But if your plans include actually catching a fish, here are seven tips that may help improve your chances.

1. Go small and light. Clear, slow water, smaller insects and wary fish call for smaller flies and lighter tippet than you might use the rest of the year.Downsize your flies. A dominate food source for trout in the winter are teeny, tiny midges that are best mimicked by teeny, tiny flies – like size 16 and smaller.Lighten your tippet. If you normally fish 4X, switch to 5X. This will let the smaller flies move more naturally, and avoid spooking fish hanging out in slower waters – where they have more time to scrutinize your fly.

2. Hope for dry fly action but plan to nymph. Winter fly-fishing is a nymphing show. Consider a double-nymph rig with a smaller midge pattern on top and a weighted stonefly below, to help keep your flies near the bottom of the river.

But also be prepared for the occasional hatch with a selection of Griffith’s gnats and small blue wing olives.

3. Look for trout in slower waters. Trout metabolism slows in the winter. They’re eating less and looking for ways to conserve energy, like getting out of the heavier currents into quieter waters.

Back eddies, off-channel areas, and the inside of current seams can all be places to look for winter trout.

4. Cover the water thoroughly. A fish won’t move far to take a fly (slower metabolism and all that), so you’ll want to put your fly right in front of its nose. Cover the water methodically to increase your changes of hitting a fish. 

5. Sleep in. There’s no need to hit the water at daylight when it comes to winter trout fishing. The best fishing will be during the warmest parts of the day – late morning to mid-afternoon. So follow your Mother’s advice and take time to eat a good breakfast before you go.

6. Follow these safety precautions:
Travel safely. Travel in the winter can by dicey so be prepared for bad weather and bad roads. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. And remember to check in when you get home.
Consider using a wading staff. Snow and/or ice can make wading even trickier. And winter is not the time of year you want to be falling in the water.
Beware of hypothermia. If you do fall in the water, and it happens, you’ll need to get warm and dry as quickly as possible. Carry a change of dry clothes and hot beverages, or a way to make them.
7. Lower….er, adjust your expectations. Winter trout fishing is about being outside, enjoying the solitude and challenging your fishing skills. It’s not about catching a lot of trout. You’ve got just a few good hours to chase finicky fish – learn to appreciate one- or two-fish days for what they are. Plenty of time to catch loads of fish later in the year.

Some of your best bets for catching native redband trout this winter in Oregon include the lower Deschutes, Crooked, Metolius, Fall, Klamath, Blitzen and Owyhee rivers. For the latest fishing updates for these rivers, check out the weekly Recreation Report.

From Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Chattooga River Conservation for Trout

Text by Greg Lucas
Photos by Taylor Main

from The Fishing WireWatching an experienced team of fisheries biologists and volunteers work with a helicopter pilot to fill and drop brailer bags of trout in a remote river is a little bit like experiencing a ballet — lots of moving parts have to come together with just the right timing to make it all work.

Chattooga, Wild and Scenic River. The very words conjure up all sorts of images. If you have done a bit of whitewater paddling in the region, the Chattooga’s roaring sound pouring over and around boulders is sweet music to your ears. It is one of the longest and most spectacular free-flowing mountain rivers in the Southeast, cascading some 50 miles from its headwaters in North Carolina to the state line between South Carolina and Georgia.

But if you are a fly fisherman, or fisherwoman, or, heck, fly ANGLER, then you know the upper reaches of the Chattooga River as something special, particularly in the State of South Carolina, where we are not as blessed with trout waters as our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina. For it is a place where an angler can get lost in thought, lost in the music and rhythms of a river that is truly Wild and Scenic, like no other in the Palmetto State.

And thanks to an amazing partnership between the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited, large numbers of rainbow, brook and brown trout are stocked in the upper portions of the Chattooga River once a year, a helicopter gently laying them in backcountry areas too remote to easily be reached by vehicle. On Nov. 2, an 11-mile backcountry reach of the Chattooga River was stocked.

The Chattooga, which for a good distance forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia, was the United States’ first Wild and Scenic River, designated as such in 1974. The Wild and Scenic designation resulted in the closure of most of the access roads used for trout stocking in this 11-mile section, and that’s the reason the helicopter stocking effort started.

The first helicopter trout stockings of this part of the Chattooga began about 50 years ago, and this program has been refined considerably over time. The Chauga River in Oconee was similarly stocked with trout by helicopter on the next day, Nov. 3.

“We want trout anglers to have the experience of fishing in this remote and beautiful Wild and Scenic River,” said Dan Rankin, SCDNR Upstate regional fisheries biologist. “But we also want to give them a reasonable chance for success.”

The trout fishery in this 11-mile segment of the Chattooga River is largely supported by stocking hatchery trout reared by SCDNR at Walhalla State Fish Hatchery, and by Georgia DNR at Burton State Hatchery.Trout begin their journey in an aerated truck, then are transferred to a helicopter “bucket” for stocking.

These partner agencies and organizations—SCDNR, U.S. Forest Service, Georgia DNR and Trout Unlimited–have worked together as the “Chattooga River Fisheries Coalition” since 1986 to improve the trout fishery.

“We are stocking two different ‘management units’ of the Chattooga River by helicopter,” said Rankin. “One two-and-a-half-mile reach is the ‘Delayed Harvest’ area, and the eight-and-a-half-mile upper reach of the ‘Rock Gorge/Big Bend’ area has different regulations from the Delayed Harvest Area.”

Delayed Harvest, according to Rankin, is a “fish-for-fun” reach where catch-and-release with single-hook artificial lures is required Nov. 1–May 14 of each year. This stretch reverts to general fishing regulations (5 trout daily limit, no tackle restrictions) from May 15-Oct. 31. The helicopter stocked about 2,500 adult trout (10-plus inches) of rainbow, brown, and brook trout in this section.

