Fish management policy – what Mama didn’t tell you

Digging Deeper  — A Primer on Fish Management Policy Making

We crazies who love fish and fishing are really good at fighting among ourselves over hatchery fish or allowable fishing gear.  Sometimes, we get quite engaged picking at each other over our favored viewpoints.  Some people label folks with divergent views about hatchery fish as arrogant, egotistical, delusional, irresponsible, greedy, impractical,  low-lifers, or worse.  I didn’t make these labels up.  I’ve heard them all spoken within the last week.

Great.  Name calling really helps.  What a bunch of babies we can all be.

Problem is, our in-fighting draws attention away from effectively challenging habitat degradation and excessive harvest rates on salmon and steelhead populations.  If passionate anglers would challenge management policies that destroy wild fish habitat and allow over-fishing as fiercely as they fight about hatcheries and fishing gear, there would be (I believe) a bigger runs of salmon and steelhead returning to our rivers.

Some of the arguing and name calling is probably just for sport, because certain personalities relish conflict.  Some of the debate is intended to  influence fish managers to change policies and programs.  Many people who want to change the system don’t understand what it takes to implement change in management policy.

Dr. Robert T. Lackey has devoted considerable effort pondering and describing the anatomy of ecological policy decisions.  Management of hatcheries is a prime example of such policy implementation.

Consider that the hatchery system currently in place here in the Pacific Northwest has been evolving since the late 1800s.  The hatchery system consists of physical infrastructure and, perhaps more important, a perceptual infrastructure.  The perceptual infrastructure is at least as complex as the physical infrastructure.  Scientists, fish managers, anglers, and an elusive public have their respective, sometimes mutually exclusive set of perceptions regarding hatchery salmon.  Each of these groups I mentioned, and more, is divided regarding hatcheries, with attitudes that range from 1) hatcheries are all good; 2) hatcheries are all bad; and 3) everywhere between #1 and #2, including complete indifference to the issue.

Persons in positions of authority make policy choices that affect hatchery fish and wild fish every day.  Fund this program – or don’t.  Fund this research; release such and such a number of this or that species, here or there; use domesticated or wild broodstock; make promises to constituents; react to pressure in support or against the status quo – or don’t.  The push-pull goes on each day.

Bob lackey wrote an interesting paper, published in Fisheries in June 2006 – Axioms of Ecological Policy.  He noted, I think correctly, “…many current ecological policy problems are contentious and socially wrenching.”

Dr. Lackey goes on to list nine axioms that characterize contentious ecological policy decisions.  I will list each of these, underlined, and provide a short editorial comment.  Understanding these ecological policy axioms is crucial to anyone who wants to influence the current hatchery management structure.

The policy and political dynamic is a zero-sum game.  I take this to mean that changes to the hatchery management system will create winners and losers.  Any change from the status quo will not be well-received by everyone.

The distribution of benefits and costs is more important than the ratio of total benefits to total costs.  I take this to mean that managers are less concerned about whether the benefit to cost ratio of the present hatchery management system is positive or negative – whether hatcheries make or lose money – than they are about how the benefits and costs get spread among constituents and the public.  Who gets the benefits?  Who pays?

The most politically viable policy choice spreads the benefits to a broad majority with the costs limited to a narrow minority of the population.  I see this as an acknowledgment that government agencies survive by not creating new enemies.  If so, management decisions that create more winners than losers will get the nod.  Similarly, policy change that creates winners among a politically powerful group and losers among a politically disenfranchised group carries relatively little risk to policy makers, and is therefore considered a viable policy change by the decision makers.

Potential losers are usually more assertive and vocal than potential winners and are, therefore, disproportionately important in decision making.  I take this to mean that policy managers listen selectively.  Constituents who are likely to be displaced by a prospective change in hatchery management may be given more consideration than constituents who are likely to receive future, difficult-to-predict benefits.

Many advocates will cloak their arguments as science to mask their personal policy preferences.  I take this to mean that more than a few people who advocate any particular action regarding hatchery management will cherry-pick their scientific facts so as to support their preferred policy choice.

Even with complete and accurate scientific information, most policy issues remain divisive.  I take this to mean that there is unlikely to ever be enough science regarding hatchery and wild fish interactions to alleviate the angst of fish policy managers.   Science is great, but it doesn’t make change from the status quo painless.

