The Steamboater Whistle


              Summer 2015

               Volume 54, Issue 3


North Umpqua River, Oregon


Announcements and Club Events

Please welcome the following new members:

Markus Burkhart, Olympic Valley, CA

David Geisser, Oakland, CA

Dues Increase and Rationale
Your Board of Directors has voted to increase the dues for "Regular" members in the upcoming year from $25.00 to $40.00 per year. This is a big change for our membership and we wanted to explain the rationale for this increase.
Since its inception in 1966 the dues structure and rates to become a Steamboater have been unchanged. There are several types of membership levels that our founders devised. First, "Life" member, for those who wanted to demonstrate their commitment and pay one time, the cost was $500.00. We currently have 32 Life members. Next is the "Regular" member, which cost $25.00 per year. We currently have 144 regular members. This number has remained fairly constant for the past few years. Next is the "Associate" member level, and this level costs $15.00 per year.  According to Frank Moore, this level of membership was designed to give the non-fishing spouses a way to become part of the organization. We currently have 11 Associate members. The next level of membership is the "Junior" member and it costs $5.00 per year. This was envisioned as a way to include young adults, under 14 years old in the organization. We currently have 7 Junior members. The last level of Steamboaters membership is a "Corporate" membership, and it costs $100.00 per year. This allows companies to have a vehicle to support our mission statement. We currently have 4 Corporate members.
The Steamboaters has a well thought out mission statement, thanks to our founders. With respect to the dues increase, two of these stand out. First: "To work for the conservation of all our natural resources with emphasis on the conservation and protection of clean and pure angling waters, particularly the North Umpqua".  And secondly: "To support those organizations which have purposes in common with this organization".
Over the past three years the Steamboaters have spent $17,000.00 on professional consultants who conducted fisheries analysis to support our positions during the coastal management planning process, and the lawsuit against ODFW concerning the rate of hatchery fish introduction into the Willamette River. We have spent $3,000.00 on public education on events such as the Glide Wildflower Show, the showing of Damnation, and the Douglas County Global Warming Coalitions climate change seminars. In addition, $750.00 was spent on litigation.
As climate change and other issues continue to impact our ecosystem, the challenges for us will only increase and become more complex. This will necessitate the expenditure of more revenue to accomplish our mission statement. We are committed to protecting the fish we all love and the water that they need to survive. That, in a nutshell, is why we voted to raise the dues, for Regular members only, to $40.00 per year. All other membership levels will remain unchanged. This increase will take effect next year and is expected to raise an additional $2,000 to $3,000 per year.
This additional revenue will allow your board to continue fighting for you, by allowing us to contribute more money to education, restoration, and conservation projects. We hope we can continue to count on your support, and hope that you will renew your membership. We also want you to talk to your fishing friends and encourage them to join our organization. We will need all the help we can get to weather the approaching storm.

In This Issue
President's Message by Tim Goforth

Hello fellow Steamboaters.  My name is Tim Goforth; I am your new President. In the past I have been an associate board member and a voting board member. I began fishing the North Umpqua during the summer of 1980, purely by an act of fate. My wife and I were to spend a week hiking and fishing the Rogue River, but due to an unfortunate incident we hiked out early to head back home to Monmouth. While driving up I-5 I remembered I'd heard about this place called the North Umpqua. I suggested we go there and find a campground. The North Umpqua stole our hearts and souls. My wife and I rarely missed a summer camping on the river and we spent many winter weekends and winter holidays on the North Umpqua.  We've seen many changes on this river and seen many faces go and come to this river.
Over the last week I perused approximately 20 years of old archived Steamboater Whistles reviewing past goals and accomplishments; the list is impressive. I have a lot to live up to and a lot to learn. Fortunately, the Steamboaters have a very active and knowledgeable board.
Some of the issues this coming year the Board of Directors are keeping an eye on and are involved in are as follows:
  • Placer mining in Oregon rivers
  • State push to take over management of Federal lands
  • BLM management plan revision
  • Forest Service management plan revision
  • Fish counting at Winchester Dam
  • BLM restoration project for Canton Creek
  • Timber sales in critical watersheds
  • Rock Creek Hatchery issues
I firmly believe that no one person can make an organization strong and viable. In the case of the Steamboaters I want to hear from all of you, our members. I am going to try to have more opportunities for Steamboaters to gather for social gatherings, similar to our annual picnic.
These are difficult times with issues coming up that could have serious effects upon our river. The number one goal of the Steamboaters is to, "Work to restore the North Umpqua River system's wild fish stocks, particularly Steelhead, to a sustainable level that is consistent with the optimum natural population levels."
I pledge to you all that I will always work with this goal in mind.