The Rock Gorge section of the Chattooga River, which is considered a backcountry area, has no tackle restrictions and a 5-trout daily limit year-round. During the Nov. 2 helicopter stocking, SCDNR stocked 15,000 sub-adult (6-inch) brown trout and 1,000 adult brown trout (10-plus inch) in this segment. Georgia DNR will helicopter stock about 10,000 rainbow trout at a later date.

“The idea,” Rankin said, “is that some of these smaller brown trout, and then later the rainbow trout from Georgia DNR, will survive next summer and grow out to a nice size for anglers.”

Watching the gathering of equipment at Russell Bottoms, alongside SC 28 just before the bridge that leads to Georgia, is quite a spectacle. Dozens of trucks are lined up in a row, with people alternately running helter-skelter around the field (when the helicopter sets down the “Bambi Bucket,” to be filled with trout) and then standing around for long chunks of time while the chopper delivers its load to a remote section of the Chattooga River. Scenes like this are likely the genesis of the phrase “Hurry Up And Wait,” which is so appropriate for any gathering of government employees, whether it be fisheries biologists or infantry soldiers.

Completing the scene is that everyone is wearing many articles of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes a hard hat, eye protection, face coverings/masks, closed-toe shoes (leather boots preferable), gloves, and green and yellow fire-resistant Nomex pants and shirts.

The Forest Service is very diligent about PPE, not surprisingly, since being in close proximity to a helicopter is dangerous work. There is zero cell coverage at the site, which makes coordination a real challenge.The helicopter makes quick work of ferrying the load of trout to the remote stretches of the river.

The helicopter was already on the scene when SCDNR videographer/photographer Taylor Main and I arrived around 8:20 a.m. Keith Whalen, Forest Service fisheries biologist, got Taylor suited up in all the appropriate PPE, and after the safety briefing (mandatory if you are going to get near the helicopter while the fish are being loaded), Taylor began what would be many hours of photography and videography. Over and over, she captured SCDNR Freshwater Fisheries staff netting trout from the hatchery truck into two 50-gallon plastic buckets, then carrying them to the helicopter’s “Bambi Bucket,” which was at the end of a 150-foot line. The bucket was already “watered,” and SCDNR staff poured the trout into the bucket, the chopper lifted off, and away it went.

The trout are bound for the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, the river that runs through South Carolina and Georgia, and the anglers who will pursue them.

10 Tips to Catch More Winter Steelhead

With Robert Bradley, Oregon DFW
from the Fishing Wire

Successful steelhead fishing is more about developing a good strategy for finding fish than about fussing over gear, techniques and colors. (Although pink worms really do work!)

When it comes to winter steelhead, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of rod types, lure sizes, best colors and latest techniques. But according to Robert Bradley, ODFW district fish biologist in Tillamook, the most important skill to master is knowing where to find fish. (Hint: it’s always near the bottom.)

Here are his 10 tips for catching more steelhead by developing a successful fishing strategy and selecting the right gear for current conditions.

1) Do your homework.
You can learn a lot about a river, its steelhead runs and current fishing conditions before you even leave home.

Figure out the run timing on the river you want to fish. In some places, hatchery fish return earlier in the season – something to think about if you want a fish for the freezer. In rivers with wild broodstock hatchery programs, hatchery steelhead are available over a longer period of time. Wild fish typically arrive later in the run, but these catch-and-release fisheries are often quieter and less crowded, especially in rivers without hatchery programs.

Check the current river levels. High water levels put fish on the move but can make fishing more challenging. Often the best fishing is right after a big rain as water levels begin to drop.  Find your access points. Bank anglers will want to look for bridge crossings, parks and other public lands. Boat anglers should identify boat put ins/take outs.

Make a phone call to the local ODFW fish biologist to get the latest conditions and some fishing tips. Or, visit the weekly Recreation Report.

2) Organize your stuff before you go.

Collect and check your boots, waders, clothing, boat accessories, etc.Locate your license and tag. If you’re electronically tagging, remember to log into the MyODFW app before leaving cell phone range.Review the regulations for the waters you want to fish, and check for any in-season regulation updates. You’ll find in-season regulation updates online at the top of each fishing zone in the Recreation Report.

Check/replace your mainline, pre-tie your leaders, sort and organize your jigs, spoons and other lures. Remember, you might be wearing gloves, which will make it trickier to pick through your lures.Spend time doing this before you go and you’ll be less stressed once you’re on the water, and have more time for actual fishing. Besides, do you really like tying leaders while standing in 40 degree water during a rainstorm?

3) Join a fishing club or hire a guide.

Organizations like the Association of Northwest Steelheaders have several local chapters, and offer a chance to Interact with veteran anglers, see speakers and participate in workshops.You might also consider hiring a guide for a trip on your new home water. A guided trip can be a one-day lesson on how and where to fish a stretch of river. Be sure to let your guide know what you want from the trip — it may be about more than just catching a fish.

4) Pick a “home water.”

Spend time learning the water on one river, or even one stretch of a river, rather than jumping from place to place chasing the bite.

And we mean really learn the water – explore every nook and cranny with a spinner or bobber/jig to figure out where the fish hold. Also, pay close attention to where other anglers are catching fish. Think about catching more fish in less water.

These are transferable skills that, once mastered, can be used on other rivers or streams.

One of Robert’s best seasons was when he fished just a single two-mile stretch of river again and again, and where he soon learned every rock that had a fish hiding behind it.

5) Better yet, pick two “home waters.”

When water levels rise after a rain, rivers reaches and streams higher in the basin will drop faster and clear first. In the same vein, smaller basins tend to get back in shape faster than larger basins.

Just remember the old adage “Water high, fish high. Water low, fish low.”

6) Learn a variety of techniques.

But don’t get too complicated. If you’re new to steelhead fishing start with spinner and/or bobber/jig techniques. This gear has some advantages:You won’t lose a lot of gear (helps manage your frustration level), and these are effective techniques to cover the water and locate fish.

Drift fishing can be very effective, especially in higher water, but you can lose a lot of gear and spend more time re-rigging than fishing. Be prepared to mix things up based on water or other conditions.