Demonizing policy advocates supporting competing policy options is often more effective than presenting rigorous analytical arguments.  I take this to mean that advocates for or against the hatchery status quo might actually be more successful advancing their propositions by painting people representing other viewpoints as “creepy people” rather than fairly communicating recommendations and the information.  This is a particularly troubling axiom, and I hope it is wrong, because I always counsel policy advocacy that is respectful, separates science from opinion, acknowledges the complexity of competing policy choices, and generally avoids eye poking.

If something can be measured accurately and with confidence, it is probably irrelevant in decision making.  I take this to mean that the social and interpersonal aspects of policy management are more important, ultimately, than scientific information.  My professional experience and the historical record of fish management suggest that science precedes management action by years if not decades. Plenty of information is usually available to support change from management status quo, but management policy changes are not implemented until an ecological or social crisis occurs.

The meaning of words matters greatly and arguments over their precise meaning are often surrogates for debates over values.  I take this to mean that people advocating any particular policy actions are likely to engage in intricate, mind-numbing debates over word definition rather than focusing on the spirit of proposed management actions.  If true, this amounts to delaying and distracting decision makers as a tactic to achieve a desired policy outcome.

So there you have it. Dr. Lackey has described the policy management playing field pretty clearly.  We live in a democracy but not all constituents are equally represented.  Science won’t cast the final vote.  Debates over policy choices could get personal, maybe nasty. Some folks will try to hide the pea.  People who want to influence the status quo of fish management, or maintain it as is, need to understand the game.

I would add one final comment regarding management policy.  Future generations of constituents are virtually disenfranchised in the policy deliberation process.  Battles over management of hatchery and wild fish will create the environmental and social landscape that our children will inherit.  But our kids don’t get a vote in the process.


Ten Commandments for Novice Spey Fishers

Ten Commandments for the Novice Spey Fisher …

One.  Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone see you make that little “drop-the-rod-on-your-shoulder, wrap-the-line-around-you” Double Spey cast that Ed Ward features in Skagit Master.  No one else casts like this.  Except geeks like me who have seen the DVD a hundred times and are pretending that we are cool like Ed.  It is OK to make this cast, just don’t get seen doing it between now and 2012.

Two.  Don’t try to push a cast with your top hand.  This pegs you as a single-hander. If your hands are more than four feet in front of your chest you are probably working too hard at it.

Three.  Do apply power with your bottom hand.

Four.  Always – always – shove your line-handling fist into the pocket of your waders or coat while your fly is swinging.  Failure to do so also pegs you as a newbie.

Five.  Let your rod hand hang loosely at your side and parallel to the water’s surface during the swing.  This in contrast to the arm-extended, rod-up-at an-angle pose typical of a Spey novice.  Might as well relax, dude.  It could well be another fifty days on the water before you get a grab.

Six.  Talk to yourself while casting and fishing.  Say things like – slow down; don’t drop my D loop;  maintain steady acceleration;  upstream wind; I love casting so much that it doesn’t matter how many days I have been swinging flies without a pull.  All this is fair and reflective self-coaching.

Seven.  Fish barbless.  (Note: the spell checker suggests using the word braless here.  I declined to do so, but the reader may chose for him or herself on this matter.)

Eight.  Always, always, know where the wind is coming from.  Always.

Nine.  Do not ever blame a rod for your casting bloopers.  A fly line cannot do anything the rod doesn’t make it do, and a rod cannot do anything other than what your hand, power, and timing tell it to do.

Ten. Please remember:  the harder you work, the wronger you will cast.


PS: I talk to myself all the time, and regularly fail to heed these Commandments.

While Everyone Else was Fishing …..

While everyone else went fishing . . . . .

Someone smoked in a No-Smoking room.

A mother worried about her teenage son’s embarrassment over his weight.

A young man quarreled with his girlfriend, in the parking lot behind the Cafe where she was waiting tables.  She shouted at him.  He stood there with his hands in his pockets, face to the asphalt, shoulders slumped.  She strode back into the Cafe.  He got into a car on the passenger side.  An older lady, maybe his mother, drove him away.

Three men expounded loudly about arrogant fly fishers. These outsiders, it was said, wore a thousands bucks worth of clothing every day they dressed to fish.  These outsiders, it was said, probably killed more fish with their silly catch and release games than Indian gill-netters.