Changing Rivers, Changing Climate by Jeff Dose and Rich Grost
The Steamboaters, The North Umpqua Foundation, and Umpqua Watersheds helped sponsor a public forum presented by the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition on September 30th, at the Douglas County Library.  The forum was well attended.  The presenters, Dr. Gordon Grant and Dr. Gordie Reeves, are both experienced and respected researchers with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, a branch of the U. S. Forest Service, at Oregon State University.
Dr. Grant, a Research Hydrologist, began by describing the basic structure of the hydrologic systems that occur in western Oregon.  He emphasized the role that geology plays in how precipitation is moderated as it travels into stream networks.  Much of the Umpqua River basin, like most of western Oregon, is made up of a geology in which surface flow dominates the flow regime.  In the Umpqua, Western Cascades and Tyee Sandstone (coast range) are the predominant geologies and are composed mostly of steep rocky slopes and shallow soils, which do not hold much water.  This geology, combined with the precipitation pattern dominated by rain, yields "flashy" (fast rising and falling) winter flows and low summer flows in this part of the Umpqua Basin . 
In contrast, the fractured basalt and deep pumice deposits of the High Cascades geology in the North Umpqua headwaters can absorb great quantities of precipitation and meter it out more gradually as groundwater through a network of springs.  This geology, combined with a pattern of precipitation that was (historically) dominated by snow, results in a more uniform flow regime including relatively high and cold summer flows.  Dr. Grant's modeling suggests that the most likely consequence of climate change on hydrology will be little impact to summer stream flows in the Western Cascade/Tyee Sandstone regions because the summer base flows are already very low, but rather, the High Cascades regions will likely see reductions in summer base flows, principally from the decrease in snow pack with warmer winter temperatures.  However, Dr. Grant concluded with a conundrum, which was that the very low flows of 2015 did not actually get as low as he expected within either geology type - hence he plans to refine his models and hypotheses as more is learned about actual conditions.
Dr. Reeves discussed the impact of these hydrologic changes on fish production and diversity.  He emphasized two points: First, that warmer water temperatures throughout the incubation period could cause salmon and steelhead to emerge earlier and perhaps suffer from in-opportune timing of emergence, growth, and out-migration; and second, that the reduction in snowpack and High Cascades flows would result in flows dropping to lower summer flows, sooner in the year, thus further stressing juvenile coldwater fish and perhaps even giving a competitive advantage to non-native cool-water predators. He added that climate change may cause further stressors to our coldwater fish such as reduced ocean productivity due to acidification impacts (from CO2 emissions) on food chains, the likely result being slower growth and smaller adult fish and/or reduced survival; and that the amount of the basin with adverse hydrology and water temperatures will increase and for longer periods.
Combined, these effects will likely have severe impacts on our native aquatic systems over time, including salmon and steelhead.  It was noted that salmon and steelhead have evolved with frequent and large scale local disturbances (volcanic eruptions, floods, forest fires, landslides, etc.) yet have persisted largely due to the wide variety of adaptations they exhibit, and the straying of about 10-20% of fish from most runs into other watersheds and overlapping of generations.  But in contrast, the impacts of climate change may occur on a larger spatial scale than previously thought, potentially encompassing the entire range of  many species.  Dr. Reeves concluded that our current emphasis on managing for abundance of fish might not be the best strategy going forward, rather we should be managing our aquatic systems to retain the greatest diversity of fish life-histories, thus providing fish the most genetic variety for  adapting to rapidly changing yet, variable conditions in our rivers and ocean.

A Look Back in Time by Frank Moore


Frank Moore writes of the picture included above:
I judge it was in the 30s, and in the area above Rock Creek.  Gene's
property was on Honey Creek. In the 40's I fished that area above Rock Creek
to what is now Over Look and had one fish after another, some of them really
big fish, which he did not have in the picture. As soon as the highway went
in and people could keep fish they were gone. Had the same kind of fishing
above Eagle Rock to Soda Springs in the summer of 1949 about 10 years before
the highway hit that area.

Now and Then, Then and Now by Larry Levine
Editor's Note: This essay by Larry appeared in the summer 2013 Whistle. It more than bears a reprint to remember his love for the river and his beautiful ability to convey and share it with others.

