Steelhead Fishing Is Off-Limits in Sections of Four Columbia River Tributaries Due to Record-Low Migration Returns

This year’s run was already projected to be one of the lowest on record. Those numbers are even worse than expected.

Climate change and the state’s significant drought conditions have kept everyone on high alert this summer when it comes to fire danger, but now there is another concern: the native fish population.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has enacted an emergency ban on steelhead fishing throughout much of Central and Eastern Oregon due to a sharp decline in migration numbers. Those closures take effect Sept. 1 and apply to the lower Deschutes, John Day, Umatilla and Walla Walla rivers.

Liz Perkin, the North Oregon regional coordinator for the Native Fish Society, tells WW that increased water temperatures and lower flows could very likely be causing more fish deaths this year. However, some steelhead may simply be delaying their upstream travel as they wait for cooler conditions. Ultimately, though, she points to poor ocean conditions when it comes to fish mortality, citing decades of mismanagement, overharvest and habitat degradation.

This year’s Columbia River steelhead run was already projected to be one of the lowest on record. As it turns out, those numbers are even worse than expected.

Fisheries scientists with the Oregon Technical Advisory Committee downgraded its forecast for A-Index steelhead—wild- and hatchery-origin fish less than 78 centimeters long that pass through the Bonneville Dam between July 1 and Oct. 31—from 89,200 to 35,000.

The angling restrictions are meant to help protect those remaining steelhead as they continue their journey farther up the Columbia in order to lay eggs.

“I wholeheartedly agree this closure is necessary,” Mark Metzdorff, Deschutes River steward for the Native Fish Society, stated in a press release. “Record-low numbers mean every wild fish that can spawn is precious, and even the low incidental mortality that happens with catch-and-release fishing is unacceptable to me in these conditions. As one whose yearly highlight is fishing for summer run steelhead on West Coast streams, it doesn’t come easily to make this choice, but it’s the right one. Washington and Idaho should get on board.”

Steelhead fishing is not allowed in the Deschutes from Sherars Falls, northeast of Maupin, to the Moody Rapids near the Deschutes State Park until Sept. 30. Angling of all species is off-limits from the Moody Rapids downstream to the river’s confluence with the Columbia.

You won’t be able to snag a steelhead from the John Day River upstream of Tumwater Falls until Dec. 31. That date also applies to the Umatilla and Walla Walla rivers.