Residency and Anadromy in O. mykiss, May 25, 2011

BTW, this here fish is a hatchery steelhead that was released into the South Santiam in April or May, and was still hanging out in the river in September, where it gulped a size 16 Renegade and was then released back into the river to compete with wild rainbow, cutthroat, and chinook juveniles.

Wow, what a complex question, that faced by a rainbow/steelhead trout which is now actually a member of  Oncorhynchus, not as it formerly was, of Salmo, and as such is a member of the Pacific Salmon family.

What was the question?  Oh yes.  I am a little O mykiss (rainbow) living in Hood River.  My mom and dad might have been anadromous (like they swam to the ocean and came back) or they might have both matured somewhere in Hood River, mated and produced me.  But now, gosh darn it, I have this strong impuse to head off downstream myself, swim out into the ocean and migrate way up between Alaska and Russia in the Alaskan Gyre (Google that if you will), hang out for a few years, and then come on home to the Hood.  (play on words?)

This blog ain’t gonna answer the question completely, as this would take more time and dilligence than I have at the moment.  But here is the deal.

O. mykiss is good at exploiting habitat and ecological opportunities.  Some fascinating research in Kamchatka indicates that rivers with very fertile feed production tend to produce more “residency” in mykiss, although a proportion of the rainbow do practice anadromy (as if they need practice) and head out to sea and back, thusly becoming steelhead.

Conversely, the anadromous life history was more common in rivers where we would consider food production to be on the stingy side.  This makes sense.  If there isn’t much to eat, then let’s go to sea, grow, make lots of big eggs, and then come home to spawn.  If on the other hand, there is a ton of food in the river, then why bother?

One cool aspect of this tendency to express fundamentally an anadromous or resident life history, with lots of interbreeding among both “types” of fish, is that it shows how O. mykiss can exploit significantly different ecological conditions by mostly staying in the river to mature or mostly going to sea to mature.

But I ramble, as per usual.  Go to southern CA, at the extreme southern edge of where steelhead persist these days.  Little streams.  Harsh warm climate.  Unpredictable stream flow patterns.  And on top of all that, a few impassable dams.  O. mykiss persists above these dams, sending some number of little fish downstream over the barrier each year, and amazingly, if there is water in the creek, there may be two,or three or six or heck, even a dozen or so steelhead come back to the creek in some years.

Many studies in Columbia River, if not all, have found that resident mykiss parents can produce anadromous offspring, anadromous parents can produce off spring that mature in the river, and parental pairings can include any possible combination of anadromous and non anadromous fish.

Jon McMillan has observed non-ocean going O. mykiss spawning with anadromous steelhead in Olympic Peninsula rivers.  If it goes on in those coastal WA populations, then why not here in Oregon?

In oregon, ask the coastal biologists if we have “resident” rainbow and they will almost universally say that we do not.  My guess is that there are indeed offspring of anadromous mykiss that stay in the river and spawn with non ocean going or ocean going mates, producing mostly offspring that go to sea, but an occasional little guy or gal that matures in the river.

What about steelhead through Ballard Locks?  I find it difficult to believe that the mostly river resident rainbow in upriver tributaries don’t produce at lease a few little guys and gals who do in fact migrate to the ocean and try to return as big adults.  It may simply be that this life history is so scant that no one notices these fish, or that survival is so low that none survive to make it back through Ballard Locks, but common, there have to be a few offspring of the upriver O. mykiss that are trying to express an anadromous life history, don’t ya think?

Our Oregon coastal rivers could be an example of an ecological setting where food supplies, rationed across many species of Pacific Salmon, are slim enough that the residency life history is so rare compared to the anadromous life history.  But to think that the stay at home in the river to mature life history is completely missing in Oregon coastal mykiss populations seems a stretch, given what we have seen in most every place where we have really looked closely.

Most every place, not every place, I should add.  Let’s consider the McKenzie River, in the upper Willamette River basin.  This river is big and bold, it grows tons (not that I have weighed the critters, but a lot of rainbow at any rate) of what we call resident rainbow.  We call ‘en resident rainbow because they live out their entire life cycle in the McKenzie, Willamette, and various tributaries of same.  These O. mykiss are in a river close to 200 miles from the ocean.  There is what I would consider decent food supply in the river, and it seems that these mykiss have evolved to be stay-at-homes to such a great extent, that we don’t believe that there are any anadromous offspring of these rainbow.

Hummmmm.  If so, is this because there was such a clear disadvantabe to make the long migration to and from the ocean that the anadromous life history pretty much got weeded out of the population?  Are McKenzie mykiss derived from stream capture of an interior mykiss ancestor that had even less tendency to go clear to the ocean than to stay close to home?

So, yes, I think if one goes far enough inland, and looks at”rainbow” that have been isolated from the ocean long enough, you will see anadromy pretty much lacking from the life history expressions.

The Elwah?  I do not know enough about the specifics to be an expert and recommend a breeding program to re-establish runs of anadromous Pacific Salmon.  But your proposal should be considered.  And it really grates on my sensibilities to think about flooding the system with hatchery fish to restore anadromy to the upper basin.  I do not know exactly what has survived below and above the dam.  I am sure that a hundred years of isolation has had some genetic effects on the up and downstream mykiss.  So too, the below-dam Pacific Salmon in the Elwah, may have been influenced by hatchery programs.  Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to restore an all wild assemblage of many species of Pacific Salmon in this gorgeous basin that has been strangled by the dam for so long?

Ooops.  Editorializing.  Again.