An angry young man in a shiny pickup honked and jabbed his finger into the air as a car driven by an old man and woman stopped where there wasn’t a stop sign.

A young man and woman, maybe twenty or so, got frisky, repeatedly, in room 205.

A teenage boy had Chinese food for lunch with his parents.  The young man asked if they were really happy with their lives.

Two thirty-something men from Wyoming pondered their new Spey fishing skill-sets over coffee.  They clearly weren’t convinced  the two-hander craze was worth it.

An old man chatted a little too long with the Barista at the local Coffee Shop.  He was lonely.  She was tolerant.  A daily ritual.

A group of college boys and girls walked from store to store looking at Twilight Movie souvenirs.  One of the boys pretended to be a Vampire.  Everyone shrieked and laughed.

An Indian woman cleaned rooms at the Motel.

Eight men in their sixties and seventies pulled several tables together at the Cafe and talked about their day’s fishing.  Four boats, four guides, and only a few bites.  They bet on the next day’s catch:  first fish, biggest fish, and so on.  Dollar bets.  All ordered the Prime Rib special.

A  middle-age woman stood beside the road, under an umbrella, with a cardboard sign asking for – Anything.

The lyrics on the radio sang: “So often it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never knew we had the key.  Me, I’m already gone.”

A man smiled when he listened to his family sing Happy Birthday over the phone.


More on being “Anti-Hatchery”

More thoughts on being “Anti-Hatchery”

Consider a person who points out problems with historical and current hatchery management practices.  Should this person be categorized, strictly, as being anti-hatchery?  No.

Consider a person who accepts hatchery salmon and steelhead as a legitimate tool for judicious application in certain places in the world we live in today.  Should this person be categorized, strictly, as being anti-wild fish?  Silly thought.

Now that I’ve cleared that up (insert raucous laughter here), I want to share a thought.

I was in San Francisco with my family last week.  We were visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, like we always do.  I stood before a cross-section of one of the great suspension cables, marveling at the human ingenuity and determination that was required to build a bridge that was unthinkably complicated in it’s day.

Twenty seven thousand wires in each cable.  Eighty thousand miles of cable.  That’s a grundle of cable.  It took a lot of guts and crazy stubbornness to design and build that bridge in the 1930s.

Then I looked, for the umpteenth time, at the pattern of the wires in the suspension cable.  This time, instead of wire, I saw fish scales.


It occurred to me that this bridge symbolizes the thinking of men who believed they could solve the crisis of declining salmon runs with hatcheries.  A hatchery is simply a technology, a tool invented by men to accomplish a task.  The task was to replace destroyed rivers.  The task was to replenish over-fished salmon runs.  The task was to improve on nature.  Nature creates the pattern we see in fish scales.  Humans created the pattern I saw in that massive bound cluster of steel cables.

The same intellectual determination that convinced men to build the Golden Gate Bridge convinced men that they could improve on nature, with salmon hatcheries.  Whatever nature could do with scales, or salmon runs, could certainly be improved-on by the powerful human engineering intellect.

At first, hatcheries were ineffective, or even counter-productive.  At first, hatcheries produced no returning fish, and some hatchery work actually depleted wild salmon runs.  This statement isn’t intended to open old wounds.  It is just the way things were.  White men took the land, took the water, cut all the trees they could cut, caught all the fish they could catch, and killed as much game as they could kill.  It is just how the West was intentionally taken for granted and dominated.

Old news.

The news of today is that, because of hatcheries, we have salmon in some places where we probably would not otherwise have many – or any.  After practically ruining many of our watersheds for salmon and steelhead, we do have salmon and steelhead where otherwise we would not, thanks to hatcheries.

We have spring Chinook and coho in the Umatilla today, after these species were killed off in the basin.  We have runs of a hundred thousand hatchery spring Chinook (in good run years years) returning to the Upper Willamette River instead of a few thousand wild fish surviving in a basin where dams have made the river largely inhospitable to salmon.

Given what has been done to the rivers of Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho, I believe that hatchery salmon and steelhead  have a valid place in the modern world.

That said, hatchery salmon and steelhead should not be stocked everywhere. If this assertion, this plea comes out of the blue, please excuse me.   Sometimes I just need to blurt out what I believe, and let the chips fall where they will.

