Dec 12, 2012

Reflections of 2012 Steelhead Season - Jeff Hickman

It is my in-between season and I am now changing gears. I’m back on the rainy-side of the state, spending my time in the cabin on the river. The shortest days of the year coupled with the dark and rainy weather have had me burning extra wood in the stove. I watch the high and brown river flow past my living room waiting for it to turn green. My hopes are high for a winter of great fishing. So far the season looks very promising and I have already seen many great winter fish over the last month. More than I can remember for this time in any other years past. I can’t wait to get back out there and see what this years winter season has in store!

The Thanksgiving break gave me time to be extra thankful and grateful as I reflected back on a busy summer and fall season spent on the Lower Deschutes. It was by no means a great year for steelhead in the entire Columbia basin. Year-end steelhead run total at Bonneville fell far short of the ten-year average, which was a big change from the robust steelhead runs we saw the previous four years.

Despite the down runs fishing remained consistent for much of the Deschutes season. It felt like normal steelheading where you have to work hard for every opportunity you are given. For those willing to work hard, we found fish willing to reward. The tougher fishing made every fish feel more valuable, seemed to make you appreciate each one a little extra. I also can’t remember so many fish consistently stretching out backing from large arbor reels. They seemed extra hot to me this year! Did others notice this too?

We had a big heat wave in early August, first two weeks were over 100 degrees everyday, pushing the water temps to dangerous levels. Up to 74 degrees, far above the lethal level for cold water fish. I was forced to pull off the water early everyday so as not to put additional stress on these magnificent creatures already struggling. My benchmark was 68 degrees. Everyday when the water hit 68 I would pull off for the day to let it cool down overnight for the next morning when water temps would be back down in the low 60’s. Extra care is needed when handling fish in these warmer water temps. They must be played hard and landed fast. If they are wild they should not be removed from the water, use minimal handling and released quickly.

Despite the warmer water temps that are released at Pelton to discourage out of basin hatchery straying, I noticedno shortage of out of basin hatchery fish. I caught few hatchery fish with the Deschutes specific maxillary clip. As with most years wild fish made up the majority of fish that we hooked. That gives me hope that the upper Deschutes reintroduction program will have success with wild steelhead seeding future generations in the abundant prime habitat above Pelton Dam. One other thing that was very apparent this year was a huge run of wild fall Chinook spawning in the lower river. It was really awesome to see so many big wild spawning fish. The nutrient load these amazing fish provide will be great for the river and surrounding ecosystem.

Weather stayed consistent until mid Oct when we got blasted by some heavy rains. These brought the river way out of shape and triggered a slide on Mt Jefferson that came down the lower Metolius River. This dirtied the entire lower 100 miles of the Deschutes. After this happened it was a long clearing period. There were still fish around in the colored water but it was not anything like it was before the water came up. I continuedfishing through the last few weeks of the season. We worked hard for our fish with the river all to ourselves until I ended the season just before Thanksgiving.

I am already looking forward to next year on the Deschutes, so many good times out there spent with great people. Thanks to everyone who fished with me in 2012, you all are who allow me to continue doing what I love to do most everyday. Without your support I would be nowhere.

Hope to see you on the water in 2013!

-Jeff Hickman
Fish The Swing

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