An artist friend andI drove the river highway late in the morning, stopping
occasionally along the way. He needed to inventory his paintings at The Inn upriver, and I needed to get my drinking water from the spring where watercress grows, but actually,anything done on the river is done to be on the river. Along the highway, the Scotch Broom was invasively yellow, and the wild Sweet Peas painted with watercolors. We've both lived here for decades; we're in our sixties; we've got experienced perspectives. We've done this a bunch. I learn from him; he sees more than I do; he's got artist eyes; I've got writer eyes. If memory serves me well, I can't recall a time that we both, in a rush of deep appreciation, didn't proclaim the North Fork to be the most beautiful river in the world and the watershed paradise.   

This claim can and should be disputed by anyone who lives on a beautiful river, or on a moderately beautiful river, even on a pretty or cute little river, because learning the lessons the river teaches is gratifying, and if a place makes you feel as if you're in paradise, you are. Why wait. The lessons can be comforting or terrifying, but, if the learner survives, they're meaningful currently, and, over the course of memory, I can appreciate the progression of my education. The education is ongoing, never complete.  A headstone will be my diploma.

When my artist friend can look out at the river and say, "I remember when..." and 
I'm on the same memory page, that's the essence of sharing. When I stand in a spot where I have stood a hundred times and am still awe inspired, that's way cool, because I've got this personal theory about how awe has the power to transform, however temporarily and however permanently. I see the scene, simultaneously remembering its many manifestations over time, remembering the man viewing it twenty/thirty years ago, and, for too fleeting a moment, the old awe adds intensity to the present. Obviously, the river can also make a person a bit strange and esoteric, but its a fine madness.
Here's how I came to this eccentricity: Over a period of time, an eon ago, the 
river whispered to me so softly as to be inaudible. Little by little, its voice grew louder, until I could decipher the message. Much akin to the lyrics of The Band's song, "The River Hymn," it called, "Son, you ain't never seen yourself / No crystal mirror can show it clear, come over here instead."  It made me an offer to which I put up no resistance, and I've been here ever since.  I like that when it addresses me--and address me it does--it always does so as "Son."  It parents; it taught me to walk its rocky, slippery bottom, taught me to walk its banks; it taught me a language I work to understand, and it gave me hope that eventually my voice would be accepted into the choir that sang the language that I alone could not. I wasn't born to it; I'm adopted, and being here only gets better the more here I become.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Today, I stood where the wide ledge below my house meets the deep part of the 
river. Where the river ran over it, the ledge was the color of wet sand with a patina of moss green highlights. It was ninety degrees; I was summoning the courage to jump in.  As I gazed into the depths, I saw my shadow and rays of light emanating around my silhouette. The light danced to the rhythm of the breeze on the water; it was all in one and magical, and that was what I dove into.

In Memory: Larry Levine

Larry Levine
April 1, 1948 - October 1, 2015
Larry was born in New York in 1948 but his family moved to southern California.  He was an outstanding golfer and caddied at Brentwood while in high school.  He came to Eugene as an English Lit major and was on the Oregon Ducks golf team.  An avid baseball fan, Larry met Dave Hall, a pitcher on the Ducks baseball team, and they became life-long friends.  When Dave settled in Glide he invited Larry up for a visit and Larry fell in love with the North Umpqua, moved up from Grants Pass and never left.
Larry had a strong sense of how he wanted to live, and what was important to him.  He was an observant man and a very well-read man; when he lived at Susan Creek he spent hours at a time at Baker Park with a book.  He had a gift for putting his observations into beautiful prose and had many essays and stories published.  He began guiding on the Rogue River when he lived in southern Oregon, and continued guiding on the North Umpqua as well as the Wood River in Klamath County.  He taught English at Glide High School and creative writing at Umpqua Community College.  Over the last few years he fished less and devoted more time to his reading and writing. 
Larry was a kind and gentle man and his death is a real tragedy.

