Wild trout tagging underway on the McKenzie River

Over the past month, the McKenzie Flyfishers have spearheaded a wild trout census study on the five mile section of river from Hendricks to Bellinger boat ramps. The study was funded by the local Trout Unlimited Chapter through a $5,000 grant from the Flyfishers Club of Oregon.

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

Dave Thomas, Patrick Dowd, Karl Mueller, Moon and Monica Mullen, Craig Heaton, Dave Vazquez, Scott Kinney and others have been on the water, fly fishing for, and tagging native McKenzie Redside trout.

The study was implemented to document how the wild fish bounce back after hatchery fish removal. For anyone interested in the science behind hatchery fish interactions with wild fish, please visit the McKenzie Flyfishers fisheries page that documents all the best science on this topic.

Scott Kinney and I headed out yesterday for a few hours to do some tagging and it was a better day for bugwatching than fishing. We did manage to tag one nice 15.5″ native trout, and each had a couple shots at more nice fish. A couple more conversions might have turned a tough day into a good one. We also had a blizzard Grannom “Mothers Day” caddis hatch, plus bonus stonefly species including a salmonfly and a skwala stone.

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

McKenzie River Trout Tagging Project

There has also been some concerns as to the state of the local whitefish population in the McKenzie, and I can say anecdotally at least, that Scott’s boat is dispelling that rumor.

This entry was posted in Fishing Reports, McKenzie River, Oregon Conservation News, Oregon Fly Fishing Clubs and Events. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Wild trout tagging underway on the McKenzie River

  1. M00n says:

    There has also been some discussion as to the state of the local whitefish population in the McKenzie, and I can say anecdotally at least, that Scott’s boat is dispelling that rumor.

    HA haha hee hee hee…. we used to call Scott the “steel heading Jesus” i say we rename him “White fish Jonah”….

    just saying is all….

  2. Ethan Nickel says:

    First, I think the efforts of the local TU chapter and those of you involved with tagging the fish are admirable, it is a good cause, and I am sure all involved have only the best intentions.
    However, I was disturbed to see the photos of the fish being handled and tagged in the boat. Why not pull over and tag the fish and photograph them in the shallows while partially submerged? This would significantly reduce the potential for incidental mortality at the hands of those who are trying to help them.
    I had the same problem with the two fly contest last year. The event was a benefit for TU and conservation generally, but the competition involved bringing the fish on board and photographing them while in a metal pan. Fish squirm and flop. Falling on the dry bottom of the boat with some sand on it can kill them.
    Maybe we can find a better protocol for this year’s event. Photographing the fish in a measure net in the water would be much less deleterious.

  3. Matt Stansberry says:

    Valid concerns. I will mention that the tagged fish are placed in a five gallon bucket of river water throughout the tagging process, which works well to reduce stress on the fish in my limited experience so far.

  4. Craig Heaton says:


    We kept our fish in a 5 gallon bucket while tagging and only placed the fish on a wet, river cold measuring pan for that piece of data. Then back to the river!


  5. Scott says:

    Good points, Ethan. We’ve been trying to get them in and out as quickly as possible but as with any time you are handling fish there is the potential for problems.

    The bucket full of (cold) water is a big help. The procedure I’ve been using is to net the fish, drop them in the bucket, splash some water on the measuring board, measure fish, back in bucket for a few seconds, and then apply tag with fish in bucket. Then it’s right back in the river. In this case Matt was firing off pictures as I was going through the process.

    We’re recording fish lengths pretty precisely (fork length in millimeters) – I think it would be tough to do this while still 100% submerged with a typical measuring net. I will give it a shot tomorrow, though.

    A wide, shallow net (almost a cradle) with precise measuring marks would be the optimum tool. Maybe we can look into finding something like this for next year’s iteration of the study.

  6. M00n says:

    Also you need to know that, there was no posing for pics. The pics were taken while the tagging process was in action…. again – no posing.

    We bring the fish to hand and place it in a bucket of fresh water while we wet and cool the measuring board and our hands. Then as quickly as posible, we measure, tag and release said fish. I know the third pic seems so – but it was captured while Scott was releasing.

    Your way may well be a better way – i’m all for it. We are concerned too and it sounds reasonable.

  7. Ethan Nickel says:

    Thanks for the responses and keep in mind that my intention was not to harsh anyone’s mellow. It is important for all of us to keep in mind that fishing is not good for the fish, no matter how evolved we catch-and-releasers think we are. I just think it is important for all of us to think about the ways we can mimimize our impact on the resource.

    I don’t think that tagging a fish for science, or making them pose for the camera is a bad thing, provided it is done in the right way.

    I applaud all of you for your efforts to document the population of wild fish in the Hendricks to Bellinger reach, and hope that these data will document a recovery of the wild fish population in the coming years given the absence of planters.

    The anecdotal data that I have gathered over the last several seasons, however, strongly suggests that the McKenzie and its wild fish have more problems in this section than hatchery fish being planted on top of them. The section of the river between Walterville and Bellinger historicallly was my favorite section to fish for wild fish in the Spring. When EWEB relicensed and refurbished its canal system several years ago, they dropped big pieces of rock into the river at the canal diversion to raise that pool so they could divert even more water into the canal than they did previously. Obviously it is a low water year, but currently EWEB is diverting more than half the flow of the McKenzie into the Walterville canal. Where the river braids around islands above Hendricks it is currently not passible without running over a gravel bar or two, and it is only the end of March. The overwhelming majority of the upstream migrating spring chinook and summer steelhead are bound to stray into the canal on their way upstream because it currently carries significantly more water than the river itself.

    Aside from the implications the canal has for
    migratory fish runs, with respect to the wild trout population and the semi-aquatic insects that support them, the river can only support what the lowest and warmest water conditions of the year will allow. I am afraid that this year the water will be particularly low and warm, but the effects of this drought year will be especially damaging in the sections of the river where over half of it is missing. Where did it go? The EWEB canal system.

    It is well documented that hatchery fish suppress wild fish populations, and I believe that curtailing or limiting the introduction of hatchery trout in the system is in the best interest of the wild trout population and the river in general, I think that various parties are focusing on the planter controversy and ignoring the other elephants in the room. Namely, the de-watering of the McKenzie via the EWEB canals.

  8. Karl Mueller says:


    I can’t say we are ignoring that issue but with a new operating license, there isn’t really anything that can be done provided they are complying with the license terms. I guess we could check to confirm that.

    Also, it wasn’t exactly our choice to stop planting this section though I think it is great. The focus of our efforts had been the area above Goodpasture Bridge though this is a good start.

  9. Craig Heaton says:


    “ignoring the other elephants in the room.”

    I don’t believe so! One group, the McKenzie Flyfishers spent 4-1/2 months sifting through most of what is know , real data, pertaining to the McKenzie River (hatchery fish and their effects). Other groups have been working on this far longer, TU as an example!

    The simple down to earth question, which elephant do you shoot first?

    Now if you want to volunteer to start a new group which is going to take up the task of removing the dams on the McKenzie River, please let me know. I’d like to start moving my home to higher ground. Lets not forget those living in the Eugene/Springfield area that use electric toothbrushes. These residents will not be happy going back to burning candles & whale oil.


  10. Arlen says:

    Ethan, I share your concern about the de-watering of the Hendricks-Bellinger section by the EWEB canal. In this stretch, water removal may be having as much or more of a negative effect on wild fish populations as hatchery trout are. So while I expect that wild fish populations will increase there over time as a result of cessation of planting, the upside is probably limited, and as such this is not really the best stretch to do a test like this. But as Karl said, we didn’t get to choose it, and it is the opportunity we have at hand. Let’s make the best of it we can. And it is certainly worth looking into what can be done to increase the amount of water that must be left in the river by the canals.

  11. Ethan Nickel says:

    I don’t condone shooting elephants under any circumstances. All kidding aside, I don’t think you entirely understand where I am coming from. First, I am on your side, and my comments here are certainly not a roundabout means of subverting the best efforts of many people who, like myself, care very deeply about the river. Also, if you had spent a couple minutes reading my comments, you would have noticed that I did not advocate any sort of Edward Abbey inspired Haydukery. Nowhere did I advocate the removal of any dam on any river. The issue I was trying to draw attention to, and you would have noticed this had you actually read my comments, was the amount of water diverted out of the McKenzie, especially during periods of low flow, which increased dramatically when EWEB recently refurbished the canal system.

    So Craig, stay calm. I am sure you are safe in your home. Keep the electric toothbrush! I would avoid whale oil for the same reasons I don’t support shooting elephants, but candles can provide really nice ambiance.

    Obviously the good people with the MFF spent a lot of time looking into the issue and those with the local TU chapter have labored both politically and physically for the good of wild fish in our area. Kudos.

    I am a person who, at certain times of the year, spends almost every day fishing and guiding various stretches of the McKenzie. What I am telling you, though my evidence is anecdotal, and I certainly haven’t done any formal studies, is that the wild trout population in the reach of the river de-watered by the Walterville canal is a shadow of its former self. In my experience, the wild trout population in this section of the river was relatively stable until shortly after EWEB began to divert more water out of the river than it did previously.

    This population of fish was relatively robust even though this section of the river was annually stocked with hordes of planters. In the absence of these hatchery fish I believe that the population would have been stronger still. I didn’t notice a substantial decline in the fishery in this stretch even after the Cougar project debacle. Only after EWEB began diverting more water did I notice a crash.

    As Karl mentioned and Arlen re-iterated, those of you participating in the current study on the Hendricks to Bellinger stretch didn’t get to choose the hand you were dealt. I agree with Karl and Arlen in that because of the other variables influencing the productivity of this stretch, it probably wouldn’t be the best stretch to choose for such a study. Obviously you can’t always get what you want, and must make the best of current circumstances. I am absolutely not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, and support the work you are doing. I think that the river above Leaburg Lake has a lot more potential and hope that we get an opportunity to see how the wild trout population there might rebound in coming years in the absence of planters and bait.

  12. Craig Heaton says:


    I did read your comments and the first thing that stood out was questioning how native fish were handled. All of that was covered in the training by ODFW.

    Back to your last sentence, “I think that various parties are focusing on the planter controversy and ignoring the other elephants in the room. Namely, the de-watering of the McKenzie via the EWEB canals.”

    No doubt, de-watering hasn’t helped the fish populations. But, please tell us which elephant to shoot first? If you choose EWEB canals as first on the list, it will be an interesting side show.


  13. Ethan Nickel says:

    Really Craig?
    Must you continue to put words in my mouth? Please let me make it clear to you (again) that I support the reduction of the hatchery trout program or their removal entirely from the McKenzie. I am not trying to distract anyone from this important issue.

    I am not the only person who thought the fish in the photos Matt posted looked a little dry. Once you and various other trout taggers explained to me the process, my concerns were assuaged. That was a couple conversations ago. However, just because the methods you employ were taught to you by the ODFW, does that necessarily mean that it’s the best way? Just because the MFF and TU have spent a lot of time poring over data and working to protect wild fish, does that mean that no one else might have anything meaningful to say about the various issues confronting the resource? The comments I made were based on trends that I have observed spending over 100 days a year fishing the McKenzie for my entire adult life. How much time do you spend out there, Craig?

    My comments about the EWEB canal system were not a call to arms. I don’t believe that there is a lot any of us can do about it; as Karl said, the canal system has been relicensed for 40 years. I simply wanted to bring to this issue to light. Though the planter debate has become, in my opinion, unfortunately contentious, I haven’t heard anyone raise this issue which, in my opinion, is more of a limiting factor for the wild fish population in this section of river than the planters are.

    My comments were not an attempt to hijack the debate, or to distract anyone from important issues, only to add some observations.

    Regards, Ethan

  14. Dave Miksch says:

    I can see 1 of the “elephants” in the room in the last photo. Obscured by the caddis blizzard looks like a Mt. dew bottle and some other debri. Nothing gets me more pissed than to go fishing and see trash in the water let alone on the banks.

    I think you have miss understood Ethan’s points. I belive he was just trying to raise awareness of handling the fish in the best manner possible. Like he said “not trying to harsh anyones mellow” I think he was just trying to help with some idea’s on how to make the study more successful for the fish was all.

    I am thankful for you and all involved for your time in this study and can’t wait to hear what the results are.

    For the low water issue I’m proud of my brown lawn and dirty truck in the summer. Although I don’t think the land lord like’s the brown lawn LOL. All kidding aside we all just need to due are best to raise awareness and be the best river stewards we can be, or as I like to call myself a ” river hugger”.


  15. Matt Stansberry says:

    Good talking points guys.

    As someone with some skin in the game with both the tagging process and the two-fly tournament, I think it’s worth figuring out how to improve fish handling safety, specifically for measuring. I’m sure the fish are not crazy about lying across those rulers, so maybe we can buy/build something better for the future.

    Also, other folks have brought up the EWEB canal issue, and though it’s not up for FERC negotiation any time soon, the utility may be influenced in other ways. I’m sure our local TU chapter would back anybody who wanted to organize that effort.

    If we only pursued things that were easy, we sure as hell wouldn’t be tackling the planter issue, so we may as well look into these other problems facing the fish. Constructive criticism welcome.

  16. chromedout33 says:

    where do elephants hang out on the lower river?

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