Every year on a Saturday in June, more than 250 children in the Reedsport area get to experience the thrill of fishing for themselves.
At the Eel Tenmile STEP Association’s fishing clinic, the kids also learn knot tying, fish identification, water safety, and how to cast with spinning rods and fly rods. The reward at the end is fishing for their own rainbow trout from a net pen attached to the dock at Eel Lake.
The objective is to teach kids practical skills and the lesson that fishing can be a fun hobby, one they can do throughout their lives.
“We’re getting kids out fishing, for a free fishing weekend. With the whole set up, with all the different stations, they get a little bit of education and a little knowledge of how to do some of the tasks for fishing. The net pen is the reward,” said Assistant District Fish Biologist Gary Vonderohe. “The hope is that they go do it on their own, the next day, the next week, and for years to come.”
The Eel Lake net pen project, in which 1,000 rainbow trout are kept and fed for about one month prior to the free fishing event, is just one project that volunteers are seeking a five-year renewal for in the Coos Bay-Coquille area.
Other efforts volunteers would like to continue are the Morgan Creek, Noble Creek and Millicoma fish hatcheries. In addition, Coquille High School is seeing to continue its Cunningham Creek hatchery. And, in the Umpqua area, the Gardiner, Reedsport, Winchester Bay STEP volunteers also are seeking to continue their hatchery efforts.
The hatcheries all raise fall Chinook salmon. Morgan Creek’s goal is to raise and release 645,000 fish a year into Morgan Creek. Noble Creek aims for 600,000 fish, and Millicoma Interpretive Center for 100,000 fish, which are released into Pony Slough.
At Coquille High School, they raise up to 20,000 fish, with the high school students fully involved in spawning the fish, fertilizing the eggs, rearing the fish and clipping fins.
The Gardiner program’s goal is to release 100,000 pre-smolts each year. These small fish will rear in the estuary for a couple of months before they go out to the ocean, said STEP Biologist Evan Leonetti.
Volunteers collect the brood stock, hatch the eggs, rear and feed the juveniles and clip them to identify them as hatchery fish.
“They’re involved in every facet of the production,” Leonetti said.
Though they’ve had problems in the past with high mortality because of fungus on the eggs, they now have newer technology at the hatchery, a mist incubator, that will keep the eggs safe until they’re ready to hatch.
“It’s a really nice program that produces a good number of fish, and we have a great group of volunteers that help us out there,” Leonetti said.
The Salmon Trout Advisory Committee reviewed these project at their September 8th meeting in Coos Bay. The board recommended that the Department approve these successful projects and continue them for another five years.