In Memory: Lee Wratney

Helen Lee Bird Wratney, the youngest of 3 children, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 11, 1930.  During World War II, they moved back to the family farm in Kirklin, Indiana.  It was a much smaller town, but the they had access to fresher food there during rationing caused by the war.
Helen finished high school, and went on to attend Ball State University, graduating with a teaching degree.  Working as a teacher, Helen met her husband Tony on a weekend trip to Chicago.  He began calling her Lee because he thought it sounded modern and a bit glamorous. They were married in 1954 and soon moved to California.
Tony, a WW II veteran and graduate of the University of Alaska, found work as a salesman for a paper company.  Lee continued her elementary school teaching career.  Lee and Tony first lived in an apartment in Oakland.  They later bought and settled in their beautiful home in Piedmont.  Early in their marriage, Lee and Tony bought property on Carnelian Bay at Lake Tahoe. One of the accomplishments Lee was most proud of was the cabin she and Tony built by themselves on that property.  Lee told stories about how she would read up on how to build a certain part of the cabin and Tony would then do whatever she directed next.  Her good friend Rey shared that Lee had the brain of a born engineer.  The cabin at Tahoe was a source of great fun and many family memories as their children, Tony Jr., and Heather, grew up.
Another passion the Wratney family had was the time they spent together on the North Umpqua River.  Tony Sr., an avid fly fisherman, discovered our beautiful River in 1966.  In 1967 he began bringing the whole family here for a 9 day vacation of fishing, swimming, and socializing at the Steamboat Inn every summer for the next 13 years, until Tony Jr. turned 18 and stayed permanently on the North Umpqua. This gave Lee a wonderful reason to spend as much time here as possible. Lee and Tony Sr., who passed away in 2009, were long time Steamboaters who loved and supported the River until the end of their lives.
Lee was an adventurous, strong-willed woman who was described lovingly by her husband as being formidable.  She loved nature and all the beauty it provided in her life.  She was an extremely creative person of many artistic accomplishments.  She was a painter, a potter, a belly dancer, a sailor, a talented gardener, and a very good cook.  She was well known for her elegant dinner parties.  She also loved reading, especially mysteries as well as her favorite book, Cadillac Desert, about the battles for water in California.  Lee was smart as a whip, and enjoyed being a thinker and a questioner who was interested in the big picture.  She was also a world traveler ... some of her favorite trips include Africa, China, Japan, Holland, France, Italy, Hawaii and Alaska.  
Lee was a wonderful mother and a true friend.  She had a large group of  long time friends that adored Lee and rallied around her to help at the end of her life. She touched and inspired many lives, and was well loved and respected by her family and in her community.  She died at home 4 days after her 85th birthday with her son Tony by her side.  She is greatly missed.  Goodbye Lee ... You had a fantastic run.

In Memory: Ralph Peck

Ralph L. Peck passed away peacefully on July 3, 2015. Ralph was an honest, kind, charming, fun loving gentleman. Born in Portland, OR to Charles and Cora Peck and raised in Ridgefield, WA. He returned to Oregon in 1937 and started his career in the lumber business. Ralph served in the Navy on an Aircraft Carrier in WWII. An outstanding fly fisherman, and life long member of the Steamboaters on the North Umpqua River, he also loved to hunt and enjoyed golfing.
Ralph is survived by his wife Vivian "Vi", brother Charles (Bess), niece Cinda (Erv), step-children Cathy, Ron (Dana), 5 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Family and friends, please have a drink to celebrate and bid a fond farewell toast to this unique man.
Frank Moore shared that he fished with Ralph and another good friend, Junior Langston, back in the late 40s and early 50s. 