7) Adjust your gear and techniques to water levels.

Regardless of the water level, fish will be holding just off the bottom of the river. So no matter what gear you’re using, it’s going to be most effective when it’s near the bottom. Where the fish are.

That means you’ll want to adjust your tactics for different water levels so you’re fishing near the bottom without getting hung up all the time. Water levels also will influence where to look for fish and what lines/lures to consider.

So, in higher water:Look for fish in the softer waters near the bank or behind obstacles.

Upsize your gear. Use a heavier leader* (12-15 pound) and larger weights or lures to keep your gear in the right zone and to handle the increased flows.

Consider drift fishing or plunking. These slower presentations can give fish more time to consider your offering.

Choose bright colors like orange, bright pink or chartreuse.In lower water: Look for fish further up near the head of holes, or in deeper parts of the runs.

Downsize your gear. Use a lighter leader* (8-10 pound) and smaller sized lures or baits. Choose darker, more subdued colors like reds, blues and black.*

In general, use a heavier main line and just adjust your leader size for different water conditions.

8) Keep a journal.

As you get to know your “home waters” keep notes on recent rains, water levels and temperatures, current weather and conditions, what gear/techniques you used and where/when you caught fish. You may think you’ll remember where you caught a fish, but you probably won’t. You can even take photos of certain hot spots to revisit later.

Also, note those places you might want to revisit in the summer, when low summer flows often reveal deeper pools, submerged rocks and other fish holding spots that are harder to see during high winter flows.

9) Assume you’re going to catch a fish.

Be prepared to care for the fish you catch and want to keep. Do you know how to properly gill and clean it? Do you have a cooler to keep it in for the drive home? If you’re going harvest the eggs for bait, are you prepared to deal with them when you get home?

10) Know how to safely release a wild fish.

If you’re going to release a fish, do it in a way that gives it the greatest chance of surviving.

Land the fish quickly.

Use barbless hooks.

Keep the fish in the water.

Revive the fish before releasing it.

Find more information here.

Robert Bradley is the ODFW district fish biologist in Tillamook and can be reached at 503-842-2741, ext. 18613 or

Habitat Connectivity Helps Trout Take Care of Themselves

Trout Unlimited’s Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.Colorado River cutthroat trout like this one didn’t take long to use a fishway on Poose Creek in Colorado.

Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited
By Brian Hodge, Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

In our work at Trout Unlimited, we often rely on scientific theory to plan and implement conservation projects. In some instances, we also test hypotheses by monitoring projects and comparing predictions with outcomes, and in doing so contribute towards the broader body of scientific theory.

For TU and our local agency partners, the Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.

When TU and its partners sampled the headwaters of Poose Creek in 2012-2013, native Colorado River cutthroat trout were almost completely absent from the reach above the one road-stream crossing but relatively abundant in the reach below the crossing.
A 108-foot long, concrete culvert and apron were installed at Poose Creek in the 1960s. Brian Hodge photo.

Moreover, at long-term monitoring stations upstream and downstream of the culvert, cutthroat densities were 0 and approximately 437 fish per mile, respectively. This contrast confirmed a standing assumption that the box culvert under the road was, and had for decades been, a complete fish passage obstacle.

In 2014, TU and the U.S. Forest Service retrofitted the box culvert with a vertical slot fishway, also known as a fish ladder. Although we only designed the fishway to pass adult trout (which are better swimmers and jumpers than their juvenile counterparts), our ultimate goal was to facilitate repatriation by the native cutthroat above the culvert.The exiting culvert was retrofitted with a vertical slot fishway in 2014. Brian Hodge photo.

The fishway project was thus rooted in at least two testable hypotheses: one, that removal or mitigation of the passage obstacle would actually result in fish passage; and two, that the incursion of adult spawners into vacant habitats would result in recolonization by the species (in other words, a few fish would ultimately lead to a lot of fish). Meanwhile, we had much to learn about the effectiveness of fishways for restoring passage to inland (nonanadromous) fish.Slotted baffles in the 150-foot long fishway allow fish to swim up the ladder. Brian Hodge photo.

In 2015 and 2016, we teamed up with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to evaluate the first hypothesis — that the fishway would effectively restore fish passage. We captured cutthroat in the mile of stream below the culvert and injected them with passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags. We then used a series of antennas within and around the fishway to monitor the number of approaches to, attempts at, and successful trips through, the fishway.

The result?

Cutthroat trout began using the Poose Creek fishway within a year of its construction. In fact, the fishway was completed in fall of 2014 and the inaugural trips through the structure coincided with the spring spawning season of 2015. Approximately 4 percent of all PIT-tagged trout approached the fishway, and 100 percent of the fish that approached it succeeded in entering and passing the new structure.

These findings, available here, satisfied our first goal of restoring passage. Nevertheless, questions still remained about the ultimate effect of restoring connectivity.One of four stationary antennas installed in and around the fishway. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In fall of 2020, approximately one and a half to two cutthroat trout generations after the fishway was installed, we tested the second hypothesis— that restoring fish passage would lead to recolonization of upstream habitats. Specifically, we used backpack electrofishing units to survey a half-mile segment of stream immediately above the culvert, and to repeat a multiple-pass population estimate at the long-term monitoring site (located approximately 0.6 miles upstream of the culvert).

In 2012, the segment of the stream was vacant of cutthroat trout. In 2020, the same segment hosted at least 589 cutthroats. Similarly, the same long-term monitoring station that contained cutthroat at a density of 0 fish per mile in 2012 contained cutthroat at a density of approximately 2,752 fish per mile in 2020 (817 fish per mile excluding the 2020 year-class).

Just as importantly, the presence of multiple age classes, and of young-of-year fish in particular, confirmed that Colorado River cutthroat trout were spawning in and recruiting to the headwaters of Poose Creek.

