This is not the time to hang up your waders; rivers and fish need you now more than ever.
As an outfitter, my future is uncertain. Steelhead runs are declining, drought and fires wreak havoc, and high water temperatures alter the ecology of the fish on the river I love.
I see the resulting devastation up close and on a daily basis, and I’m sad, angry and hurt. While the resources I love are suffering, it seems that managing agencies don’t seem to care.
Floating and fishing desert rivers is my passion and my life. I’m fortunate that for the last 19 years I have had the opportunity to make a living and run a guide service with Marty on the Deschutes, John Day, Sandy, and Grande Ronde rivers guiding anglers for steelhead, trout, and smallmouth bass. There’s nothing I love more than sharing the magic of these beautiful places while advocating for the health of these rivers and the fish that live in them.
In my work as an outfitter it’s my job to educate people, connect anglers with places and fish, and share my experience and passion. And I’ve always felt a deep responsibility to maintain and preserve and give back to the resources I rely on.
Over the last 19 years we have shared and promoted the work of nonprofits working to protect steelhead and rivers and have donated over $125,000 in trip value to Native Fish Society, Water Watch, Fly Fishing Collaborative, Western Rivers Conservancy, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Steam Boaters, Children’s Cancer Association of Oregon, Keep Fish Wet, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Casting for Recovery, South Wasco Youth Programs, and others. We have guided kids camps to teach the next generation about conservation and fishing, we have served on boards, written letters to senators, helped ODFW collect scale samples from John Day steelhead and shared the ethics of handling wild fish with our guests.
Marty and I are daily stewards of the river and sportsmen at heart and there’s nothing I want to see more than healthy steelhead returns. However, the recent decision to shut down Steelhead angling is not the answer to achieving healthy returns. And shutting down chinook fishing on the Columbia is going to divide the angling community and create confusion and tension.
I believe there are other solutions no one is talking about, solutions about which I plan to raise my voice on in the coming days.
In the meantime, I challenge you to keep going to the places you love to fish. These places and the people who work in them need your support and advocacy. Now, more than ever, is the time for anglers to get out there to see and experience what is happening and come together to work to conserve the places none of us can take for granted.
Steelhead fishing for me has always been about the whole experience and the process. It’s about connecting to wild places and wildlife, making new friends and seeing old friends, sitting by a river with fellow anglers sipping a beer or scotch. Enjoying great food and camp life.
While you may not be able to steelhead fish as usual this season, this is a great time to reconnect with rivers and redefine your experience. Take a hike, hunt chukar or grouse, and fish for trout.
Currently the Deschutes is eerily quiet; there are few fly anglers out here fishing, even though now is a great time to connect with those badass Redsides! If you have never fished for trout on the Grande Ronde, GO! Those trout will give you a run for your money!
If you had booked a guided trip to fish for steelhead, don’t cancel it; there is so much more to do out there than steelhead fish!
If you stop going to the places you love and want to preserve, you will lose your credibility and your right to have a voice. Isolating yourself from these places is not the answer. Staying connected – as hard as it may be – is how to be a part of the solution.
Being a part of the solution means contacting your state agencies and asking them to change regulations. Being a part of the solution means having conversations with all anglers – gear fisherman and fly anglers. Being a part of the solution means connecting with the people who care most about the fish.
Ask yourself, why do you fish? Is it just about the catching?
Volunteer for a nonprofit that is doing restoration projects or education programs such as Trout Unlimited.
Email ODFW and the Governor’s office and urge them to ask PGE to maintain cooler water flows for the entire year on the Deschutes River.
Write ODFW commissioners or attend meetings and ask them to change fishing regulations to single, barbless hooks on the John Day River. Ask them to close steelhead fishing on the John Day Arm from May 1 – Nov. 1.
Break down bias and go fishing with a gear angler. Book a trip with a guide.
Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Don’t hang up your waders.
Our rivers and fish need our voices, they need river runners and anglers to speak for them. If we stop fishing will the rivers lose their voices? Will people move on and forget the places that need our help?
Mia Sheppard is a mother, outfitter and avid hunter and angler who lives on the banks of the Deschutes River in Maupin. Contact @firstname.lastname@example.org