On Sept. 7 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, lifted nearly all regulations on Thief Valley Reservoir fishing. No bag limits, no size limits. Catch was allowed by pole, net or hand should the daring angler so choose.
Thief Valley seemed headed for the kind of fishing free-for-all worthy of the body of water’s name, a true Wild West of bountiful catch.
The ODFW’s press release said the fishermen’s paradise would remain without a catch limit through the end of October. But before you start baiting your hooks, anglers, I’ve got bad news for you:
The reservoir is empty and your prize catches are already dead.
Hundreds or even thousands of decaying rainbow trout have turned the water hole into a barren wasteland of death. Or to be a little less dramatic, the dried-up pit is now a buffet for scavengers — and has been for weeks.
The Halloween cut-off line for no-catch limits was only a far off date on a calendar, said Nadine Craft, an ODFW assistant district fish biologist. The real end to the fishing dream came when irrigators determined they needed the water for crops in the area more than the fish did.
And since irrigators — not the ODFW — control the water level of the reservoir, which has no minimum mark, things moved along quicker than expected.
“It’s been a dry summer; it’s gone long into the fall without any rain,” Craft said.
Thief Valley has a history of showing off its lake bottom early in the fall. In the last 10 years, the reservoir has gone dry four times for farmers’ fields, Craft said. A few years have passed since the last time the water was completely drained though, leaving a few interested parties — namely fishing enthusiasts — scrambling for answers.
Such as, “If the ODFW can fine anglers for exceeding bag limits, what are their repercussions for leaving tons of foot-longs or better to die?”
A regrettable situation indeed, but one that was hardly avoidable, Craft said.
“It’s logistically not possible to move them all,” she said. “We can’t collect them before (water levels) get too low. Oxygen gets too low and with the high temperatures, the fish begin to die.”
Some poor communication is to blame for the number left behind, though. The ODFW wasn’t given word of the total drainage until a week before the reservoir became a desert around mid-September. Had the department known, Craft said the regulations would have been altered much earlier.
The sight of stinking fish may be the lasting image for fishermen on The Eastside through the winter, but spring spurs new hope. When the water returns, so too does the catch.
And a recently updated policy because of the draw downs will place older fish out of ODFW hatcheries into Thief Valley as soon as there’s enough liquid to sustain them, Craft said.
“I want to reassure (fishermen),” Craft said. “We have those spring fingerlings to put in. They may be catchable size come next May or so.”
Previously, two full years were required before large enough fish inhabited the reservoir, meaning fishing was out of the question in the mean time. So for the anglers who readied their poles and nets this month hoping to find a fish frenzy, keep your instruments stored nearby.
Spring is just around the corner — and until then, there’s always ice fishing.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.