Of course, we can’t rigorously measure the percentage increase in cutthroat abundance above the fishway because the native salmonid was absent from the long-term monitoring site in 2012. Yet, even without the numbers, we might all recognize the indicator of success.Colorado River cutthroat trout make their way to spawning grounds. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In the end, our findings at Poose Creek offered support of theory:If we do our part to remove migration obstacles from rivers and streams, the fish will take care of the rest. The benefits could be immeasurable.

Brian Hodge is the Northwest Colorado Director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat program.

Restoration Brings Salmon, Anglers Back to California’s Clear Creek

A male Chinook salmon, with red coloration, strikes another male Chinook on Clear Creek in Redding, California, during spawning season in October. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS By Brandon Honig, USF&W

Clear Creek has been transformed multiple times in the past two centuries, but the transformation of the past few decades was designed to last. Ravaged first by gold-seekers and then by gravel-miners, the Sacramento River tributary is today a haven for fish and people alike.“You get to see big male salmon chasing each other away from females and see females digging redds, or nests. It’s exciting,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Charlie Chamberlain. “It’s something a lot of people would not expect to see in California except on National Geographic.”Local fishermen search for steelhead in Clear Creek, where restoration has created diverse conditions and habitats for fish. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Thirty years ago, it wasn’t something you’d see in Clear Creek either. There was little water flowing, and Saeltzer Dam closed off more than 11 miles of potential habitat for sensitive species like Central Valley steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon.

The Bureau of Land Management, however, acquired most of the Lower Clear Creek channel bottom in a series of deals in the 1990s. At the time, the creek was mainly known as an out-of-the-way place for illegal trash dumping and suspicious activity.

“Some smart people at BLM understood Clear Creek’s potential for restoration, and they got a good deal on it because it was an industrial wasteland,” said biologist Derek Rupert, who oversaw the final phase of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “They made some good choices, so now the public owns the majority of this land.”

Planning a partnership
In 1992, Congress passed a massive fish and wildlife restoration program for California, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Among other measures, it singled out Clear Creek for an overhaul to be funded jointly with the state.

The planning process involved a large group of landowners, stakeholders, consultants and agency experts, which delivered a multi-pronged approach. The plan would reconfigure part of the creek channel, raise the water level, open up areas for fish habitat and increase the stream’s complexity and food production. 

“My hat’s really off to those people who were involved in the late 1990s,” said Tricia Bratcher, a habitat restoration coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who joined the Clear Creek Technical Team in 2001. “They really put in some good thought on what restoration should look like, how it would function and the goals associated with all of that.”

Before the work began, she said, Clear Creek looked “trashed.” There were pits and piles of dredger tailings everywhere, and the water was shallow and warm, with virtually no riparian vegetation. Reports of people lurking there also kept locals away.

To clear the way for the restoration program, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office teamed with the state and BLM rangers to tighten security and clean up Clear Creek. As the restoration work progressed, residents saw trails, restrooms and parking lots installed.

“Now when we go out there, there are families utilizing the area, swimming with kids, fishing, mountain biking, hiking with dogs,” Chamberlain said. “That greenway vision BLM had is being realized.”

A food-based explosion
Restoration began by increasing water flows through Reclamation’s Whiskeytown Dam, then removing the privately-owned Saeltzer Dam. Those steps brought fish to Clear Creek in the thousands, but the stream was nothing like its former self.Workers plug a ditch dug by gravel-miners last century and redirect its water into a new channel on Clear Creek’s original path. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

“Miners basically dug a ditch here along the valley and diverted the creek into it so they would have room for gravel extraction,” Chamberlain said of one part of the restoration area. “They took a creek that used to have this dynamism to it and serve a lot of ecological functions, then dumped it into a little chute where it had very little ecological function and no dynamism.

”Creeks are naturally complex. They change speed and direction, pull in branches and move sediment. That action creates gravel bars, riffles and side channels, which foster plant and insect growth.

The channel the gravel-miners dug, on the other hand, was like a swiftly moving canal that only eroded downward. It didn’t change over time, and it didn’t create much habitat.

The restoration plan called for filling in the miners’ ditch and restoring the creek’s original path. It also required lowering the floodplain to create longer-lasting habitats and nourishment for rearing fish.

“If you change the shape of the creek so it spreads out and trickles into the floodplain or side channels, you get extra-slow areas where you’ve wet new surfaces, and those floodplains generate a lot of fish food and grow vegetation,” Chamberlain said. “You get a food-based explosion.”

Workers have placed downed trees and more than 180,000 tons of gravel in Clear Creek since the 1990s to help create habitat. Salmon spawning habitat was the original focus, but the work has created diverse conditions that benefit fish in multiple life stages. The latest phase focused on juvenile salmon, but will also provide homes for beavers, song sparrows and pond turtles.

“For juvenile fish, woody debris provides refuges from predators and spots to hold and wait for food to float, swim or fly by,” said Matt Brown, who managed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s program on Clear Creek from 1995-2017. “There will also be areas for adult fish to hang out and rest before they spawn and other areas with good spawning habitat.”

A long-term commitment
The 2.2-mile Lower Clear Creek Floodway Rehabilitation Project took more than two decades to complete. Along the way, the multi-agency Technical Team overcame challenge after challenge, culminating in completion of the final stage in October.

“I’m proud of the work that came before me and the perseverance they showed,” said Chamberlain, who has worked on the project since 2015. “People aren’t always resilient enough to insist that, ‘there’s a great opportunity here,’ even when the naysayers can’t see it. A vision was implemented here, and it’s working.”A Chinook salmon swims in Clear Creek during spawning season in October. Restoration work that began in the 1990s has turned Clear Creek into a salmon-producing hotspot. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

In addition to the Service, Reclamation and the state, the project received significant contributions from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the National Park Service, California Department of Water Resources, the Yurok Tribe and a variety of local organizations including the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District.

The experience often felt like a marriage, Bratcher said.