Summer on the River 

Photo: David Longanecker

Photo: David Longanecker

Photo: David Longanecker

Photo: David Longanecker

Photo: David Longanecker

Photo: Kathy Kreiter

Tiger Hunting for Steelhead by Amy Hazel

Steelhead fly anglers really need to learn to accept this sport for what it is, a tiger hunt. When I travelled around the world fly-fishing, I came across a dusty old library in an old British club called the Planters Club in Darjeeling. The clubhouse was like something out of a movie - three huge hundred-year old billiards tables, bridge tables, and this fantastic library of leather-bound books on sporting pursuits. I was scanning the books for tidbits about trout and mahsheer fishing in the Himalayan rivers, but I stumbled across a book about tiger hunting which was written over one hundred years ago by a Brit named Jim Corbett. Corbett was born and raised in India in the late 1800s and became well known as a tiger hunter and conservationist. Corbett specifically targeted tigers known to be man-eaters and hunted these killers, alone and on foot in the jungles of northern India (the foothills of the Himalayas). He didn't take a variety of sizes of guns on his Tiger hunts, he didn't stop his tiger hunting to shoot a few rabbits here, a couple of deer there, maybe a bird or two - NO, Jim Corbett went into the jungle with the solitary purpose of finding and killing a certain man-eating tiger and he carried one gun for that purpose. Hunts lasted for days and weeks and most days involved tracking, and gathering information, and reading the jungle - very few weeks Jim might get the opportunity to shoulder his tiger gun and once, maybe twice a year, he took a shot at a tiger. In 31 years of tracking and hunting tigers, Corbett shot 33. Many of these tigers were opened up and human remains were found inside, and some tigers had been confirmed to have killed hundreds of humans.
I went tiger hunting when I was on the border of Nepal and India - hunting with a camera instead of a gun; I rode on an elephant through grasses as high as the elephant's shoulder. I climbed high into trees located on the regular tiger routes and waited hour upon hour for a chance sighting. I walked with a guide through bamboo-like grasses 12 feet high and my neck hair stood on end when I smelled the urine of a male tiger that had recently passed by and marked his territory. I spent a full week living in a hut and sleeping under mosquito netting, hoping to spot a rare and wild Bengal Tiger. I never saw one. My experience didn't feel any less memorable for not having seen that tiger. The jeep I was riding in was charged by an Indian one-horned rhino, I saw wild peacocks in full display, I saw hornbills, wild monkeys, and watched wild Indian elephants bathing in a stream. The overall tiger hunt was about much more than "bagging" a tiger. It was about getting out there and immersing myself in the ACT of tiger hunting, knowing full well that my chances of even seeing a tiger were slim.
The steelhead is my tiger now. I am hunting this year with floating line and a skater, so I may be hunting for a while before another hook-up. I suggest that you get off the computer, put down your phone, grab your gun and start tiger hunting. The tigers are a bit more elusive this year and the jungle is thicker and more difficult to navigate, but you can't find any tigers without stepping into the jungle.

Flashing by Lee Spencer

Flashing is one of the most common and I think most beautiful of the behaviors carried out by steelhead, day or night.  Only in the last few seasons have I gained enough confidence in my understanding of this behavior to attempt a reasoned discussion that is more than a brief paragraph or two in my natural history notes.  Flashing is when-often with an exaggerated wagging of its body-an adult steelhead (or chinook or cutthroat trout ) swims down to within centimeters of the bottom of the pool, goes to its side, and reflects light, often extraordinarily brightly, usually while the fish is moving in an arc.  Flashing is apt to stir up clouds of the organic sediment that carpet the substrate by midsummer, but this is caused by the turbulence of the flashing motion, the fish is not in contact with the bottom of the pool.

Even after seventeen seasons, I am bemused by the fact that I am unsure specifically how a steelhead curves its body to produce the flash.  Some of my photos suggest the flash happens when a wave passes down the body of a steelhead that is laying on its side (see opening photo).

Sometimes a steelhead will flash more than once.  When doing so, a steelhead will often swim in a clockwise or counter-clockwise circle during which it will go to its side just above the substrate and flash, then right itself to swim forward in a curve-perhaps a body-length or so-and then go down to its side next to the substrate again and flash, right itself, and so on.  Multiple flashes may take place in a circle which can cover as much as 360° and a flashing fish may circle more than once or, more rarely, may pursue a slightly arced but relatively straight line.  The circles are three to four feet in diameter and commonly the belly of the active fish is toward the center of the circle, however, not always.  In the case of multiple flashes, the back or the belly, whichever is to the outside of the circling doesn't change. When a steelhead flashes in a 360° circle, the fish may flash four or five times or ten to twelve times, this depends, I suppose, of the predisposition of the steelhead. 

Other steelhead will, now and then, respond to a flash by becoming quite unsettled or they may leave the area of the flash as though this behavior was a warning.  It is, however, common to see no apparent response to a flashing event.  As well, please note that steelhead will also flash periodically well above the streambed.  Flashing at the substrate is by far the most common type of flashing however and all multiple flashes by individual steelhead take place in proximity to the bed of the stream. 

Here are a variety of other flashing observations that have been documented at the pool.  I encourage you to examine my natural history notes for,in particular, the first two years (1999-2000) where hundreds of flashes are described []. 

Significantly, when the pod is stirred up and the fish are milling and jumping, accelerating, and rising more commonly, flashes are more frequent too.  Yet, when the steelhead are daisy chaining-their organized high-stress behavior-I have only quite rarely seen steelhead flash.

