The summer of 2011’s record-setting steelhead season on the mainstem Columbia River is due at least in part to a cooperative marketing effort among the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Travel Oregon, Oregon State Marine Board and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, the groups say.
The estimated “kept catch” of 13,000 hatchery summer steelhead Aug. 1-28 is a record for any month dating back to at least 1969. That kept catch on the lower river (Bonneville Dam downstream more than 100 miles Tongue Point at Astoria, Ore.) shattered the previous record of 8,549 steelhead caught in July.
The 21,800 steelhead handled (kept and released) during August is also a record (previous record 15,934 handled in July 2009). Anglers can only keep steelhead that had been marked at the hatchery with an adipose fin clip. Many of the unmarked are wild fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Oregon and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffs estimate that there were 66,889 angler trips made to the lower Columbia during those first 28 days of August in pursuit of steelhead and chinook and coho salmon.
And while the late season salmon returns are only just beginning to build, the upriver summer steelhead run has been a steady stream. A total of 280,593 had passed over Bonneville this year, including 172,287 during August. The preseason forecast was for a return of 390,900 upriver steelhead as counted at Bonneville.
“We’re thrilled to see such strong results from this campaign. We knew the opportunity was there but we needed to do a better job of getting the word out.” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the NSIA. “In spite of high water early in the season things really came together.
“I’m particularly gratified by the numbers of families that enjoyed this fishery. It’s great seeing so many families fishing while picnicking and spending time together,” Hamilton said. “Lower-Columbia River communities benefited enormously as anglers staked their claim by bank and by boat to catch these iconic fish.”
“The Columbia River summer steelhead fishery was a windfall for us this year,” said Dan Grogan, president of Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor. “Thanks to the marketing campaign initiated by NSIA, ODFW, the Marine Board and Travel Oregon we, along with hundreds of other businesses, saw the benefit of this effort at our cash registers.
“This fishery has always been strong but we needed to let people know where, how and when to enjoy it. We were ready for the business and the business was ready for us…it was a successful strategy and it just goes to show all-involved what can be accomplished by working together. We’re very happy,” Grogan said.
The ODFW spearheaded the campaign with targeted regional outreach through a range of media and press releases, according to Hamilton. They also developed a website, “steelheadsummer.com” that provided detailed information about the fishery.
And Travel Oregon was instrumental in spreading the word through their media channels which pulled people in from all over the country and outside the United States, According to Hamilton. The marine board made it a visible part of their outreach which was evident through the increased number of boats and information they provided throughout the season.
“This is something we were really excited about from the outset. All the partners met last February at the Portland Sportsman’s Show and we discussed the campaign and went to work from there,” Hamilton said. “We wanted to use this year to establish a baseline that we can build upon going forward.
“Clearly, this is a huge step forward and we expect to make significant strides in the coming years in driving more participation to this accessible, productive and enjoyable fishery,” she said. “Where else in the country can you go and find this quality of fishing so close to a major metropolitan area yet far enough away that it’s a quality outdoor experience?”