“Sometimes it drives you crazy, but you love the place, so you work through the problems and will be stronger for it,” she said. “We’ve had some really good people, some really knowledgeable people, who have continued to stick it out and really love Clear Creek.”Also like a marriage, she said, the commitment to Clear Creek should be eternal.“I’d hate for people to say, ‘We’re done on Clear Creek,’” Bratcher said. “Any time you implement a change, it disrupts the patterns and you have a responsibility. You are beholden to watch over it and be a steward.”Creighton Smith of Redding tries to pull a steelhead out of Clear Creek in October. Wild steelhead must be released unharmed when caught in California. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Record Lake Champlain Lake Trout a Testament to Successful Sea Lamprey Control

The jumbo trout had no sea lamprey scarring despite a long life in a lake once heavily infested–lamprey control efforts have clearly been effective.By John Hall, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
from The Fishing Wire

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recently certified a record fish entry for a 19.36-pound lake trout caught in Lake Champlain in August. Department officials say this demonstrates the positive impact long-term sea lamprey control efforts are having on the lake’s quality fishing opportunities.

Angler Jeffery Sanford, of South Burlington was fishing alone the day he jigged up the 36.5-inch lake trout from over 100-feet of water.

“I just got my first boat this year, and it was my first time out alone,” recounted Sanford. “It hit on my first cast of the day. Once I netted it and got it in the boat I was astounded at its size and lack of any lamprey scars or wounds.”

Sanford said he wanted to release the lake trout alive but was unable to revive the fish, so he brought it in to be weighed officially as part of Lake Champlain International’s Basin Derby, and he also entered it into the Fish and Wildlife Department’s record fish program. The fish currently sits in first place for the derby’s lake trout category.

According to department fisheries biologist Shawn Good, who oversees the Vermont State Record Fish Program, Sanford’s catch is a reason for celebration.

“Jeff’s fish is the largest lake trout from Lake Champlain entered in the Record Fish Program since the department started keeping fish records in 1969,” said Good.

“There have been much larger lake trout caught in other Vermont waters, but this Champlain fish is a big deal.”

According to Good, it is a direct result of good lake trout habitat in Lake Champlain and ongoing sea lamprey control efforts.

In Lake Champlain, nuisance sea lamprey prey on lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, brown trout, steelhead, walleye, lake sturgeon, and other fish species. High attack rates and sea lamprey wounds can result in lower growth, smaller size, shortened life expectancy, and decreased fishing opportunities.

To counter this, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, comprised of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, initiated an experimental sea lamprey control program in 1990. A long-term control program that began in 2002 continues today.

Sanford’s observation of no sea lamprey wounds on his record catch is significant, says Good.

“We’re seeing lower overall wounding rates on many of these fish, and the fact that anglers are catching older, larger lake trout, salmon, and other fish species is proof that continued long-term sea lamprey control is working, and resulting in improved fishing opportunities on Champlain.”

Elizabeth Ehlers, Tournament Director of the LCI Fishing Derbies, says the annual Father’s Day Derby and year-long Basin Derby have seen bigger and bigger fish in recent years.

“There’s been an upward trend in size for many of the species entered in our derbies. Over the past 10 years, we have seen several record-breaking fish in cold, cool and warm water species divisions.”

“While our anglers are incredibly dedicated and skilled, these catches are not just by chance or luck. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has worked tirelessly to protect and restore the Lake Champlain fishery. Their management efforts – including lamprey treatment, control of invasive species, and fish stocking – have benefited all who enjoy this resource.

The impact of their efforts extends far beyond the angling community, as Lake Champlain anglers contribute over $200 million dollars annually to local economies.”

Jeff Sanford says he’s grateful for the fishery that continues to improve on Lake Champlain.

“It was an amazing fish and quite the battle. I’m extremely excited for next season! We have such an incredible fishery here.”

Sanford says he credits the openness of other anglers in the lake’s fishing community with helping him catch the lake trout and becoming a better angler.

“I just learned how to jig for lake trout this year from friends like Will Nolan, Ryan Carpentier and Jamie Shiekone. They provided the mentorship and tutelage I needed to learn a new technique. Everyone’s so open and friendly, and willing to help you learn something new.”

Good says that is heartening to hear.

“To maintain and grow participation in the sport we all love, it takes a village. I’ve always encouraged avid anglers to take newcomers out and show them the ropes. It can be challenging for a new angler to learn techniques that will help them be successful. I hope more anglers step up and become mentors to friends, family, even strangers.”

This fall, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative is conducting sea lamprey control treatments on four Vermont rivers containing spawning populations of sea lamprey. The Winooski River was treated on October 2, the LaPlatte River will be treated on October 14 or 15, and control treatments will take place on the Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers within the next month.

To learn more about Lake Champlain’s sea lamprey control program, visit:

Dams and Atlantic Salmon

New modelling helps scientists explore what happens when endangered Atlantic salmon have access to more of their habitat.

From NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing WireWeldon Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine.
Photo courtesy Brookfield Renewable PowerNOAA

Fisheries Atlantic salmon researchers have found that Atlantic salmon abundance can increase as more young fish and returning adults survive their encounters with dams. Also, progress in rebuilding the population will depend heavily on continuing stocking of hatchery fish raised especially for this purpose. This information is based on a life history model and new information on changes in the Penobscot River watershed.

The remaining remnant Atlantic salmon populations in the United States are located in Maine, with the largest population in the Penobscot River. Numerous factors play a role in salmon recovery — from predation and habitat degradation to pollution and climate change. The two most influential factors are survival of fish as they navigate dams in the river, and survival during the marine phase of their life. Atlantic salmon are born and remain in fresh water for 1-3 years and migrate downriver through estuaries into the sea. Then they spend 1 to 2 years at sea before returning to the river where they were born to spawn.Hatchery salmon smolt

“Our findings indicate that Atlantic salmon abundance can increase as survival at dams from the lower to the upper watershed increases. Hatchery supplementation will be necessary to sustain the population when survival is low in egg-to-smolt and marine life stages,” said Julie Nieland, a salmon researcher at the science center’s Woods Hole Laboratory in Massachusetts and lead author of the study. “Increases in survival during both of these life stages will likely be necessary to attain a self-sustaining population, especially if hatchery supplementation is reduced or discontinued.