It is also apparent that a steelhead leaving the confines of a pod or rejoining the it after wandering about the pool will often flash as they leave or re-enter the pod.  Many many times each season, a jumping, an accelerating, or a rising steelhead will often start or end that action with one or more flashes.  For example, during the first season, as Sis was walking away from her regular drinking place at the edge of the pool, six steelhead jumped, one rose, and there were eight or nine flashes, in the latter case often made as a kind of follow-through by a fish that had just jumped.  

Another time, as Sis ran along the bedrock shelf below our Perch, a steelhead carried out a 360° clockwise flashing event to the left of the pod and directly across the pool from Sis.  Shortly, there was a jump and a rise further to the right and downstream slightly from the previous 360° flashing event.  Another time, after a group of mergansers swam downstream out of the riffle into the top of the pool, there was a single flash against the far-side bedrock just after the ducks had passed.  When these ducks were further down the pool, there were five flashes in a line heading upstream right after they had passed.  

When the shadow from the far bank ridge-the right-ridge shadow-comes across the pool in the late afternoon, the steelhead get nervous and edginess happens every afternoon the sun is shining and the sky is blue.  The steelhead engage in various behaviors that reflect their anxiety at this encroaching shadow.  for instance, they retreat from this shadow and release bubbles from their air bladders so they can drop a bit deeper into the water.  In late July during our first season, I watched a small steelhead flash three times as it circled clockwise while entering this shadow.  

During the second season, in the luminous light just prior to early dusk, as I watched a nighthawk flying over the pool-I had just noted the present of the first bat of the evening-a steelhead made a grand jump that cleared the water by six feet and spanned five feet.  The jumping steelhead flashed twice swimming back towards the center of the pool.  

I come and go from the pool many times a day, going for a cup of coffee, a book, or a dog biscuit, returning after the passage of a variable amount of time.  Not uncommonly, when I settle back into my Perch, there are multiple flashes from a steelhead that occur in a relatively straight line with the fish's head pointed at me. 

As the creek and its cold tributary heat up during the summer, at a certain point most or all of the steelhead take advantage of the colder tributary water by moving into the riffle just above the pool.  For the first several days that the fish begin to show an interest in this cooler riffle lie, the steelhead doing so behave as though they are nervous or scared.  With only twenty-eight steelhead in the pool and a late afternoon temperature in the main creek of 74.5°, a steelhead made a clockwise circle which became an acceleration upstream from the center of the pool.  It then shook its head several times and jumped (facing upstream) and flashed three or four time (facing upstream) and continued to swim upstream.  This steelhead ended up holding at the boundary where the riffle becomes the deeper waters of the pool. 

On those rare occasions when I am able to watch the steelhead as they leave the pool heading upcreek during a rain event that has produced a consequent creek rise, these steelhead are very unsettled as they move into and out of their staging areas in the riffle just upcreek from the pool.  These steelhead that are again about to take up their migratory journey to their spawning gravels upcreek betray great trepidation and jump and rise and often carry out copious flashes, as they gather in the riffle.  While I have only had the opportunity to watch these steelhead as they geared up to continue their journeys around a dozen times over the seasons, it is clear that either leaving the pool or getting on with their journeys upcreek-or both-spook the steelhead.

While a flash or a multiple flashing event often appears to be ignored, sometimes flashes seem to anticipate events.  During an early evening in September, a small group of wild steelhead held well to the left of and somewhat downstream from the rear of the main pod.  I documented a clockwise 360° flashing event under this small group of fish.  Then one of the steelhead from the small group swam upstream under the pod rear and carried out another 360° flashing cycle.  Subsequent to this, all of the fish in the smaller pod streamed up into the larger pod.  Once, during earliest summer, a steelhead made a splashy rise-a clear indicator of unsettledness-at the front of the pod, which was immediately followed by flash (facing upstream), an acceleration, and a jump (both facing upstream), a counter-clockwise cycling by a steelhead, which then returned to the pod.  Seven minutes later, a hen merganser with nine pups swam down through the right side of the pool with the female merganser dipping her head and occasionally diving.  Continuing downstream, the ducks exited the pool.  These ducks caused a thorough stir among the steelhead which then formed a tight mass in the lower pool.  

