The Port of Siuslaw on a recent spring day, about what you would expect. By September the port is normally bustling but a recent ruling by the ODFW has closed salmon fishing in the bay and river for the entire 2022 season.

The Port of Siuslaw on a recent spring day, about what you would expect. By September the port is normally bustling but a recent ruling by the ODFW has closed salmon fishing in the bay and river for the entire 2022 season.

“Free Fishing” – meaning you don’t need a license – has been an Oregon tradition for a long time and is scheduled for this weekend, June 4 and 5. Participation has always been good on free fishing days and each year thousands of Oregonians have taken the opportunity to harvest a few fish or collect a bit of shellfish. 

But around 2015-16 the ODFW began to actively reach out to a number of angler organizations, partnering with knowledgeable volunteers who would man several sites in the Willamette Valley and at a number of other locations across the state. Because of the pandemic, all the hosted free-fishing events were put on hold the last two years but will return in a big way this weekend. 

In our vicinity there are planned hosted free-fishing events on Saturday, June 4 at Alton Baker Park in Eugene where volunteers from several local groups will be on hand from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.: for additional information call 541-686-7864. Not far from the southern Willamette Valley, the Oregon Coast Anglers club along with the Reedsport STEP Group and the Lower Umpqua Fly Fishers will host their event at Lake Marie in Winchester Bay. For those not familiar, Lake Marie is a lovely little water body and is part of Umpqua Lighthouse Park. That event also on Saturday, June 4 is scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information on the Lake Marie event call 541-255-3383. At both locations rods, reels, tackle and baits will be provided and at both locations volunteers will be on hand to offer tips to help you “land a limit,” bait your hooks and even clean and bag your fish for you to enjoy at home. 

In every instance hosted free-fishing events revolve about trout fishing and the ODFW plants extra fish to enhance the chances of novices and people new to fishing of being successful. But the ODFW plans well in advance for the stastatewide June free-fishing days and water bodies all over Oregon will reach the highest state of hatchery trout abundance seen each season. As an example, on the McKenzie River from Hendricks Wayside upstream to Blue River, more than 13,000 trout will have been planted just days prior the the free-fishing weekend.

Trout are a big part of free-fishing weekend but every edible aquatic species that swim in our rivers and lakes, that live in the sand of our beaches, in the mudflats of our bays and estuaries and others that inhabit our nearshore ocean waters are on the menu. In Pacific City one hosted free-fishing event will feature the collection of muscles and clams. Again, no licenses or harvest tags are required this weekend but you still have to observe the rules, limits and location.

Just in time for free-fishing week spring chinook salmon have been passing over the Willamette Falls by the thousands in recent days and hundreds of them have now reached the base of both Leaburg and Dexter dams. Good chance a few chinook are also in the Coast Fork of the Willamette all the way to Cottage Grove by now too. High water throughout most of May had stalled the migration but on May 22, 1,500 spring chinook swam into the valley and those numbers have held and are now averaging about 1,000 per day. Steelhead numbers remain light but a few have also been caught in our southern Willamette Valley rivers. The bottom line here … there is little doubt that the spring salmon season has begun in our local salmon rivers.

A couple of weeks ago I reported on a decision by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission that voted to discontinue the release of hatchery steelhead on the North Umpqua River. The Commission also decided at the time to hold this season‘s release of steelhead smolts and instead plant the fish into several lakes that would prevent them from finding their way to the ocean. To say the least, the ruling was poorly received by communities all up and down the Umpqua River and several entities joined in a lawsuit to stay the commission’s decision that included Douglas County. Acting on the lawsuit, last week a Marion County judge agreed with the plaintiffs and for now has set the ruling aside pending future hearings. The judge also ordered the release of 70,000 summer steelhead smolts that had been scheduled for 2022 and those fish swam out last week too. Essentially for 2020 nothing has changed but by no means has the issue of hatchery summer steelhead in the North Umpqua been settled, both sides have “lawyered up” and as the issue plays out in the courts I will keep you updated.

That was all mostly good news but now I have some really bad new to report. Last week the ODFW announced in a press release that the fall chinook forecast for several coastal rivers had fallen below criteria established in the 2014 Coastal Multi-species Conservation and Management Plan and that the retention of wild chinook salmon would be prohibited in a number of basins. They include, all the streams of the Tillamook Bay and the Elk River on the south coast. Although they all remain open for a limited number of hatchery chinook. On the Siuslaw and Floras Creek salmon fishing closes from Aug. 1-Dec. 31 and on the Coquille the salmon season is closed from July 1-Dec. 31. Already closed to the retention coho salmon the new ruling means the there will be no fish on either the Siuslaw or Coquille until steelhead start to show up in December. Although Ocean conditions improved when the 2022 return migrated to the ocean three or four years ago the habitat they encountered was less than ideal for chinook smolts to thrive. This year’s fall chinook run is a reflection of the poor condition the fish encountered so hopefully this year’s reductions and restriction will be limited to a single season….. 

For local anglers and fishing guides “no fishing” in the Siuslaw River is a big hit with far-reaching implications to the west Lane County economy where thousands of people would come each year to salmon fish. The ODFW has planned a livestream webinar to discuss the rule changes on the department’s YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/user/EODFW. The webinar is scheduled for June 7 at 6 p.m. Comments and questions can be submitted in advance to the fish biologist hosting the webinar at http://ODFW.wufoo.com/forms/2022-fall-coastal-salmon-seasons/

Email: [email protected] ... Radio: KDUN, 1030AM