Updating What We know About Salmon Survival
Nieland and center colleague Tim Sheehan used an existing dam impact analysis model to look at how survival at dams, increased survival at key life stages, and hatchery supplementation affected the Atlantic salmon population. The model was developed in 2012 and first used in federal licensing analyses for five hydroelectric dams in the Penobscot River.

Nieland and Sheehan updated the model, adding new data and better accounting for changes in the watershed. They ran different scenarios to assess the effects of changing smolt numbers, stocking locations, and increasing survival in the egg-to-smolt and marine life stages. They also looked at scenarios involving various dams to estimate abundance and distribution of Atlantic salmon within the watershed and at different life stages. This included the smolt and adult stages when salmon encounter dams.

Analyzing an Upstream DamFish passage at Weldon Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine

The study focused on Weldon Dam in Mattawamkeag, about 65 miles upstream from Bangor, Maine. The dam is the fifth and farthest upstream dam on the main stem of the Penobscot. It is currently undergoing relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of the Mattaceunk Project.

There are a large number of dams in the Penobscot watershed. A better understanding of how dams alter important ecological function for salmon has proven to be a key advance in managing salmon recovery. For example, moving stocking locations lower in the watershed helped maximize adult return rates.

Habitat Access Critical to Salmon Recovery
The current stocking strategy minimizes Atlantic salmon deaths from dams. However, the population of Atlantic salmon is currently found in the lower watershed where habitat is lower quality. Increased survival and passage at dams will allow salmon to access the upper watershed where there is higher quality habitat.

Habitat quality could be an important piece of the puzzle for Atlantic salmon. Higher quality habitat would likely produce more smolts than lower quality habitat, but the potential benefits of increased habitat quality are not yet quantifiable.Viewing box at a dam fish passage as salmon migrate upstream .

The authors suggest that future research should focus on measuring the biological response of Atlantic salmon to different habitat qualities and evaluating the effects of changing habitat conditions on Atlantic salmon productivity. This would allow researchers to identify areas where salmon would thrive and quantify how a changing climate affects productivity. These results will also pave the way for a data-driven assessment of future productivity for U.S. Atlantic salmon. Managers will then be able to develop realistic recovery goals while prioritizing restoration efforts in areas with the greatest potential future productivity.

In addition to Atlantic salmon, populations of American shad, blueback herring, alewife and American eel in the Penobscot watershed could also benefit from increased dam passage and dam removal. Better passage and survival at dams would also allow these species to access higher quality habitat further up in the river.

For more information, please contact Shelley Dawicki.

Idaho’s Fish Marking Program Has Come a Long Way

By Braden Buttars and Joe DuPont, Idaho DFG
from The Fishing Wire

You set the hook and immediately your rod doubles over and there is no doubt you have hooked a big one (salmon or steelhead – you pick). Line starts peeling from your reel and you hold on for the ride. After some intense moments of thinking you may have lost the fish and some spectacular jumps, your buddy finally slips a net under the fish.

After a shout for joy, what is the first thing you say? How many of you said, “Is it clipped”? I suspect many of you did seeing a clipped adipose fin distinguishes a hatchery fish from a protected wild fish telling anglers it is legal to harvest. Many of us take it for granted that hatchery fish have a clipped adipose fin, but have you ever wondered what it takes to make this happen?

Joe DuPontThe Idaho fish marking program started in 1975 with a small group of people directed to tag salmon and steelhead raised in Idaho’s hatcheries. Their primary objective was to insert tiny pieces of wire, known as coded-wire tags, into the snouts of over one million salmon and steelhead. Each of these tagged fish also needed their adipose fin clipped to signify it contained a coded-wire tag. The recovery of these coded- wire tags would then help us evaluate how Idaho hatcheries contributed to fisheries in the Columbia River and ocean.

Northwest Marine TechnologyIdaho’s fish-marking program has changed dramatically since 1975. In 1984 the fish-marking program was directed to remove the adipose fin from more than 9 million Idaho hatchery steelhead so that anglers could distinguish hatchery fish from wild fish. This required a small army of people equipped with scissors working 40 hours a week for about three months to accomplish this task.

Once, to meet a deadline at Dworshak Hatchery in 1987, over 130 different temporaries were hired to keep four marking trailers operating 16 hours a day to remove the adipose fins from almost 3 million steelhead in 10 days. By the early 1990s, almost all hatchery Chinook Salmon released in Idaho were fin clipped, and hundreds of thousands of PIT tags were being injected into smolts to help answer specific research questions and provide managers real-time data to better manage fisheries.

It got to the point that Idaho’s fish marking program could not accomplish this alone and Federal Agencies also began to help. Despite this, Idaho’s fish marking program clipped and tagged approximately 11 million juvenile salmon and steelhead each year. All this work was done by hand requiring a dedicated force of temporarily.

In 2002 Idaho began to automate the fish marking program allowing more fish to be processed with less error. The first AutoFish Trailer was purchased in 2002. In 2004 Idaho purchased two additional AutoFish Trailers and two more were purchased in 2014. With this new technology, the Idaho Fish-Marking Program is now able to processes around 17 million salmon and steelhead from 9 Idaho hatcheries that contribute to major salmon and steelhead fisheries throughout Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.

Now that Idaho’s fish marking program has been using automated trailers for 18 years, they have refined this process to where most fish never need to be touched by a person. To make this happen, the automated trailers are parked right next to the raceways where the fish are being raised. This allows the fish to be directly pumped from the raceway, run through the marking trailers where their adipose fins are clipped and coded-wire tags are injected, and then discharged back to a nearby raceway with no direct human contact.

