Is Your Cup Half Full or Half Empty

Matching the “Metal” Hatch
September 29, 2020
Spoons sink quickly allowing you to get your gear down to where the steelhead are holding.
Mastering Your Presentation
February 1, 2022
Editorial Letter

Is Your Cup Half Full or Half Empty?

By Pat Hoglund

Heavy sigh. Wild steelhead populations in the West are facing a long, almost impassable road toward recovery. As part of our new normal, some of our favorite rivers are closed because of it.

I’ll point you toward the Chehalis system on the Washington coast. Same with the mid-coast and rivers farther north in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. Several of the Columbia River tributaries above The Dalles Dam like the Deschutes, John Day, Walla Walla and Umatilla rivers are victims of diminishing returns of wild fish with either complete closures, or partial closures. In 2021 we saw 67,750 steelhead pass over Bonneville Dam. That’s 70% lower than what was predicted. In Idaho the steelhead run last year was less than one-third of the 10-year average, and last year’s return was the third lowest run in 10 years. Alas, a myriad of closures and partial closures. Heavy sigh.

At face value it’s easy to think our opportunity to fish for steelhead is slowly vanishing before our eyes. In some instances that is the case, but there’s also more good news rather than what at times appears to be a deluge of bad news. If you’re willing to look beyond what’s not available then you’ll find there’s still plenty of opportunity available. It kind of depends on if you’re a half full or half empty kind of person. Speaking of half full, the closures have all but guaranteed that hatcheries will meet their broodstock needs to ensuring we’ll have steelhead to catch in the future. So there’s that.

And what of the future? It’s not as bleak as one might think. If you were paying attention then you’ve read that ocean conditions the past three years have been nothing short of good. And they were great last year, the best since 2008. We’re currently in a La Nina cycle which brings more rain and snow, resulting in cooler ocean temperatures and better ocean conditions. NOAA recently released its report, “Ocean Indicators Summary for 2021” highlighting its findings. Per the report, “The early onset of upwelling led to cool and productive ocean conditions during the winter and early spring. This winter ‘pre-conditioning’ was likely the driver of the highest annual biomass of northern copepods observed in the 24-year time series.”

Starting in the spring, and lasting through September, strong ocean upwellings churned the cold nutrient waters from the bottom of the ocean up to the surface and with that came abundant numbers of small crustaceans called Neocalanus. These tiny creatures, less than a third of an inch in size, are a hugely important food source for salmon.

What can we make of that? For the next three years we’re going to see a higher return rate for salmonids, in particular chinook and coho. Not only will more survive a pivotal period when they enter the ocean as smolts, but they’ll be better fed and will return as bigger, healthier adults. Those that aren’t caught will be better fit to survive and spawn in places where habitat is less than ideal conditions. This, of course, is a much-needed boost of good news for salmon anglers in the West. On the heels of an already good return of chinook and coho there’s much to be optimistic about. And while NOAA’s report primarily focuses on salmon, it’s safe to say steelhead will undoubtedly benefit from the improved ocean conditions. Heavy sigh. Of relief.

Admittedly, there are times when it feels like we’re constantly bombarded with unsettling news. It’s hard not to be long in the face. But in these times when we get a shot of good news it refocuses our passion and makes all the heartburn worthwhile. It’s a matter of how you look at it. Is your cup half empty, or half full? In spite of what I know, my cup runneth over.   ssj

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