Low-flow in the Chetco is not a concern this time of the year

With record-low rainfall, coastal rivers such as the Chetco are about as low as they've ever been around Christmas. My question is, why doesn't the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife close fishing in the Chetco under these conditions? They close the river in October to chinook fishing because the river's too low, but it's now half what it was then. Aren't they worried about people over-fishing in low water?

— Steve, via email

Despite egregiously low flows on rivers such as the Chetco, ODFW biologists are not that concerned about over-fishing for a variety of reasons, says Todd Confer, ODFW's Gold Beach District fish biologist.

First and foremost, the chinook salmon season is virtually over and winter steelhead are in the lower river. They're completely different critters that get different reactions from anglers, so the concerns for chinook don't apply for steelhead, Confer says.

In October, the big chinook get stacked up in a couple of lower-river holes during low-flow times, and anglers can be shoulder to shoulder fishing for them. That, Confer says, causes concerns, and that's why the freshwater part of the river doesn't open until November — normally after the first rains have already come and distributed the chinook river-wide.

The flows this week were about 420 cubic feet per second — less than half of what they were during late October's closure. But the winter steelhead now in the lower Chetco don't queue up like chinook do and they are less susceptible to being caught, Confer says.

In fact, anglers know this, he says. That's why there are few people now fishing for steelhead, and even fewer steelhead getting caught, creating no real social or conservation reason to close fishing on the Chetco, he says.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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