Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Other Great Migration

No, it's not me or the other guides moving to Craig, it's not the geese, ducks, Monarch butterflies, or the the swallows--I'm talking about the hoards of folks making the trip to the Hauser Dam to pick on the spawning rainbows. I brought Austin up there yesterday hiking. It was a beautiful day to be out for sure. The sun was out and the wind was quiet and dozens of anglers were walking through reds targeting those fish. From the trail above the river, you could see hundreds of fish protecting their cleared off gravel beds and people literally standing within a rods length casting or flipping their line over and over again, trying to get their flies to drag through the reds at just the right level to get one of these fish to eat. Eat? They're not eating, they're being flossed. (Someone told me they couldn't get them to eat their flies and couldn't figure out what the dudes that were catching them were using. I told them lots of split shot.)

There was an article in the paper the other day of a guy with a 30 inch rainbow he caught up there. That had to contribute at least a little to what I saw yesterday. I mean, the dam isn't a huge secret but I can't imagine that kind of article didn't bring at least some of those folks out to have the chance to catch a fish of a life-time. Although they aren't doing anything technically wrong, you have to wonder what kind of impact all those people walking through spawning beds have.

Ok, ok, I know. Those of you that know me know I have gone up there as well. In fact, if you look a few entries down on this blog, you'll see a 26+ inch rainbow I caught up there. This is true and I'm not going to make excuses or tell you what I did was different because I wasn't fishing the reds. I have fished the reds and I have dredged the bottom and was very successful in the past at the game. In fact, I make it a point to go up there at least once a year just to try to hook a giant. So what's the problem?

The reason these fish get so big in part is because they grow up in the lake and their diet is different than the fish in the lower river. The big difference however, is the trout in the lake were stocked and are a different strain of rainbow than we have in the lower river. Although a few of these trout do naturally reproduce, the majority don't and therefore, FWP stocks new trout every year. The trout come up to the dam from Holter Lake. Through the stocking program, FWP has essentially created a "put and take" fishery and have regulated it as such. They post the regulations with rulers for people to reference so they aren't taking all of the spawners. As long as people are following the regs, there shouldn't be a problem right?

The problem is that there are fish that are spawning and although many of the trout are the jacked-up hatchery fish, there are also many wild trout mixed in. You can tell a wild trout from a hatchery fish just by looking at the fins. The hatchery fish look like crap with fins warn off and even notches cut out of their tails or dorsal fin. I saw many 24+ inch rainbows yesterday on stringers that were wild trout. I also saw many people walking right through reds destroying them.

To be honest, I'm not sure what side of the fence I sit on. I have caught those fish on occasion and let them go. I have targeted fish on reds. I have caught a lot of the hatchery fish and a few wild trout up there. It is fun and it's legal. It's not that hard either and I see a lot of people bringing their kids down there. Like I said, FWP kind of plans for this and accounts for it. They are often there checking licenses and limits of fish people are walking out with so it is heavily regulated but I wonder if it wouldn't serve the fishery better to close it down for at least the heaviest part of the spawn.

Anyway, keep 'em where they live.

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