By Bill Monroe
Photo above: Years ago, the late Bob Toman photographed this scene on the lower Deschutes River, when an ambitious smallmouth bass tried to steal a plug from the mouth of an agitated summer steelhead. Was it prophetic?
I’m professionally descended from a century of outdoor writers for the Oregonian whose genesis was Ben Hur Lampman, arguably the state’s and possibly the nation’s most talented writer, poet and editor of the early 20th century.
Lampman came to the paper in 1916 after publishing a small paper in Gold Hill, close to his favorite fishing grounds on the Rogue River.
Over the next several decades he established himself as a reporter, author and, ultimately, editor and also contributed numerous nature columns.
Perhaps his best-known book is not only still as prophetic as it was at the time, but rates even more attention as anglers begin to flail and cope with our changing environment.
“The Coming of the Pond Fishes: An Account of the Introduction of Certain Spiny-rayed Fishes, and Other Exotic Species, Into the Waters of the Lower Columbia River Region and the Pacific Coast States,” was published in 1946 and was a wealth of information not only about warmwater fish introduced during the nation’s westward expansion, but also the historical texture and fabric of the Pacific Northwest at the time.
Bear in mind that Grand Coulee, Rock Island and Bonneville dams were virtually brand new and the litany of concrete-created reservoirs – and their prime warmwater habitat – was still to come.
Walleye weren’t here yet and no one but Native Americans paid much attention to pikeminnows, known as “squawfish” at the time.
Three-quarters of a century later, we’re earning big bucks to catch pikeminnows and walleye and bass are looking more and more like fishes-of-the-future than salmon and steelhead predators without bag limits.
Paul Ingraham, a retired Navy medic and TGF reader, groused a bit on Facebook recently because the forecast didn’t have much in the way of news about his favorite fish, largemouth bass and walleye.
Ingraham, 62, lives in St. Helens, from where he can run his new boat up Multnomah Channel or take it to favorite bass spots.
While he has the gear and fishes occasionally for salmon and steelhead, its walleye, bass and panfish that get most of his angling attention.
“I was born into it,” he said of fishing. “I caught my first fish on a cane pole and just a shiny hook because I couldn’t wait to have someone put bait on it. It bit the hook. I think it must’ve been a green-eared sunfish.”
Ingraham is a member of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club and more than once has earned a reputation as one of the club’s master bank anglers.
But he bought his large Bass Tracker boat to fish for walleye and take veterans fishing in “The Fallen Outdoors” program.
“We’re seeing an increase in people with boats coming into the club,” he said. “They have a $40,000 boat and if it’s (salmon and steelhead fishing) shut down, they still want to use it.
“Warmwater fishing should go hand in hand with coldwater. It shouldn’t be isolated or made out to be the enemy.”
Good points all, and well-worth a good look at the future of our pond and river fishes in this week’s sizzling reminder.
A few pertinent notes:
…The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday issued a news release filled with cautions about stress to fish and wildlife.
…Owin Hays, host of “Outdoor GPS,” broadcast a similar plea for mercy on steelhead as the rivers heat up.
…The first walleye of the year has been caught in the lower Deschutes River, but unlike the past few years’ reports, this one wasn’t in the area from the mouth to the first rapids, but rather was caught a few miles, yes MILES, upriver.
…Smallmouth bass are still caught up and down the first dozen or more miles of the lower Deschutes, but still haven’t been reproducing there – yet.
…Smallmouth bass reports from the Clackamas River are getting “more consistent,” according to Ben Walczak, district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Even Buzz Ramsey, the region’s iconic salmon and steelhead magician, recognizes the potential shift in angling as the planet warms up.
He’s doing more kokanee and trout fishing in his retirement and a recent posting about an Idaho trip included this grippingly creative string of strange tackle: “Kokabow Dodgers in combination with Spin N Glo squid spinners tipped with corn and a Gulp! Maggot.” Sounds almost like an Eastern U.S. bass-catching plan.
“I like doing it all,” Buzz told me. “It’s all about trying to get something on the end of your line.”
One can only imagine what Ben Hur Lampman would think of the plight of his pond fishes; or, rather, their increasingly rosy future.
Another of his best-known columns, published in 1925, was about the final resting place for man’s best friend.
“The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of its master,” he wrote.
We must hope we never have to say that about either salmon or bass.