By Walt Trandum
Lots of us old folks got dealt a bad hand with some of the decisions made by the fish and game commission. Way back when we were younger and even in those days when we were called Middle Aged. We always dreamed of the time when we didn’t have to work and could spend as much time as we liked fishing and or hunting. Oh there is still lots of that stuff going on but as our parts wore out we found out we couldn’t scramble up and down the river banks or even jump in and out of a boat. We always dreamed about “still fishing,” what we called “plunking” on the riverbank for a Steelhead Trout or even a salmon that might find our bait or lure attractive. Once in awhile we might have a small campfire to warm our hands and maybe a tarp to keep the rain from running down our necks. It was fun just visiting and swapping old fish stories. We also policed the area and picked up all the junk that other folks had left along the riverbank.
I am sure the intentions are all good and that maybe some of the fish runs needed managing but what they resorted to instead of managing anything they just stopped it all together. The big deal on the Nehalem River was to outlaw the keeping of any native steelhead. That worked fine on the North Fork of the river, but since there are no hatcheries on the main river it just plain stopped the fishing because there were only native fish to be caught.
If that ploy was really the answer I would guess that after there being no fishing on the main river for the past ten or fifteen years the river must be full bank to bank of those native fish that were not molested.
Another good fishery used to be the sturgeon that we caught on the lower reaches of the main river. There were limits on the size that could be kept and not too many people were willing to put in the time just watching that pole tip for a little nibble that would signify a bite. We all knew that the sturgeon in this river came mostly from up on the Columbia River. We would catch some that were either legal or undersized with tags that had been placed on them before they left the big river. There were forms that we filled out with the condition of the fish noted. Some of us made a deal with the local game wardens and were actually tagging the undersized fish that we hooked. It was a good time for all those who participated and there is probably not a better tasting fish than fresh sturgeon and smoked it was even better.
The thing that really bothers most of us that are in my age bracket is that we remember when we could catch a few sturgeon every year and since it was kind of a time consuming hobby we weren’t bothered by a bunch of guide boats with loads of people like they had up on the Columbia. We sure didn’t deplete the runs from this part of the fishery. The joker in this mix is that instead of managing the fish run, they just stopped all fishing. The law has been changed and you can only catch and release sturgeon. The real pressure that used to exist on that species was the heavy fishing that went on up on the Columbia River. If that has been changed you would think that we should see a return to the runs that came down the coast and migrated up some of the streams.
So I guess that old dream of spending some days plunking for steelhead and fishing for sturgeon isn’t going to happen. I can still have those great memories of the days I put in so many years ago just watching my pole and swapping stories and lies with the other guys who sure never thought they would see the day when it would all come to an end.
The State of Oregon has a free Pioneer fishing and hunting license for people who have lived in the State for fifty years and I always thought I just might have one of those before I cashed in. I have just a couple years to go for that magic date, but now there isn’t anything I can fish for and I guess I can just leave the planet thinking that “We was robbed!”