Anglers facing a variety of weather challenges

It’s been a mixed bag of good and some not-so-good news for local anglers during the past few weeks.

Work at the Junction City Pond has wrapped up after a major overhaul to the parking surface, fishing dock, and improved general access to the banks of the water in general. The pond, stocked with hatchery trout, will once again be available to the public.  

Row River Nature Park was also made available to anglers again with the reinstallation of the fishing dock earlier this month, which had been temporarily removed to allow for some general park maintenance. This is also the time of the year that the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife begins to ramp up their trout stocking program across the state. And after what has been an average rainy season, planted trout should find the water quality to their liking, retain their flight impulse, and make decent table fair well into late spring. 

Out west, on the many winter steelhead streams that dot our coastal strip, the fishing has remained “fair to good.” I do expect that, now that we are in March, success rates will slow, and the numbers of hatchery fish available will diminish – as will the numbers of hopeful steelheaders. On the Siuslaw, fresh hatchery steelhead continue to reach the collection trap at Whitaker Creek – about 100 last week. But the river now also has a lot of spawned and recycled steelhead, and if you do catch one, you might want to toss it in the smoker seasoned with your favorite brine, as opposed to the grill where the freshness of meat will make or break your meal. For those of you that see a steelhead on the line as your Valhalla, wild steelhead become far more common in March. They often run much larger than their hatchery kin, and in our area, they must all be released. But Pacific steelhead are arguably among the hardest fighting fish in the world, and in Oregon from about late winter to early spring every year, you can still have a memorable catch and release day that in the angling world is hard to match.

Now, unfortunately, all the bad news I have to share with you won’t fit in the space The Chronicle is able to comment to my column. Some will be more timely and relevant as we move into spring, and I will weave that information into future editions of The Chronicle. 

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If the McKenzie River Trust didn’t step up at the time the historic Finn Rock landing on the McKenzie River came up for sale, it likely would have been purchased by a commercial developer and put off limits to the public. Fortunately, the site, although temporarily closed for upgrades, will continue to be accessible to the public once the upgrades are completed. 

That work began last fall and was proceeding along until the ice storm in January, bringing progress at the landing to a standstill for several weeks. In a recent press release, the Trust apologized for the delay, but also that the landing would now not be open until sometime in June. That is an understandable delay that unfortunately affects a significant number of McKenzie River user groups, including rafting parties, both private and commercial, kayakers, canoeists, and not just fishermen. The Finn Rock Landing is also on the early season trout stocking schedule, and it was unclear at press time what adjustments ODFW will make in the interim. The silver lining here is that once the upgrades are completed, the landing will be better than ever and able to accommodate more river parties with far less impact to the environment.

More unsettling news came from the Army Corps of Engineers, which just announced they may no longer fund steelhead production, and it could also reduce funding for trout stocking programs in the upper Willamette River basin by as much as 60% in 2025. At press time those decisions were still pending. … But if in fact the Corps follows through, it would be the largest loss of sporting opportunities our local fisheries have recently experienced. Stay tuned.

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