I believe that there should be some places, some rivers, some runs of salmon and steelhead protected from the risks associated with hatchery fish. Protected more than usual from the risks associated with killing too many of the fish returning to the streams.  Protected from the risks associated with killing juveniles before they have a chance to mature.

We should do this, as managers, as anglers, as resource stewards, as humans, because we realize that we have lost so much of what is genuinely wild and diverse and precious, and irreplaceable in the natural world.  We should do this because we know that we do not fully understand the long-term effects of human impacts on the earth’s ecosystem.  We should do this because, well, because we want to preserve some ecological options for our children.

Because we know, in our guts, in our hearts, it is the right thing to do.


Tube Intruder and MOAL Leech…

Look out Steelhead….

Too much musing about conservation issues lately.  Must fish.  Rods to mess with.  Lines.  Tube flies.  Tube Intruders.  Killer Tube Leeches in mini-sizes.

Here ya go.  No frills, no hype.  Just a messy fly bench and two flies that will, I hope, get chomped before the week is up.


On being “Anti-Hatchery”

On being “Anti-hatchery”

Interesting concept, that of being “anti hatchery.”

I recently wondered how one could earn the reputation of being an anti-hatchery person?  Being labeled pro-hatchery is often the equivalent of being anti-wild fish.  Being labeled pro-wild fish is often the unspoken couplet with being anti-hatchery.

Could a person be labeled pro-wild and pro-hatchery at the same time?

Hummm. I find these assumptions constraining and counterproductive.

Let’s get personal now. In the last several months I have been referred to, alternately, as being anti-hatchery and being a hatchery apologist.  I decided to look that one up.

a·pol·o·gist, noun:  Somebody who argues to defend or justify a particular doctrine or ideology.

Cool.  Now I’m anti-hatchery and pro-hatchery.  Is that, like, a double negative, making me pro-wild fish?

This line of thinking took me off into the weeds wondering about being anti-something-or-the-other.

I am anti-slavery.  I am against forced child labor.  I am against emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of men, women, and children.  I am against racial or religious persecution, discrimination, and stereotyping.  These moral positions are straightforward.  These are easy.  These are situations where, in my opinion, right and wrong are at stake.

I am also against environmental abuse.  Now things get a little more complicated.  How much environmental alteration does it take to constitute environmental abuse?  Not quite such a clear distinction, I think.  It is wrong to cut a tree?  Ten trees?  Ten thousand trees?  Half a rain forest?  Three quarters of rain forest?  Ninety percent of a rain forest?

Messy distinctions. Scientists might try to tell us what percent of a rain forest could be cut and still maintain the ecological function of the region, but our guts can probably tell us the answer faster than the studies can be done while the cutting goes on.

The same could be said for operating hatcheries and managing fishery harvest. The scientists are haranguing over hatchery-wild fish interactions, over sustainable fishery harvest rates.  They do this while our salmon and steelhead continue to decline.  And we, as anglers and conservationists, take positions based on science and our guts, sometimes listening selectively to the scientists so that we can hold our preferred gut level position.

For me, environmental abuse is a case of – I know it when I see it.  Quite possibly, I’m fuzzy about environmental abuse only because I have chosen to accept anthropogenic environmental alterations in my own selfish interests.

OK.  Must to return to fish talk; salmon and steelhead thinking.

I am against abusive fishing rates on our salmon and steelhead runs.  How much fishing does it take to constitute over-fishing? Depends on circumstances.  It’s complicated.

I’m against abusive operation of hatcheries.  What does it take to constitute abusive hatchery operation?  Depends on circumstances.  It’s complicated.

If given the power, which is a silly thought, I would not, given the state of the world today, get rid of all hatcheries, stop all fishing, nor would I put an end to all logging, or all farming, tear down all dams, or ……….

Ahah, maybe this makes me an apologist for environmental abuse.

I certainly would lower harvest rates in many fisheries.  I would try to change the mind-set of fishery managers who still worship MSY (Maximum Sustained Yield) and ask them to set higher spawning escapement goals. I can’t imagine many places where I would plead with fishery managers to substantially increase harvest rates on salmon or steelhead runs.

I would keep some hatcheries humming along, probably operated a little differently, but I would not continue putting hatchery fish in every river where they are stocked today.  I might start putting hatchery fish in some places where they are not being stocked now.

Imagine that.

