Where once there were broken docks, recreational fishermen now gather to cast a line.
In areas that lacked a good fishing hole, kids visit one with mom or dad – and without a long car ride to get there.
A lengthy list of completed projects highlight the progress of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 25-year angling enhancement plan, now about one-third of the way through its established timeline.
The numbers underline the Restoration & Enhancement Board’s commitment to providing Oregon anglers with a place to fish and fish to catch, as well as fishing education for residents in urban and rural areas throughout the state.
“One of the things that we’re very careful to look at is what’s the benefit for fishermen,” said Richard Heap, who serves on ODFW’s R&E board. “The bottom line is it’s their money.”
R&E has dedicated an increasing amount of the budget to projects that improve angler access and opportunities since the state adopted the plan. Looking at the past 20 years in 10-year blocks, it’s clear that the board has made access and opportunities a priority.
Those first 10 years include the time just prior to the adoption of the 25-year plan, plus the biennium during which the plan was adopted. The second 10-year block includes money allocated for the current 2017-19 biennium, as well as projects funded during the eight previous years.
Between 2001 and 2010, R&E’s board dedicated $930,000 for 19 projects, or an average of $103,000 per year.
Between 2010 and 2019, R&E’s board allocated $3.1 million for 77 projects, or an average of $350,000 per year.
These dollars often translate into new or improved infrastructure, including fishing docks, boat ramps and new ponds. R&E funds improved or replaced 30 fishing docks and 16 boat ramps between 2007 and the current biennium.
Other improvements that build access and opportunities include dredging existing ponds; creating paths, improving parking areas, restoring cleaning stations, building ADA accessible fishing platforms, and adding lighting. This includes 13 projects planned for this biennium.
Building the next generation
Some of those projects help create the next generation of anglers through education, clinics and ponds designated for kids age 17 and younger.
“I think one of the biggest problems kids have getting into fishing is they’re not very mobile. A lot of the places where they can fish and have fun, they need a ride,” said Assistant District Fish Biologist Tim Porter.
That’s why efforts have specifically directed some improvements to areas that kids can get to easily by bike or on a short weekday drive with a parent.
The Prineville fishing pond located in Central Oregon’s Rimrock Park, man-made in 2009, is stocked with rainbow trout and large-mouth bass. It was a cooperative project that included ODFW, Crook County Parks & Recreation District, city of Prineville and private landowners.
ODFW holds some free fishing day events there. It also collects larger, 3- to 4-lb bass from Davis Lake at the southern end of the Cascades Lake Highway, making a big bass catch possible, too.
“The kids really like to go there,” Porter said. “They get very excited. I talked to one kid who was trying to catch the same bass for three days in a row.”
Similarly, visit Shevlin Pond northwest of Bend and you’re sure to find kids catching rainbow trout and families enjoying the picnic areas, said Jen Luke, STEP biologist.
R&E funds paid to dredge the pond, which was filling with sediment. That made more room for fish. The water stays cool enough for trout fishing throughout the summer.
“I would say it’s for sure the most popular pond in Bend,” Luke said. “It’s a small pond, but there’s always a few families out there. It has a steady flow of people.”
Before potential projects make their way to the R&E board, they undergo a review by ODFW staff, who analyze technical details. Staff score each project, and the R&E board uses those scores as their first decision-making filter, said board member Richard Heap.
Board members review the applications, considering the benefits and whether the funds can be combined with other grants to leverage R&E money. They also score applications, weighing them in light of available dollars, as well as habitat and hatchery needs.
When there are federal or other grant dollars involved, “we get a pretty big bang for the dollars we’re investing,” Heap said.
For some areas, the focus on access and opportunities couldn’t come a moment too soon.
The fishing dock at Eckman Lake closed in summer 2013, when one of the wooden walkways broke, making it unsafe. It’s a popular natural waterway in the Waldport area. ODFW stocks it with rainbow trout. Warm-water species also are present, and coho enter the lake when water conditions are right.
“Eckman Lake provides a great, accessible fishery for residents of Waldport and Lincoln County,” said STEP Biologist Christine Clapp.
A new dock needed to be strong enough to hold the crowds that gather there, including about 100 kids at a time when a local church holds an annual family fishing event. Located at a state park that has good parking and restroom facilities, it’s a family friendly fishery, Clapp said.
Its replacement, installed in January 2014, is a modular aluminum and plastic dock. Light passes through it, making it better for fish, too, Clapp said.
The Central Coast Fly Fishers helped with the project, which was largely funded by R&E with an additional grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. It may not otherwise have been replaced.
“State Parks may have had to remove it,” Clapp said.
Fishing for everyone
St. Louis Ponds, about 13 miles north of Salem in Marion County, has been a welcoming refuge for anglers since about the 1970s. Now, it’s more accessible, including for people who have disabilities
Projects included paving the pathways to a couple of the ponds about five years ago. They previously were squishy and hard to traverse when it rained. New docks make it easier to get to fish. Concrete piers – two large and three small on various ponds – are fitted with railings, making them wheelchair-accessible.
“St. Louis ponds is a unique fishing opportunity,” said Todd Alsbury, a district fish biologist. “We have seven ponds that have anything from trout to catfish, bluegill, crappie and pumpkin seed. All kinds of different fishing opportunities for a very diverse group of anglers that come to those ponds.”
ODFW holds family fishing events at the ponds in spring and fall, usually drawing about 600 to 800 people. On a nice weekend after fish have been stocked mid-week, you might find 100 to 150 people fishing there, Alsbury said.
“It’s providing opportunity for a diversity of cultures and interests, but also people with disabilities. I think we’re really working well at that, but we have a lot of work that we still want to do,” Alsbury said.
Plans for the next phase include improving and possibly expanding the parking lot, developing a covered central gathering area with an informational kiosk, planting shade trees and adding more restrooms.
“We simply wouldn’t have the funds to do this project without R&E,” Alsbury said.