Dave Hughes: Kids will Benefit from a Wild McKenzie River

Last week the Cascade Family Flyfishers hosted author Dave Hughes for an evening of in-depth bug talk. Dave is a serious devotee of the McKenzie River, and it shows. The evening of his presentation, we met for dinner at the Steelhead Brewery with a few officers from the club. After the customary pleasantries, a nice lady asked me what I thought about hatchery trout in the McKenzie. I laid out my vision for a wild McKenzie. “Oh, I would just hate to see all the hatchery fish removed,” she said. “I’m just afraid that kids wouldn’t be able to catch fish without them. Kids need to catch fish to stay interested.” This sweet woman didn’t really deserve the barrage that ensued as I got on my soap box. Dave thought long and hard about the conversation over the following days and surprised me with the following letter, addressed to all McKenzie anglers:

McKenzie River Rainbows

“There are far more river systems in Oregon that have been degraded beyond the possibility of recovery than there are systems that could be restored to a natural state. The McKenzie River is a rare, recoverable stream, world famous for its native redside rainbow trout.

It’s critical to give kids opportunity to catch trout. Stockers serve this purpose by their abundance and catchability. If money is to be spent raising trout, it is not unwise to spend it on giving kids an opportunity to learn to fish. When those kids learn to fish, they will naturally gravitate toward wanting to fish in what I will call ‘real’ circumstances: they’ll grow the desire to leave stocked trout behind and fish in wild circumstances, for wild fish, for bigger fish, for less easy fish.

It is a given, through studies done by Jim Vincent in Montana among others, that planting hatchery trout in streams that would support wild trout is deleterious to the wild trout. So it would seem wisest to plant trout in degraded waters, and in stillwaters with little natural spawning potential, and to give kids opportunities in those waters that will, in truth, not be harmed by planted trout. There are an abundance of such waters in proximity to the McKenzie River.

It would also be wise to save the wild places that can be saved. If we don’t save them, our kids will advance through their fishing lives finding that all places are degraded places, that all fishing is the same degraded fishing for hatchery trout.

There are very few places left with the potential to be valued wild places. If we choose not save them, then those kids we have delivered into a desire to pursue fishing will not have the option of wild places in which to pursue it.”


Dave Hughes will be at the Caddis Fly Shop on February 27th.

This entry was posted in McKenzie River, Oregon Conservation News. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Dave Hughes: Kids will Benefit from a Wild McKenzie River

  1. Moon says:

    Damn….. I wish I could get those kinds of words out of my mouth. That’s exactly how I feel about it too.

    Dear Dave Hughes:

    If you read this – I just want to thank you for taking the time to step up; I want to thank you for the words that so often elude me/myself. It is my guess, that it’s not always easy to speak from the heart with one (like you) that is so well known and respected. But then maybe – just maybe, it’s this kind of heart felt messages that gives over to the respect you have mustered over your lifetime.

    Thank you very much sir

  2. Dave Vazquez says:

    Excellent letter and excellent response to a valid–albeit misplaced–concern. The McKenzie is a jewel of the West. As such, we shouldn’t be treating it like a put-and-take trash can. Kids have a TON o places to fish in the Eugene/Springfield area. I have taken my own children to spots like Alton Baker Canal, Cresswell Pond, and Cottage Grove Pond to fish for hatchery trout.

    These areas are more suitable for little ones. There’s no dangerous moving water to contend with, the fish are willing, and there are things to do when the kids lose interest (which they inevitably do). We need to shift our focus from guaranteeing that kids will catch 40 fish to the quality of time that we spend with them outdoors. My kids have yet to catch a fish on their own (they’re just four), but they constantly ask me when we can go “fishing” again. I attribute this to the fact that what they truly care about is spending time with their parents outside. When we do catch a fish it will be icing on the cake.

    I’m not suggesting that we should eliminate the element of success. Rather, I think we need to shift our focus to where the efforts for that success should be spent. Dave Hughs is right–we have an opportunity to do something that our children will appreciate WAY down the line. My hope is that we can restore a wild McKenzie so that when my daughters are old enough, they will be able to appreciate it for the treasure that it is.

    Dave Vázquez

  3. Scott Kinney says:


    The McKenzie is one of the few (and perhaps the only) west-side rivers with the combination of biomass, water quality, and habitat capable of supporting a destination-class self-sustaining wild trout fishery.

    Currently, it’s managed like a put-n-take trout pond; an experience that’s available in hundreds of other lakes and streams in the Willamette Valley.