If someone points out problems with hatcheries, or proposes changes to fish harvest management or timber harvest practices, or whatever the hell people do to the earth and it’s creatures, it is because they want people to understand the complexity of the issues and make informed choices.

I hope our future will include thriving wild salmon and steelhead.  It’s likely to have hatchery salmon and steelhead in it too.  Great.  Let’s find out where the balance can be established.  I hope we can fish and eat fish too.

If the world goes down in a pile of doo-doo, if it becomes necessary to choose one or the other, hatchery or wild – fishing or no – I’ll vote for no hatcheries and no fishing.  None.  I’d vote to save the wild fish.  Period.

I would cast this vote, in desperation only, to save something real, something full of wonder, something that we will never be able to recreate with our intellect.  I would cast this vote only if it was necessary, and finding the world in such a state  would sadden me greatly.

Let’s make sure no one gets boxed into this corner, here in the lower 48.


A letter to my Father: March 7, 2010

A Letter to my Father, March 7th, 2010

It was about 6:15 AM.   I was perched at a window seat at one of a zillion Starbucks in San Francisco; this one at the corner of Bush and Sutter streets.  My family was asleep back at the hotel and I was here, sketching a hatchery steelhead, concentrating on my pen lines, when I realized that a fellow at the window seat next to me was writing so furiously that he shook the ledge.

Each “I” was dotted, each “t” crossed with great force, his pen alternately jabbing into or slashing across the paper.

Interesting. He wore a coarse, blue wool sweater.   His hair, long, grey and matted, had that slept-on-for-weeks look.  Not the fashionable young rebel look.  The old nasty-hair look.

Homeless, I guessed, or close to it. Mid forty-something.  Or fifty.  Or thirtyish.  He looked old.  He wrote with a cheap ballpoint pen on plain white paper that had been intricately folded in odd, angular shapes.

He had penned several pages before I realized he was writing a letter.  He shuffled through the pages, striking out a word here and there, re-writing as he went.  I glanced over at just the right time to see the words:  “Dear Dad.”

I sketched on, now preoccupied with thoughts of his letter.  Shortly, he leaned over to catch the attention of a customer adding cream to his coffee, asked how he should spell – snow skiing – listened to the answer, and continued with his animated letter writing.

Was he really writing his father? The man seated next to me didn’t look like he’d been snow skiing any time recently, nor likely to be going  skiing anytime soon.  Perhaps his father was fond of skiing this time of year?  Was his father alive?  Was he writing to ask for money?  Was this a brilliant artist who chose to look like a street-person?  Did he roam the streets from coffee shop to coffee shop, writing the same letter every morning, over and over again?

It was close to eight. The coffee shop was crowded.   I think he signed his name to the letter then.  By this time it was something like four or five pages long.  He stood up abruptly, pushed his chair back under the window bench, and walked outside.  Standing in front of the coffee shop, he re-read the letter one last time, stuffed it into his back pocket, and strode-off downhill on  Bush Street.  His pants were a heavy, pinstriped, corduroy material.  Narrow stripes of blue, green, gold, red, yellow, and purple, I think.  Difficult to be sure in the early morning light.  Reminiscent of something Jimi Hendrix might have worn, I thought.

As he walked away, I noticed his shoes.  New.  Very stylish.  Shiny.  Probably very expensive, I speculated.  Wonder how he got those shoes.  Wonder where he was going.  I stopped sketching and thought about all the possibilities.

Then I decided to write my father a letter.

Dear Dad:

I think of you often even though I have not written since I was in therapy.    You died in 1975.   I was 26.  There are a few things I need to say.  It is March, 2010 and I’m about to turn 61.  Mom died last year.       I divorced in 1991 and remarried in 1995; Lisa is amazing – the love of my life.  You have two fine grandsons.  David is 31, Jackson is 11.  I’m a fish biologist; very happy; and very grateful for my life, friends, and family.  I still love to fish and tie flies.

My family and I are here in San Francisco for a few days. Remember when you were stationed at the Presidio in 1956?  I saw a sign that reminded me of the place where we bought sardines for bait.

Jackson took a picture of me yesterday, right where I used to fish for shiner perch near Fort Point, when I was seven.

Remember the day I carried a  Striped Bass home from the Bay on my bicycle?  I found that photo when we got home.  It is one of the few photos of my life that I saved.  That’s Jimmy on the left and me on the right.  SF has changed a lot.  The Presidio isn’t even a military base anymore.