The first time you step into one of these marking trailer is seems more like you are entering a high tech computer facility than a place where fish are being marked. These automated trailers have the ability to sort individual fish by size using video imaging so that the right size fish goes into the right machine. This is required because each machine is programmed precisely to handle certain sized fish. Once a fish is sorted into the right machine, it gently clamps the fish in place and in a fraction of a second it can insert a coded-wire tag, clip its adipose fin, and confirm that the adipose fin was removed adequately. All this is accomplished without removing the fish from the water or using any type of anesthetic which reduces stress on the fish.

For more detail on how this process click on this video link fish marking video.
Roger Phillips

Because of this technology, we now have an accurate count of all clipped hatchery fish at each hatchery and how these fish were marked or tagged. The application of these technologies allows fisheries managers to evaluate, track, and manage fish to provide for the protection and recovery of wild fish, while maximizing commercial and sport use of hatchery fish.

In case you were wondering, in 2019, Idaho’s Fish-Marking Program was responsible for marking 16.35 million juvenile fish (10.7 million salmon and 5.65 million steelhead) as well as manually inserting 398,443 PIT tags across 9 anadromous fish hatcheries managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Barging Juvenile Salmon and Steelhead through the Columbia and Snake Rivers

Note: I found this especially interesting! Ronnie

It is thought that fish may miss critical migration cues in the barges that they would otherwise pick up during in-river migrations.

By Allison Lebeda, Joe DuPont, Lance Hebdon, and Jonathan Ebel.
Idaho Fish & Game
from The Fishing Wire

Barging Juvenile Salmon and Steelhead through the Columbia and Snake Rivers does not work as well as natural migration.

Juvenile salmon and steelhead born in Idaho waters must swim hundreds of miles and navigate a network of eight dams before they can reach the Pacific Ocean. Migrating through the mainstem hydrosystem can be one of the more daunting obstacles these young fish must face.

These fish, which we commonly refer to as “smolts” can pass through a dam in one of three ways.

First, they can be swept through the turbines, where the water forces large blades to rotate at high speeds.

Second, a series of screens can guide smolts away from the turbines where they will be routed through channels and pipes around the dam. We call this the juvenile bypass system.

Third, they can be carried over one of the dam’s spillways where they will plunge over a hundred feet into turbulent waters below.

Thanks to recent changes in the operations of the dams, most smolts pass over the spillway. The diagram above depicts the three passage routes that smolts can use to pass dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

NOAA Fisheries
In the late 1970s, poor adult returns of salmon and steelhead prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (from hereafter referred to as “the Corps”) to develop a fourth method of passing large numbers of juvenile fish past the Snake and Columbia River dams: barging.

Initially, two barges were available to transport juvenile fish, but gradually more barges were added, and by 1981, the barging program had the ability to barge large numbers of fish on a daily basis. Today, between 15 and 22 million smolts are collected from the juvenile bypass systems at Lower Granite, Little Goose, and Lower Monumental dams and placed in one of eight available barges.

Barging typically occurs from late April through July, and transports smolts through the hydropower system until they are eventually released below Bonneville Dam. Collection and transportation, known as the Juvenile Transport Program, is a considerable collaborative effort by the Corps with private, federal, and state agencies. Each barging trip lasts two days and covers nearly 300 river miles, but is ultimately faster than the migration for fish that must pass through the dams on their own power.  

At first glance, barging juvenile salmon and steelhead through the hydropower system seems the obvious solution to increase adult returns. Immediate survival of barged juveniles is nearly 98% compared to the 40-60% survival rate often experienced by smolts that must make the full journey past the dams in-river.

Barging was the dominant method of passing smolts through the hydrosystem from 1981 through 2006 when 60-100% of smolts passing the dams were put on barges. However, with increased spill over the dams, the addition of surface spillway weirs, and upgrades to existing juvenile bypass systems, the relative benefits of barging have declined in recent years. The proportion of smolts put on barges now ranges from 10-50% of the run as a result of increased spill over the dams and the consequent decrease in fish entering the juvenile bypass systems.

Despite high survival of barged smolts to the release site downstream of Bonneville Dam, transported fish often return at lower rates as adults than fish that migrated down the Snake and Columbia rivers on their own.

One explanation for this is multiple species of smolts are often confined in crowded conditions when being barged, which can increase stress and allow diseases to spread more easily between fish. Additionally, returning adults that were barged as smolts tend to migrate upstream slower, fall back over the dams more often, and stray more than fish that were not barged.

It is thought that fish may miss critical migration cues in the barges that they would otherwise pick up during in-river migrations.

Ongoing research using smolts tagged upstream of the hydrosystem and tagged at Lower Granite Dam has helped modify the barging program to improve survival of barged fish. Of fish that enter a juvenile bypass system, those that are subsequently transported tend to return as adults at higher rates than fish that are bypassed and returned to the river.

This is important because millions of smolts migrate past these dams this way each year. But, it is not as simple as one may think. The relative benefits barging provides to smolts varies by the timing of their migration, what species they are, their size, and whether they are a hatchery or wild fish.  For example, endangered Snake River Sockeye Salmon do not benefit from barging in most situations. This may be because they are smaller, can be easily descaled through abrasion, and prefer uncrowded open-water habitats found in lakes.

Meanwhile, steelhead benefit from barging in many situations potentially because they are larger, more resilient, and prefer faster flowing habitats not found in reservoirs. Both these species migrate at the same time and are transported together. Unfortunately, there is no current way to separate the two species after they have entered the juvenile bypass systems and transport-destined raceways.

For smolts migrating later in the season, those that are barged tend to do better than those that aren’t. This is likely because later in the year, migration conditions tend to worsen for smolts as flows decrease and water clarity and temperature increase. These conditions increase their stress levels and increase predation on them.

When you consider all these things, it certainly adds complexity on evaluating whether a smolt should be barged or not. For now, managers have taken a spread-the-risk approach using barging in concert with improving in-river migration conditions. 

In summary, although barging can increase the number of smolts that reach the ocean, transported fish often return at lower rates as adults than fish that migrate in-river.  Under certain conditions, barging juvenile salmon and steelhead can lead to higher survival and higher return rates as adults. Migration timing, fish size, river conditions, and fish species are just some of the variables that play a role in whether barging can be beneficial or not.

