Chaos on the Columbia, pt 3

By Stan Fagerstrom

*Part One / Part Two

I want you to meet a special friend named Steve Fleming.

I have more than one reason for calling him a special friend. Besides being a genuine good guy, Steve is also one of the top river guides I’ve had the good fortune to share a boat with many different times.

My relationship with Steve is especially important to me right now because you see, Steve does his guiding on Oregon’s John Day River. If you’ve read my last two columns you know that the John Day is one of the Columbia River’s tributaries subjected to that new Oregon fish regulation that eliminates size and bag limits on the warm water species the river holds.

Oregon's beautiful John Day River, a tributary of the Columbia River that accommodates runs of salmon and steelhead and is also rated as one of the best smallmouth rivers in the Western United States.

Oregon's beautiful John Day River, a tributary of the Columbia River that accommodates runs of salmon and steelhead and is also rated as one of the best smallmouth rivers in the Western United States.

I’ve been eager to hear what Steve had to say about this latest bit of nonsense recently voted into effect by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. His response is just about what I expected it would be.

“There is literally no science to support this decision to put no size or bag limits on the Columbia, the Umpqua and especially the John Day River smallmouth bass,” Steve says. Remember, now, Steve has been guiding and studying the John Day River for decades. It’s where he makes his living. His operation, and I can testify from personal experience that it’s one of the best, is strictly “Catch and Release” where the river’s smallmouth are concerned.

Fleming, like representatives of the Oregon Bass & Panfish Club, contacted the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission prior to that group’s decision to establish the new regulations. Following is a copy of the letter Fleming send to the Commission on Aug. 5, 2015.  This letter is filled with facts. I urge you to read it. It reads as follows:

 

     “I understand you are listening to a proposal about simplifying fishing regulations this Friday, August 7. One proposal would take the bag limit off the game fish and smallmouth bass in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers. I would like to talk about the fishing science of this proposal on the John Day River, and how this proposal would negatively impact the fishery. I have fished the river since 1968 and been a professional guide (Mah-Hah Outfitters) on the John Day River since 1991, and spent over 100 days a year since fishing for smallmouth bass and native steelhead.

     “The Department had the foresight to introduce 80 smallmouth bass in 1971, and 1,200+ Channel Catfish. This has produced a World-Class Smallmouth Bass fishery and brought many anglers from all over the world to the John Day River’s remote area. Many national publications have called the John Day River one of the Best Smallmouth Bass Rivers in the USA. The Field and Stream magazine May 2015 issue labeled the John Day River the Best Smallmouth Bass River in the West.

     “The smallmouth bass and Salmonoids (Summer Chinook and Steelhead) have co-existed very successfully since 1971. The redd counts that have been taken since 1959 have shown a marked increase (5 times more redds/beds), and when coupled with returning native counts over the Dams, hasallowed the Department to open a Summer Chinook Salmon season three of the last five years on select sections of the John Day River. Again, science with exacting field work show the smallmouth bass have had little to no impact on the salmonoids in the John Day Basin.

      “I participated in an intensive seven year study of the smallmouth bass (Information Report number 99-1, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) that ended in 1994, and at that time the Department concluded that the smallmouth bass have little to no impact on the salmonoids. The science showed how the smallmouth bass are driven to feed by higher temperatures and not active during the cooler water smolt migration time. Again science showed of a successful co-existence.

     “The biggest smolt predator is the Northern Pike Minnow, who feed on other fish year round, and here is where the smallmouth bass have played a significant role on the John Day River in decreasing the Northern Pike Minnow numbers. There is no “bounty” paid for catching and turning in Northern Pike Minnow in the reach above Tumwater Falls. When I first started guiding in 1991, we would catch over five Northern Pike Minnow measuring over 18 inches per day. The bass have predated on these fish to the point it is an event to catch even one Northern Pike Minnow a week of any size.  Again, the numbers show the value of the smallmouth bass.

      “The steelhead fishing on the John Day River has remained good during the years. We have never had a Hatchery Release and have had to rely on the Native strain. The bass have been in the river since 1971, and yet no negative impact has been noted. The Tumwater Falls barrier does not allow the big Pike Minnow and walleye to travel up the river, and we have been able to keep our Native strain viable. The bass have been part of this success.

     “In closing I thank you for reading my letter, and implore you to not speculate on the effect of Smallmouth Bass on the salmonoids.  Science has showed they co-exist with the salmonoids. Please DO NOT take the limit off the smallmouth bass in the John Day River, and change the current population balance.” 

Respectfully Yours, Steven J. Fleming

President, Head Guide, Mah-Hah Outfitters.

 

Steelhead like the beauty this young man is holding came out of the John Day River. It's my understanding it's just of the seven the young man caught on his trip with John Day guide Steve Fleming last month.

Steelhead like the beauty this young man is holding came out of the John Day River. It's my understanding it's just of the seven the young man caught on his trip with John Day guide Steve Fleming last month.

Did the members of the Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Commission present any facts, surveys, or anything else to degrade the facts my friend Steve Fleming had submitted as well as the information and requests submitted by the members of the Oregon Bass & Panfish
Club?

If they did, I’ve certainly not seen it.  Neither, apparently, has anyone else. It’s my understanding that the commission put the new rules into effect by a vote of 7 to 0. I continue to find this hard to believe and even more difficult to understand.