Chaos on the Columbia, pt 2

By Stan Fagerstrom

*Part One

If you read my previous column you’re aware of what the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Departments have recently done or are still in the process of doing on the Columbia River.

Fish management officials are removing the size and bag limits on the Columbia River as well as a couple of the Columbia’s major tributaries on the Oregon side. Those tributaries, like the Columbia itself, are producing some of the best smallmouth bass fishing you’ll currently find in the western United States. The same thing applies to walleyes.

Bass and panfish anglers all over the Pacific Northwest are questioning why these actions are currently being taken. As I mentioned in my previous column, the changes remind me of the obvious disregard I encountered when I first began my own bass fishing career in Washington State back in the middle of the last century.

I thought at least a substantial portion of that attitude had changed over the years.  It looks like I was wrong.

Bruce Holt is on of the West's best known anglers, fishing over much of the world while holding down some of the top jobs in the rod building industry. Bruce lives in Kalama, WA, a small town right on that big river's shore. He'll tell you he doesn't have to go very darn far from home to find the outstanding smallmouth bass fishing prospects the Columbia now offers.

Bruce Holt is on of the West's best known anglers, fishing over much of the world while holding down some of the top jobs in the rod building industry. Bruce lives in Kalama, WA, a small town right on that big river's shore. He'll tell you he doesn't have to go very darn far from home to find the outstanding smallmouth bass fishing prospects the Columbia now offers.

My previous Inside Line column also mentioned that other fishermen, especially those moving into salmon country from other parts of the country where migratory fish didn’t exist, didn’t like the bass and panfish situation any better than I did.

This was evident when Washington State bass anglers organized the Western Bass Club, headquartered in Seattle in 1938. If not the very first organized bass club it was most certainly among the very first. Twenty years later Oregon’s bass and panfish anglers did the same thing when they organized the Oregon Bass & Panfish Club that was and still is headquartered in Portland.

Over the ensuing years members of these two Washington and Oregon warm water anglers have worked with fish officials when and where they’ve had that opportunity. Since I started writing in the outdoor field back in 1946 I’ve had opportunity to write about some of the improvements in the warm water fishery that resulted.  I thought at least a substantial portion of that lack of interest in warm water fishing had changed over the years. Again---it looks like I was wrong.

I showed this column to a bass fishing friend before I submitted it for publication. He suggested a change in the title. He maintained a better title would be that Pacific Northwest bass, walleye and panfish anglers have been kicked in the belly. As a matter of fact, there are those who maintain the title would have been more appropriate had I said the kick was administered to that section of the male human anatomy a tad farther south.

The big Columbia River for decades now has been supporting excellent populations of bass, walleye, and panfish. Every angler who fishes for these non-migratory species is one less angler seeking the salmon fishing authorities are understandably trying to protect. But why are they seemingly bent on doing everything they can to destroy the wondrous resource the non-migratory species represent by dropping the size and possession limits on the Columbia and certain of its tributaries? It simply doesn't make sense.

The big Columbia River for decades now has been supporting excellent populations of bass, walleye, and panfish. Every angler who fishes for these non-migratory species is one less angler seeking the salmon fishing authorities are understandably trying to protect. But why are they seemingly bent on doing everything they can to destroy the wondrous resource the non-migratory species represent by dropping the size and possession limits on the Columbia and certain of its tributaries? It simply doesn't make sense.

The hard working Oregon Bass & Panfish Club sends a well done bulletin to its members each month. I receive one because I’m a lifetime honorary member of the group. Carol Doumitt is the current editor of the publication.  She does one heck of a good job for the organization.

I’ll show you why I’ve said that. It pleases me to wind up this column by sharing with you one of the items Carol included in the club’s October bulletin. The featured item is titled “I Had a Dream.”  It was written by a long time and much respected veteran club member named Bud Hartman.

Hartman is another angler who has been working for bass and panfish anglers for most of the past century. Please read his account of what he has sadly seen recently happen with regard to Pacific Northwest Bass & Panfish angling.  For my bucks he’s told it like it is.

“I HAD A DREAM”

By Bud Hartman

I arrived in Portland, Oregon (via the U.S.A.F.) in 1956. Being an avid bass fisherman from the east coast (Maryland), I soon found out that there were bass and other warm water fish in Oregon. I was appalled to learn at that time that there were no restrictions or bag limits on these fish. The two exceptions were bullhead catfish (100 fish per day) and channel catfish (10 fish per day).

It’s almost funny how fishermen with a common interest gravitate toward each other. It wasn’t long before I met other passionate “bass fishermen.” Shortly, a group of my long ago friends founded the “Oregon Bass Club” in 1958.

 Soon thereafter, at the request of other “pan fishermen,” we officially changed our name to what we are today, i.e., “Oregon Bass & Panfish Club.” Our goal then was what it still is today: to protect, enhance and promote interest in warm water fishing.

In 1959 our members were convinced that we needed bag limits at least on our premier fish—the “Black Bass.” In the summer/fall of that year, three of our members: Bill Hulen (outdoor writer, The Oregonian newspaper), Roy Hughes, and I went to a public meeting of the Oregon Game Commission. We three orally testified and asked that a bag limit of 10 fish per day be implemented. After our impassioned pleading, the Commission agreed to a daily bag limit of 12 bass starting in 1960.

Realizing the interest in and importance of this fishery, in 1988 the now combined Commission (Fish and Game) agreed to reduce the statewide limit to 5 bass per day, only three over 15 inches.

During the foregoing years, we also saw the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife go from having no assigned warm water fish biologists to three warm water biologists in recent years. And now we have none!

I find it extremely interesting to look at the history of warm water fish introductions in the waters of Oregon. The list of people and agencies (including the U.S. Fish Commission) responsible for past stockings is too lengthy and detailed to include here. Suffice to say that this family of fishes was revered back then, with the earliest releases of midwest and eastern bass and panfish in 1888.

All of this history is well documented in the definitive book on the subject: “The Coming of the Pond Fishes,” by Ben Hur Lampman (l946). These fish have been here in Oregon for the better part of 125 years. For 55 of those years and the better part of my life, I have argued, fought, and cajoled for the continued right of these fish to exist in the state of Oregon. Now these fish are looked upon with disdain!

Here we are now in 2015 and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has taken a giant leap backwards. A proposal to remove size and bag limits on bass, walleye and channel catfish in three major rivers (the Columbia, John Day and Umpqua) was introduced in June 2015. A group of us opposed to this proposal went to Salem on August 7th and to Seaside on September 4th to testify before the Fish & Wildlife Commission against the proposal. After all of the time and effort our group put in to try to stop it, in a matter of minutes the Commission approved the proposal unanimously.

Some of us think this is the first step toward further statewide deregulation of warm water fish and an omen of things to come. It is a sad commentary on a decision made by otherwise learned people and the negative impact such decision will have on sport fishing in Oregon.

In conclusion, for all of my years I have been a staunch defender of this family of fishes. To paraphrase the late Dr. Martin Luther King “I had a dream” that future Oregon warm water angling will be better because of my having been here.

Now I fear my dream has ended.                                                                            

                                                                                           Sorrowfully, Bud Hartman

Oregon's Bud Hartman has been fighting for the Columbia River's bass fishing resource ever since he got there in the middle of the last century.

Oregon's Bud Hartman has been fighting for the Columbia River's bass fishing resource ever since he got there in the middle of the last century.