But hey, here’s an idea, if it is deemed essential to use hatchery fish to restore a wild run, what about limiting the program to one life cycle and prohibiting any fishing on the river for three life cycles?  I know, none of my business.  But an honest to goodness conservation/restoration effort shouldn’t get mired in harvest battles, and should give the fish a decent shot at making the re-introuduction on their own, because these are amazing resilient fish, given half a chance, and especially considering the quality of the upriver habitat in the Elwah.

And how would anyone know that there are not any anadromous mykiss returning to the Elwah from above-dam resident rainbow?

Jay Nicholas, May 25, 2011

Watcha Up to these days, huh?


1.  Went fishing and my friend Jim caught a beautiful hatchery spring chinook and a Kwikfish about half as long as the boat and Bandit wasn’t with us and it was great to be on the water with Jim after who knows how long an intermission man did I miss that dog and no, I didn’t really get a grab but I did get a jiggle which I took for a cutthroat trout but who really knows and then there was a sort of but not quite pull or almost a sort of something at the end of my swing that just might have been a salmon but I doubt it not like those solid how could that fish not have been hooked oh my gosh now I am excited no not even enough to get the adrenaline pumping but it did generate at lease five minutes of well it could possibly have been a salmon but I wouln not want to overstate it and….

2.  I went to eat a forbidden hamburger in Tillamook like I always order which is just the meat and ketchup on the bun and no cheese or anything else please and yes I got the fries too and then I got my meal and was eating the fries and drinking my caffeinated need to stay awake for the drive home and had not opened my burger box when all of a sudden I became aware of someone yelling at someone else behind the counter and it was the manager ripping up more than one person because there on the counter was a all meat ketchup only burger that some customer had returned because they wanted the mushroom cheese bacon burger and they sure didn’t want a meat and ketchup only burger that was for sure and then the criticism flowed completely around the staff back behind the counter about how there had been too many misakes and so and so was not happy and I was pretty sure that Mr. so and so was the manager because he was like all dressed up and looking angry and the hired help was scurring around with frowns on their faces and then withoug even opening up my burger box i walked back to the counter to smile at the scared little face standing quivering there and I said something like it was Ok and everyone makes mistakes but this scared person whispered about not wanting to get in more trouble with the manager and then there elapsed maybe 4 minutes of yelling and harassment and I just went back and sat down and finished my fries which I would have done anyway because I am a save the meat and ketchup on a bun for last anyway and then after a while it got like really quite and the slicked up manager came out all smiles and so forth and handed my corrected burger with his apologies and I was tempted to ask him to lay off the staff because I was pretty sure that they were doing as good as they could but no I just smiled at him and said thanks but it has been bothering me ever since and I wish I knew if saying something to him would have made him treat his staff better or if he would have been even meaner the next time and who really knows and man it is sure a high pressure job to work the counter at a fast food joint and …

3.  I tied a Silver Hilton with a grizzly hen cape, a Langtry Stone with a #2 Cree cape, and a Chinook Prawn with ingredients so secret that I have already forgotten what I used but here are the photos anyway and let me tell you that no matter how many flies a person may have tied in their lives it is tough to sit down and get it right after a many too many hiatus from the bench and the first version of each fly sucked so bad that I refused to photograph them and man is it strange in the new era of almost impossible to get saddle hackles like just a few monhs ago we could have any rooster feaher in any color we wanted but not now no sir indeed and try to get saddles for out Intruders but ha ha ha and like a Pik-yer-Poket must be about a 90 buck fly now just for the feathers and I remamber when I used to take these feathers for granted but now now not never again and what will the world be like if the women and men decide to wear cross cut rabbit in their hair gosh that would be crazy and then we would really be DOOMED as fly tyers and maybe I should stock up on pink and purple and black and blue rabbit strips and now that I think about it has anyone noticed how difficult it is to get Osrich these days and I think I am going to see if I can stock up on hen capes for my steelhead and Chinook collars before they dissappear too and …

4.  I watched a video I shot with Chris Daughters on how to tie one of Brian Silvey’s most awesome steelhead flies and my fly looked puny next to Brian’s but heck it was unrehearesed and Chris wouldn’t let me re-shoot the video and I know the fly would have cagught fish anyway and I do need to get in the groove again and ….

5.  Our two new family Kittens, Boomer and Baby Rollo are about twice the size when we got them 3 weeks ago these cute little creatures with each their own personalities are perfect examples of what love and constant attention and patience and hugs can do for people if they ever receive it but there are one heck of a mess of people who never in their whole life get treated with the love and patience and respect that these two cats have been and I am going to need to work extra this month hell every month to buy cat food not to mention Jackson being 12 and what on earth will College cost when he is ready to go and I sure hope I am still here then but probably by then I will be back to normal whatever normal is for me ahhhhh what the heck anyway, I’ll focus on the cat food first and then a few tackle items and maybe a WaterMaster and finally take some fishing destination trips like I honestly have planned and……

In conclusion:  does anyone know what this photo (below) shows?   Do you?

Thanks for all the encouraging notes my friends have sent me.  They mean more than I can express.   I just received my official diagnosis:  weird.  Textbook.  Quirky too.  Sustainable.  Count on periodic lapses into sputtering and drooling and definitely bingeing on various subjects including fly fishing, fly tying, and lord knows what.

BTW, it was wonderful to throw a shooting head on a 9 wt after 6 months.  Next up:  an honest grab!

Jay Nicholas, 23 May, 2011