What I really wanted to tell you is – I’m sorry that we never really talked before you died.  Neither of us knew how to do that.

I know you have regrets. So do I.  Let’s leave that behind.  I know that you loved me and mom.  I know you were miserable.  Don’t worry about us.  Mom had a good life after you died.  She moved to Corvallis to be close to us and we often went out to dinner with her.  Our first adventure out with your youngest grandson was going to Starbucks with Dulcie.

I love you Dad. I know you did the best you could.  My life has been really good.  Some rough spots, sure, but I’m grateful for everything that has come to pass.  Your grandson David is married; he and Heather both have great  jobs and she gave him a wonderful second family.  Jackson is thriving and will be taller than his mom by the time he is twelve.

Remember that hardware store where we bought live crawdads on our way over to fish the Nestucca?  And the time we forgot the spools for our Mitchell 300s? And the time I hooked a steelhead at the mouth of that little creek when the big river was high and muddy?  Boy, I remember how high it jumped when it threw my hook.    I can still see it in my mind.  Can you see it too?

I  remember also the day you took me to a store in Portland and bought us both fly rods, reels, and lines.   The lines were brown, and I remember being embarrassed that we couldn’t  afford the good Ivory colored lines.  They might have been Eagle Claw rods, and I think they were 7 1/2′ long.  We almost always fish longer rods these days.  We bought some Royal Coachman Bucktails that day too. Size #10. They just don’t tie ’em like they did back in ’62.

I wish you had been able to fish with me.  Thank you for giving me a place to be safe, by the water, with the fish.

Time to go now. I’ll write again.   I promise.  I need to tell David and Jackson some of the good things I remember about you, things about your character that they will be proud to know about their grandfather.  Like the time you went out to face a mob of men rioting and looting in Istanbul — just you and our building Janitor to interpret.  I can still see your .45 in the back of your belt.  Me and mom and grandma Woodburn watching from the window.


Wild Salmon – Hatchery Salmon….

Thoughts on the Artificial Propagation of Pacific Salmon

People have been culturing Pacific salmon in the Northwest corner of the lower 48 (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho) for over a century now.  By Pacific salmon i refer generally to native salmon, steelhead, and trout in the genus Oncorhynchus.

I worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for three decades, my roots firmly planted in research and policy regarding hatchery and wild salmon.  My current work with the Wild Salmon Center provides an ongoing professional opportunity to wrestle with the challenge of interpreting the science of hatchery and wild fish and supporting fish management policy that will sustain thriving wild salmon and steelhead populations long after we’re all smushed to dust.

I worked on the development of the Elk River Chinook hatchery program, a model in its day for integrating wild and hatchery fish.  I often mention The Elk River Hatchery program as one of the more progressive and an example of a place where managers have tried to operate the hatchery in a manner that would not degrade the wild population.

I also studied straying from the Private Salmon Hatcheries on the Oregon coast during the 1980s.  That adventure into privatization of salmon ranching was an economic disaster (Weyerhaeuser lost about ten million bucks in the process), and sent a lot of hatchery salmon straying into most nearby rivers.  The former effect, alone, drove private salmon ranches on the reef.  Biological concerns would probably have done the same, eventually, but the private investors pulled the plug first, I think.

Midway through my career, I dove into the historical record of fish management in the Pacific Northwest.  Fascinating!  Astounding! Frightening.  Sad.

I’ve seen some changes in management of hatchery and wild salmon and steelhead during the last four decades – positive changes, in my opinion.  Many changes that reflect a growing recognition of the intrinsic biological and cultural value of wild native fish.  Of course, with my professional focus and personal bias, i tend to think mostly about  native salmon, steelhead, and trout populations.

As anglers and people who care about fish and fishing, it is important to understand that there is more than a century of history, an evolution if you will, that precedes where we are today with management of wild and hatchery salmon.

Fish managers didn’t just wake up this morning and decide objectively what they would do with respect to hatchery and wild salmon.  They woke up in a goo of concrete, habitat destruction, fish food, coded-wire tags, research, constituent groups, budget constraints, employees, political pressures, mitigation requirements, tribal treaties, international agreements, and a schizophrenic public perception of the hatchery fish versus wild fish issue.

