August 5, 2015
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission
4034 Fairview Industrial Drive SE
Salem, OR 97302
To: The Members of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission
I understand you are listening to a proposal about simplifying fishing regulations this Friday, August 7. One proposal would take the bag limit off the game fish, smallmouth bass, in the Columbia, John Day, and Umpqua Rivers. I would like to talk about the fishing science of this proposal on the John Day River, and how this proposal would negatively impact the fishery. I have fished the river since 1968 and been a professional guide (Mah-Hah Outfitters) on the John Day River since 1991, and spent over 100 days a year since fishing for smallmouth bass and native steelhead.
The Department had the foresight to introduce 80 smallmouth bass in 1971, and 1200+ Channel Catfish. This has produced a World-Class Smallmouth Bass fishery, and brought many anglers from all over the world to the John Day River’s remote area. Many national publications have called the John Day River one of the Best Smallmouth Bass Rivers in the USA. The Field and Stream magazine May 2015 issue labeled the John Day River the Best Smallmouth Bass River in the West.
The smallmouth bass and Salmonoids (Summer Chinook and Steelhead) have co-existed very successfully since 1971. The redd counts that have been taken since 1959 have shown a marked increase (5 times more redds/beds), and when coupled with returning native counts over the Dams, has allowed the Department to open a Summer Chinook Salmon season three of the last five years on select sections of the John Day River. Again, science with exacting field work show the smallmouth bass have had little to no impact on the salmonoids in the John Day Basin.
I participated in an intensive seven year study of the smallmouth bass ( Information Report number 99-1, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) that ended in 1994, and at that time the Department concluded that the smallmouth bass have little to no impact on the salmonoids. The science showed how the small mouth bass are driven to feed by higher temperatures and not active during the cooler water smolt migration time. Again science showed of a successful co-existence.
The biggest smolt predator is the Northern Pike Minnow, who feed on other fish year round, and here is where the smallmouth bass have played a significant role on the John Day River in decreasing the Northern Pike Minnow numbers. There is no “bounty” paid for catching and turning in Northern Pike Minnow in the reach above Tumwater Falls. When I first started guiding, 1991, we would catch over five Northern Pike Minnow measuring over 18 inches per day. The bass have predated on these fish to the point it is an event to catch even one Northern Pike Minnow a week of any size. Again, the numbers show the value of the smallmouth bass.
The steelhead fishing on the John Day River has remained good during the years. We have never had a Hatchery Release and have had to rely on the Native strain. The bass have been in the river since 1971, and yet no negative impact has been noted. The Tumwater Falls barrier does not allow the big Pike Minnow and walleye to travel up the river, and we have been able to keep our Native strain viable. The bass have been part of this success.
In closing I thank you for reading my letter, and implore you to not speculate on the effect of Smallmouth Bass on the salmonoids. Science has showed they co-exist with the salmonoids. Please DO NOT take the limit off the smallmouth bass in the John Day River, and change the current population balance.
Steven J. Fleming
President, Head Guide, Mah-Hah Outfitters.