Researchers with the multitude of cooperating agencies continue to learn from and modify the Juvenile Transport Program to best increase adult returns. Barging juveniles through the complex network of dams is not the sole solution to salmon and steelhead restoration, but it is one of multiple tools managers have that can aid in increasing juvenile survival and adult returns in some situations.

Trolling for Trout

Trolling for Trout works!

Trolling for Trout
By Buzz Ramsey, Yakima Baits
from The Fishing Wire

Rainbow and other trout (brown, brook and cutthroat) offer anglers fishing success in lakes and reservoirs where trolling is a popular way to catch them. Some water bodies host wild fish populations that sustain fisheries. But what populates most trout waters across America, from New York to Oregon, are millions of hatchery fish raised by State Fish & Wildlife and Federal agencies before release into local waters – all for you and me to catch.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we spend much of our fishing time chasing salmon and steelhead, but pursue trout and other fish each-and-every year too. And while the trout planted in the lakes near our home are not always big, usually averaging 12-to-14 inches, we sometimes catch fish nearing the ten pound mark. These trout are fun to catch on light tackle and a challenge when bigger than expected.

Whether you move your boat along with a pair of oars or motor, what makes trolling effective is the amount of water you can cover, which pretty much guarantees the lures trailing behind your boat will come in contact with hungry fish.

The uses of oars or an electric trolling motor are popular means of propulsion when trolling because they facilitate slow going. For example, electric trolling motors are designed with a variable speed control that starts at zero. If your method of propulsion is a gas outboard, getting it to idle down may require a fresh tank of gasoline and, perhaps, a pre-adventure tune-up for it to run smoothly at low idle.

While trolling slowly is important, so is trolling in an erratic pattern. Fish that are initially attracted to your gear may lose interest if your offering doesn’t run away or swim erratically when approached. You can somewhat mimic this injured-prey reaction from predatory fish by zigzagging or changing your boat speed, which will sometimes trigger following fish to striking before their curiosity wanes.

The one lure that has changed our trolling success more than any other is a plug called the Mag Lip. Mag Lip is distinctive due to its ability to dive extra-deep while yielding an erratic, darting “skip-beat” action that produces savage strikes from fish. The “skip-beat” action produced by Mag Lip adds greatly to what we can achieve by changing boat speed and direction. The strike response due to the “skip-beat” action can be compared to how a house cat pounces when coaxed with a ball-and-string.

Many guides and anglers report a higher hook-to-land ratio when using Mag Lip as compared to other lures and credit the savage strikes and better hook-to-land ratio to the unique action produced by this relative new to-the-market lure.

Determining the correct trolling speed depends on what lures you employ combined with the pace trout might respond to best. For example, you might troll a small FlatFish somewhere between a half and one (1) MPH, since this plug was designed to produce frantic action when pulled slowly.

Trolling FlatFish at the speed they perform best can be especially effective when water temps are cool, fish are less aggressive, or when the forage they seek matches the size and color of this high-action plug. For spinner, spoon and plugs, like Mag Lip, the right trolling speed is usually in the range of 1 to 1-1/2 MPH, with 2 MPH considered fast on most waters.

When forward trolling, try positioning your lines at different distances behind your boat. Although the most productive distance might vary depending on water clarity and how boat shy fish might be, a good place to start is to run your lines from 50-to-100 feet out. Staggering the distance of each line means your gear will make multiple passes by the fish, increasing the chance of an encounter.

Another thing to keep in mind when trolling is the depth you position your gear. For example, trout might be found near the surface when the light is low, like early or late in the day and when overcast, but go deep when the sun is bright. Therefore, positioning your lines deeper during the middle of the day might keep the bite going. Water temperature can also affect where fish might be found as they will likely go deeper or suspend at a preferred temperature zone when surface temperatures get uncomfortable from summertime heat.

While Mag Lip dives deep the depth achieved varies based on line test (diameter), and distance out. For example, all according to Mark Romanack of Fishing 411 TV fame’s Precision Trolling App, the 2.5 (2-1/2 inch) size Mag Lip will dive eight feet with 50 feet of let out and ten feet with 75 feet of let out – this data is based on ten-pound test Berkley XT monofilament. You can add another foot of dive if using ten pound test Fireline, as this high-tech line is thinner than monofilament of the same test.

And while Mag Lip is our favorite plug for trout, we make use of other lures too. For example, there are times when a slow-trolling presentation produces best, which is when we employ the wild action produced by small FlatFish (sizes F-3 to F-7 for trout) at speeds ranging from a half to one mile-per-hour (MPH). Perhaps due to when trout are feeding on minnows, thin bladed spoons, like a Triple Teaser, sometimes out produce other lures when trolled from 1-to-2 MPH.

The vibrating/fish-calling action of a spinner, like a Rooster Tail, works when forward trolled too. If you troll a spinner, keep in mind that their action can twist fishing line. Therefore, it’s important to rig a ball-bearing or other quality swivel twenty or so inches from your spinner or halfway down your leader when rigged in combination with a sinker, attractor, downrigger, or bottom walker.

Adding a fish attractant to any lure can increase its effectiveness. You’ll find an innumerable array of scents available for this purpose. In addition to spraying my lures with an attractant, like Rooster Tail Scent Spray from Yakima Baits, I often add a short section (usually a half inch or so) from a scent-filled worm, grub or maggot (PowerBait or Gulp!) to the hook of my plug, spinner or spoon – just rig it to hang straight back.

If you tip spoons, be advised that employing too large a tip can deaden their action – so keep tipping baits extra short on spoons. Although the above tipping baits are available in different colors, we’ve found the white or black colors often produce best, at least on the trout lakes near our home.

Buzz Ramsey is Brand Manager for Yakima Bait Company and a member of the management team – Find Buzz on Facebook/Instagram.