Every year in late summer, volunteers release approximately 100,000 Chinook salmon into the Nestucca River in Tillamook County.
They are the result of months of care and feeding by volunteers from the Nestucca Anglers, as well as investment in the past several years – using Restoration & Enhancement dollars – to restore and improve the facility where they’re raised and prepared for release.
Rhoades Pond is an important part of ensuring a local fishery for commercial and sports fishermen, even in leaner years for wild fish, said Ron Rehn, STEP biologist for the North Coast Watershed District.
“It provides an insurance back up should the fishery be restricted,” Rehn said, and adds to the overall fishery even in good years.
The pond, located about five miles east of the small town of Hebo, began as a trout pond on private property. ODFW began managing it in the early 1980s, using it as a satellite facility for Cedar Creek hatchery, Rehn said.
After program funding was cut, the nonprofit group Nestucca Anglers took it over in 1999. They’ve been raising Chinook salmon there ever since. Wild broodstock are caught by volunteers to create better hatchery fish, Rehn said.
Each spring, the tiny fry travel from Cedar Creek Hatchery to Rhoades Pond, usually in early April.
Volunteers feed them twice daily, and monitor the pond to ensure healthy conditions. Once the fish are large enough, volunteers – as many as 200 of them – gather to hold a large fin-clipping event on the second Saturday in June, so the fish can be easily identified as a hatchery fish.
By about September, they release about 100,000 smolts into the Nestucca River from two local sites: Cloverdale, Farmer Creek Wayside and Three Rivers, said Ron Byrd, who is president for Nestucca Anglers.
These are the only fall Chinook salmon released into the Nestucca each year, Rehn said.
In the many years that the Nestucca Anglers have reared fish at Rhoades Pond, they have released a total of more than 1.2 million smolts into the Nestucca basin, with the fish comprising 20 to 25 percent of fish caught there according to creel studies.
“It is definitely working. It’s a huge contribution to the angling community,” Byrd said. “And, obviously, it takes the pressure off the native fish also.”
The Rhoades Pond site has been made better in recent years by repairs and improvements that have included re-lining the pond with a new concrete liner. The old liner had been damaged by flooding and elk in past years.
The intake and supply line at the river needed to be replaced. The outlet structure also required replacement.
“The intake is the structure that collects water at the river, and the supply line sends it to the pond,” Rehn explained. “The outlet is a screened structure that lets water out and keeps fish in.”
Other essential improvements included adding netting to prevent birds from eating the tiny fish, and an electric fence to keep otters out of the pond.
New tables, a trough, cover and lighting in the clipping area add efficiency to the volunteer-run project.
Additional improvements included upgrading electricity, replacing the pump house, demolishing an old caretaker’s house and installing a monitoring alarm to notify ODFW if water flow to the pond is lost.
So many people are involved in the Rhoades Pond efforts to raise fish that when a local angler catches one, they don’t say they caught a hatchery or fin-clipped fish, Byrd said, but a Rhoades Pond fish.
“You spend the time and energy to raise these fish,” Byrd said. “It’s a pretty big kudos to be able to catch one of them.”