    Regarding the ‘where would kids fish?’ argument – diverting stocked fish from the McKenzie into local stillwaters would provide *increased* opportunity for kids – closer to (or even in) town with no boat required! Out of the 140,000 fish stocked annually in the McKenzie, only approximately 30% (42,000) are caught by anglers; the rest die. ODFW studies of stillwater recapture show that between 70 and 95% of fish stocked in stillwater are caught by anglers. Even assuming the low bounds (70%, or 98k of 140k), that’s an additional 56,000 fish that are available to the kids (and adults alike)!

    Sounds like a win-win to me.

  4. paul says:

    This thread made me think that maybe we are being a little selfish or just making the wrong argument. The McKenzie is my favorite place in the world to spend time, and if it were only me fishing, I would wholeheartedly support getting rid of those pesky stockers.
    The comments of lady who was “barraged” at the meeting resonated with me, and it doesn’t sound like her concerns were really addressed.

    I take several groups of kids and my dad down the McKenzie every summer and they have a blast catching almost exclusively hatchery fish. I know for some kids, stillwater fishing is a viable alternative, but I have tried taking kids float tubing, wading, and drifting down the “degraded systems”, but nothing comes close to matching the experience we have on the McKenzie.

    I was hoping that you would say that the wild stocks would replace the hatchery fish to the point where kids, and perhaps even my dad, could catch wild fish (fewer fish in a day would be ok with us, as long as they catch something). I hope this was mentioned at the meeting. Relegating us to stillwater doesn’t really work. Even kids understand, as the Dave V.’s post mentions, it’s about the “quality of time” spent, not necessarily catch counts.

    If hatchery fish were removed, would wild fish fill in some of the void and become more catchable to a kid who is building some skills, but still can’t nail a two foot hole with a perfect drag free drift?

    I don’t know if anyone really knows the answer to that question, but for me, that is a really important issue. Also, what about dad who wants to keep a fish or two to eat (yea, I know that’s crazy, but I don’t think he’s alone)?

  5. Justin says:

    Her concerns weren’t addressed? Selfish?

    How about talking about the many other lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds in the Eugene/ Springfield area that are readily available for kids to fish, catch and keep planters?

    Selfish, is to say that the one and only river in the area that has the chance to be restored to a wild blue ribbon trout fishery that will once again captivate and draw people to our state and local economy like it once did, shouldn’t be pursued.

    Seriously? The only river in question. The only place we are asking this to happen. Selfish?

    I think it is the other way around sir. Selfish are the people resisting or opposing the idea. And why? Because it takes ONE river with hatchery fish away from them? How many places are still left for them to catch and kill pellet heads? Not enough you say? Hmm…

    Take away the Mac as a place to pursue wild and native redsides and how many places like that will be left in the area? None.

    So in the words of Chad Ochocinco – “Child Please”

  6. Marc. R says:

    I am new to this fly fishing deal. I started fishing the mckinzie 18yrs ago as a spinner/bait guy. I love this river. The Mckenzie was and is my church. I was always fascinated by the folks who were on “the fly” Then 8mos ago I picked up a fly rod/reel someone had given me and drove up the Willamette, the first day with a fly (possiebugger) I hooked a wild trout. In doing so I hooked my self. 2nd time out I hooked a 14in redside(CDC green caddis) out of the Mac. Hatchery trout brought me to a place I came to love, now wild trout keep me there. Thats my look at this debate, so now what?
    People I work with ask me to take their kids fishing, teach ’em how. Good excuse for me to be on the water. Bring a 5w and a spinner set-up. Hit my old bait holes. We limit out on hatchery fish with salmon eggs. Ill run a nymph through the holes to see if a hatchery fish will scoop-up the nymph, no takers yet. The kids are happy, I justify the trip as beneficial to the overall health of the river by removing hatchery fish. However, what if those hatchery fish were gone, what if that hole had some wild fish? Bet my nymph would get a tug or two. And these holes are easy for kids to cast. Would the kids be just as happy to catch a beautiful wild fish and release it? I didnt pick-up a fly rod until I was 37. Kids could be exposed to fly fishing through eduaction at a much younger age. I want the kids I take on the river now to catch fish, but also understand the quality of the experience out weighs the fish counts of hatchery fish.
    Any way thats my take. I love taking the kids up and we have a good time.

  7. Rob R says:


    Wild fish will eventually fill the niche once the hatchery fish are removed. It’s already happened on the upper reaches of the McKenzie. Thus the blue ribbon water upstream of the planting zone.

    But Dave adressed your concern precisely – the McKenzie should not continue to be sacrificed “for the kids.” Let’s give kids a break here! Kids are perfectly capable of catching wild trout, and yes, wild trout will rebound and fill the “gap” left by the impotent hatchery mutants. But I also believe strongly that kids who like to fish will be drawn to fishing whether they catch fish or not.

  8. Justin says:

    My concern? You must not have been reading my post right or weren’t picking up on my sarcasm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *