Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Casting a line in the Powder River closer to home and reeling in fish for dinner could become a reality if the Powder Basin Watershed Council has its way.

If the dream comes true, Baker City residents might just find themselves walking down to the riverside rather than driving to more distant fishing holes to bring home enough trout for a fish fry.

“Last summer we started hearing from people that they’d like to see more fishing in the Powder River,” said Christo Morris, 44, the Watershed Council’s executive director for the past 3 years.

He and Anna Hayes are the two paid staff members at the office at 2034 Auburn Ave. Hayes is the Council’s water quality monitoring coordinator as well as outreach and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) coordinator.

People who talked about wanting more fishing also told stories of better fishing in the river in days gone by, Morris said.

Those comments got like-minded people thinking that perhaps they could bring back the good old days of Powder River fishing for angling enthusiasts.

In the fall of 2018, a group of interested people and organizations met with the Council to talk about the subject. They decided that the stretch of river from Hughes Lane to Mason Dam would be a good candidate for enhancement, Morris said.

Fishing ranks third among recreation activities participated in regularly by people in the Powder Basin Watershed region, according to a 2016 Strategic Outreach Survey Report conducted by Hayes.

In fact, fishing ranked third only behind the most popular activities of hiking, which placed first, and second-place camping, the survey states. Hunting was ranked fourth, followed by boating, biking and climbing.

A category of “other,” ranked just behind biking with respondents listing a wide range of activities including “skiing,” “mining and exploring” and “walking the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway,” with an added remark, “the river walk is beautiful.”

“Once we started talking to people about it, (enhancing the river for better fishing) seemed like a very obvious thing we should be working on,” Morris said. “We want to help build appreciation for the river by the community — and all the different things the river brings with it.”

Morris said there also is an economic aspect to the project with the idea that providing “a lot of public access to fishing would provide a lot of benefit for the community.”

And river conditions “are decent” with water temperatures near thresholds needed to support native trout, albeit with room for improvement, he said.

“The group also recognized that if we improve and increase fish populations, results will also improve water quality, stabilize streambanks and benefit wildlife,” Dorothy Mason, Watershed Council president, stated in a press release.

The Council has applied for about $35,000 in grant funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, to conduct an “aquatic inventory” of the Powder River along the 21-mile reach from Mason Dam to Hughes Lane.

The Watershed Council is working in partnership with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

Only landowners who volunteer to participate will be included in the survey of fish habitat on private property between the dam and Hughes Lane, Mason said.

So far, 90 of the approximately 200 property owners, have agreed to participate surveys conducted by ODFW staff. They will use their Aquatic Inventories Survey for the work.

The 90 landowners represent 5.5 miles of the total mileage. The project’s first phase calls for surveying 10.5 miles of river, Mason said.

Landowners who participate in the initial survey will not be required to continue with the project from that point if they change their minds, she said.

The U.S. Forest Service also has provided staff time to survey 3.5 miles of river that crosses lands they manage below Mason Dam where ODFW stocks hatchery- raised rainbow trout.

Morris said the native redband trout is genetically very similar to the rainbow trout, and anything that helps the rainbow, a coastal version of the redband that is not adapted to wild conditions, also helps the redband.

“ODFW has offered to stock rainbow trout once (downstream) conditions are suitable,” Morris said.

Morris says habitat improvement projects call for providing more resting pools for the rainbow trout to prevent them from simply being washed downstream to die.

To provide more resting pools, especially in the downtown area, the Council would look at placing boulders in the river, which also would improve bank stability.

Providing cooler water temperatures by increasing shade trees along the river also would benefit the fish.

Baker City and the Baker County Chamber of Commerce both are happy to help with the project, he said. And provided letters of support in the funding application.

“It’s really a unique resource to have a river flowing right downtown,” Morris said. “We hope good quality fishing would be another way to make use of the river.”

More information is available by calling Morris at 541-523-7288 or emailing him at pbwced@questoffice.net

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