Hook  A  Special  Steelhead
& Help ODFW biology research
July 2, 1998
By Mike Stahlberg©The Register Guard - Used with permission

I'D LOVE to catch the Speedy Lube Steelhead.

Ol' Speedy's a slick example of those native sea-run rainbow that return to the North Umpqua River every summer. About 25 inches long, he weighs in at six pounds.

If you hook Speedy before I do, the first thing you'll notice is a thin piece of wire, about six inches long, sticking out of his mouth.

The wire is the antenna on a small radio transmitter, inserted by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists. They trapped Speedy and eight other wild steelhead in the fish ladder at Winchester Dam a week ago and put radios in all nine fish.

Umpqua District Fish Biologist Dave Loomis plans to mark 21 more wild steelhead in similar fashion between now and October, and track their movements for the next nine months.

Loomis hopes to learn more about what steelhead do after they pass Winchester Dam and before they spawn next February and March. Do they congregate in certain areas, or move into the smaller tributaries? How many die before they spawn, because of disease, predation or angier harvest?

"We've got assumptions," Loomis said. "But we don't really know for sure."

Closely monitoring the movements of a group of radiotagged steelhead is one way to find out.

Radios with batteries that will transmit for nine months, however, cost $150 apiece. For 30 of them, the bill is $4,500. That's money Loomis doesn't have in his budget.

Enter Speedy Lube owner Ray Presnell of Roseburg. At Loomis' request, Presnell agreed to "sponsor" a steelhead in the research project. So did Bert Brundige of B & B Roads. Several other businesses and clubs have made pledges. Loomis and his wife, Laura, even wrote a personal check for $150. He feels that strongiy about the research.

Loomis hopes 30 businesses, organizations or individuals will donate the price of a radio transmitter.

In return, he will "name" the fish after the sponsor, and provide the sponsor with periodic reports on what the fish is doing.

Before they get too emotionally attached to their fish, however, sponsors should know that few of the tagged fish are expected to live long enough to be finning back toward the ocean, having successfully spawned, when the radio battery finally gives out...

Heck, ol' Speedy Lube just might end up on someone's barbecue.

Wild steelhead, are protected on most Oregon rivers, but anglers. on the "bait water" stretch of the North Umpqua are allowed to harvest the steelhead with adipose fin intact.

The wild population is judged to be healthy enough to allow a limited harvest of wild fish.

Once the fish move above Rock Creek, they're a little safer. No harvest is permitted in the "fly waters."

This year's run should be a solid one, Loomis said, and high water flows in the Umpqua and good snow pack in the Cascades will make it easier for returning steelhead to travel up the main stem Umpqua, where warm water can be a problem.

"This year we have some pretty large hatchery steelhead coming back," he said. "We're seeing some nice summer steelhead in the 10-, 12-, 14-pound range."

Good survival rates for the fish that will be returning after three years in the ocean was telegraphed by a "great return of two-salts (fish that had migrated to the ocean twice) last summer," he said.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to sponsor a steelhead, call Loomis at 541-440-3353.

And, if you're lucky enough to catch the Speedy Lube Steeihead - or any other radio tagged fish - and decide to release it, you can report the catch to the same number.

If you catch a tagged fish in the backwaters and decide to keep it, Loomis said, "that's fine - but we would like to have the transmitter back."

Speaking of sponsors, I think Loomis may have stumbled on to a solution for the multi-million dollar budget shortfall haunting the ODFW - selling corporate sponsorships. Why stop at $150 for a fish?

Shoot, every stadium the country has a sponsor's name in front of it nowadays.

This newspaper last week carried stories about the Rose Bowl signing with AT&T the same day that the Eugene Celebration became The Centennial Bank Eugene Celebration.

Why not the G.I. Joe's Oregon Wildlife Division? Or the BiMart Oregon Fish Division?

Heck, each fish and game office could have its own sponsor.

Seven Feathers Casino might like to see its name In front of the ODFW's Southwest Region. Or maybe South Umpqua Bank would bid more for that honor. Columbia Sportswear would be a natural sponsor for the ODFW's Columbia Region.

The agency could even sell sponsorships for individual seasons.

I can see it now: the Winchester Western Oregon Blacktail Hunt, the Nosler Bullet Bull Elk Hunt and, my personal favorite, the Wild Turkey Oregon Spring Gobbler Hunt.