Fishing in Central Oregon

Steelhead angler management examined

Gary Lewis / The Bulletin /

Upstream they were letting more water out of the dam. Here in the canyon, the Clackamas River ran higher than normal with a little color to the water. I started at the bottom of the run and worked my way upstream.

When the morning sun played on the surface, I tied on a No. 3 nickel-bladed spinner with green beads. At 8:50 a.m. a fish streaked from behind a rock and slammed the lure. According to my journal from that day in 1990, I caught the same fish 50 minutes later on a different spinner. This time the hook was on the point of the upper jaw.

I landed another fish a few minutes later, turned it loose and started back to the car. I always wondered if that first fish struck at the lure the second time or if I snagged it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about fishing for steelhead with beads and outlined a vertical presentation wherein the angler places a bead on the leader about three inches from the hook.

Two alert readers responded — one by email, one by telephone. Doubtless, several other fishermen lifted their eyebrows.

One angler, a former guide, made the point that a fish biting the bead is likely to end up with the hook outside of its mouth. Although he was a veteran drift fisherman, he said he had never fished in the manner I wrote about, with a bobber or strike indicator, which presents the lure in a vertical top-down presentation.

We agreed that a horizontal drift fishing bead presentation is more likely to end up pinning a steelhead in the outside corner, not on the inside corner, which, many of us think, is the preferred hook placement.

Side-of-the-mouth hookup is good if it is on the inside. If it is on the outside, the fish must be released.

Although a horizontal presentation and a vertical presentation are two different things, it seemed a clarification and examination of the regulations was in order.

At issue is an Oregon rule that requires any fish hooked outside of its mouth be released. That includes any fish that bites a bait, lure or fly and ends up with the hook on its mandible or, like lipstick, on its upper or lower jaw.

This year, the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations is printed on 112 pages, and there are a number of changes and additions to the text highlighted in blue.

On Page 9, the new definition of snagging reads: “Taking or attempting to take a fish with a hook and line in a way or manner where the fish is not enticed to voluntarily take the hook(s) in its mouth. Gamefish which are hooked other than inside of its mouth must be released immediately unharmed.”

Why does this matter? Because if an angler keeps an otherwise legal fish, which was hooked on the outside of its mouth, he or she may be ticketed for snagging. And if an enforcement officer determines by looking at the tackle that the fisherman was angling for an outside-of-mouth hookup, he or she may be guilty.

Is it possible that the enhanced antisnagging rules might encourage fishermen to change tactics to ensure inside-the-mouth hookups, with more hooks in the interior gill arches, which are more likely to cause severe bleeding? Aren't those outside corner-of-mouth hookups safer for a fish that must be released?

Another popular technique is to troll a Hot Shot, Tadpolly, or similar diver, with a treble hook at the rear of the lure and one at the center. A fish attempting to crush a diver might end up with one hook in its mouth and the other in its jaw. By the time the fish is in the net, even if it was hooked legally in the mouth to begin with, it could have the other hook on the outside of its mouth, which is what an officer would see through a spotting scope or high-power binoculars.

Perhaps a favored method is swinging an articulated leech or a tube-fly presentation wherein the tube might ride up away from the hook. There's a good chance the hook could end up on the outside of the mouth.

Some methods are safer than others for targeting an inside hookup. If an angler is fishing with beads, move it closer to the hook. If an angler is fishing a fly and dropper or a tube or even a streamer with a stinger, he or she should take a look at how that hatchery fish was hooked before the wood shampoo is applied.