That’s a lot to find in one’s head before coffee.  Enough to make some heads explode, I would think, and it creates a lot of inertia, a lot of resistance to initiate any course corrections.

The task of providing unbiased information about the management of  hatchery and wild salmon is a challenge is hazardous — but I believe that wild salmon and our kids  deserve our best effort to do this.

With that in mind, I have drafted a piece on the Unintended Consequences of Hatchery Fish.

In a few weeks, when my friends and I are exhausted by editing the article, I will post the piece, one chapter at a time, ten days in a row.  The idea of doing so is to let each  point sink-in and ask folks to respond with their own perceptions, suggestions, and corrections.

I hope to learn from this exercise.  I hope we all learn from this exercise.

Stay tuned – sometime around the end of March – ten straight days of wild/hatchery fish introspection.



Winter Steelhead – Salmon Fisher’s Journal, 27 February, 2020

Journal Entry:  27 February 2010

My mom died last October.  I was fishing on her birthday, February 27th.  Funny thing happened last week..  I had some good news and I had the thought, “I’m going to give mom a call and tell her……”

Oh yeah, she’s gone.  In fact, her condition had deteriorated to the point where I could’t have a phone conversation for the last six or so years.  She pretty much didn’t know who I was for the last two.  But there I was, all of a sudden, wanting to give her a call.

I had a great weekend fishing with friends on Mom’s birthday weekend.  The photo above shows where we fished.  Time being in demand like it is, I just wanted to  briefly share a few highlights and insights from the weekend – not necessarily in order.

Coffee is good.  Cut-it-with-a-chainsaw coffee is better.

100-plus pound Chinook salmon are not necessarily twelve years old.  They may be seven.  One problem is that there are no data (yes sports fans, the word data refers to plural) I am aware of to document the age of hundred-pounders.  In retrospect, we probably have no stinkin’ idea how long these magnificent fish would live if they were not fished in the ocean.  Consider this:  a Chinook salmon that is genetically predisposed to mature at age-6 must elude commercial and recreational fishers at ages 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 before entering its home stream.  How on earth do any of them ever survive that long?  Luck?  Fishing pressure could well have selected for younger age at maturity.  Bet it has.

The 60+ and 70+ kings that I saw age data for in Oregon during the late 1980s were 6 year olds.  So maybe my buddies were right about the twelve-year-old hundred pounders.  I might concede on this one.  It makes my sad to think about the years of pressure a late-maturing Chinook has to endure, and the odds against making it that long without getting caught.

Lamprey.  Can anyone say aestivation?

Spey Rods make really crappy wading staffs.  Spey rods do, however, make an attention-getting Ka-pow sound when they are used in a futile attempt to avid taking yet another swim with a camera.

Can you say #!!%##@**? Don’t try.

Yes, one could actually drown as a consequence of tumbling downstream if a sufficient number of wraps are made around said person with a 540 gr Skagit Compact.  Along this line of thought, it is good to have friends poised downriver standing ready to snag you out of the river before you sail through the tailout.

Electric fences are not friendly to man or beast.

Boys will be boys.

Burger king meat smells good

When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

Older gentlemen deserve first water

Two-hundred-buck Diesel truck tires spring mystical leaks.

A shot of Jack Daniels after a swim does not forestall the onset of hypothermia.

One should probably not attempt to engage in thoughtful conversation while wearing one’s underwear at 11PM, no matter how drunk one’s fishing companions are.

Fly fishers are a quirky, secretive lot.

There are as many variations of the Grab, tug, pull, pluck, bump, yank, rub, bite, jerk, thwap, and so on as there are beaver sticks, willow branches, smolts, cutthroat, newts, kelts, and so on.  Steelhead fly fishers have vivid imaginations and a correspondingly vivid and weird way of communicating lunatic thoughts.

“Put the meat to ‘em” means different things to different people.

It is best to ignore the advice of one’s companions who say “you’ve fished down far enough, let’s move on to the next run.

Contrary to rumors otherwise, Kelts can not possibly, we decided,  “eat good,” no matter how much they have silvered-up.

Leeches do not look like sea lice.  Not even close.  Sort of creepy, we agreed.

Nobody trusts nobody, really.

Hatchery fish can show up about anywhere.

Seals do play catch-and-release. (see golden arches in above photo)

I am grateful for another day on this earth with friends and family.