Another time at midsummer, Sis and I watched a steelhead carry out a clockwise 360 flashing cycle to the left of the middle of the pod.  The steelhead then swam with its body tilted to the side further up the pool and carried out another 180 flashing event which was also clockwise which brought no response from the pod.  Just short of a half an hour later, I documented another 360 flashing event, this time counter-clockwise, also to the left of mid-pod and, a minute later, there was another multiple flashing event, counter-clockwise, but to the right of the middle of the pod this time.  This appeared to result in a general stir down the pool by most of the steelhead.  Two minutes later, an otter became visible to me in the upper riffle.  Were the multiple flashing events over the previous forty minutes due to the presence of this otter upstream?  Note, an otter that is foraging for crawdads may take a half an hour or more to move through even a small pool if crawdads are plentiful. 

Fatigued outlier steelhead often seem to sleep in the slow eddy on the left side of the pool.  Steelhead that remain quiet at this location eventually seem to attract the attention of steelhead holding in the pod.  This was true during the fourth season when another steelhead flashed twice while swimming in a large counter-clockwise cycle next to a sleeping fish.  These actions had no influence on the sleeper.  Twenty-five minutes later, a steelhead carried out a 360° flashing event around the sleeping steelhead and returned to the pod.  When I looked up from documenting this interaction, the sleeper was gone, but it returned to the same place in less than a minute and seemed to continue to sleep.  Shortly, though, the sleeping steelhead roused itself and joined a nearby steelhead to its right.  Another time, there was a flash facing upstream as part of a counter-clockwise cycling in the lower pool.  This flash appeared to wake seven nose-down  steelhead that were sleeping to the left of the pod over the sand and they all swam into the pod. 

Hatchery steelhead are well known for their aberrant behaviors when compared with wild steelhead.  Sis and I saw evidence of this in the refuge pool.  At midsummer during the fourth season, a freshly entered artificial steelhead was holding at the rear of the pod.  This fish went gradually down to the substrate swimming wholly on its side to flash there twice.  During these flashing actions, this hatchery fish rotated completely onto its back, something I hadn't seen prior to this time nor have I seen it since.  

And flashes can be enigmatic.  Once at midday during midsummer, two small two-to-four-inch-long minnows swam rapidly over to the left ledge below our Perch.  Each of these minnows was being chased by a steelhead.  As usual, these steelhead seemed to lose interest in the chases.  This time, however, for some reason, one of these steelhead, as it turned around to go back to the pod, flashed over the sand dune on the left side of the pool.  Another time, after flashing just downstream from it, a small steelhead nosed a crawdad located to the left of the pod. 

During our ninth season, a beaver swam up the right side of the pool hauling a leafy branch and the pod, located in the lower-middle pool, lit up with flashes like a jar full of fireflies.  About a month later during the same season, in the early evening, an otter appeared in the riffle above the pool and two steelhead leaped from where the  pod was holding in the riffle.  The otter then swam down the right side of the pool to a bedrock formation at the center of the far bank and dived.  This seemed to cause four steelhead to jump and another twenty fish to make chaotic flashes.  The otter surfaced in the center of the pool and swam over to the same rock formation, climbed out, and then dove into the pool once more.  This time two steelhead jumped, but there was no flashing.  A few minutes later the pod scattered and jumps and flashes accompanied this dispersal. 

In midsummer during the tenth season, a juvenile blue heron that was flying downstream landed on a log laying across the far bank formation and projecting about ten feet out over the pool.  This caused a major stir by the pod steelhead with plenty of flashes.  The heron proceeded to methodically step down the log to where it was about two feet off the water and seven feet out over the pool.  There it swiped both sides of its bill against the log, cleaning it, and stuck out its tongue several times.  A steelhead swam to a position in the deep water off the end of the log and carried out a 360°multiple flashing event. 

As I wrote at the beginning of this discussion of flashing, it is the most common of the behaviors seen each season in the refuge pool and steelhead flash from the beginning of the season to its ending.  This means that visitors comment on a lot of flashes, often suggesting that the steelhead is scraping off external parasites or that the behavior represents a female that is practicing digging into the gravels.  What Sis and I have seen strongly suggests that flashing isn't a behavior having to do with idiosyncratic parasites or practice digging by female steelhead.  Flashing fish do not usually touch bottom and so it would be ineffective for removing parasites and this behavior really looks nothing like the actions of a female excavating or practice excavating her redd.  When a Pacific salmon female digs into her natal gravels she bends her peduncle and tail down and flaps these stiffly arrayed fins three or more times against the substrate, only rarely reflecting light and then in a haphazard fashion.  Further, while excavating the egg depression is solely the job of the female, flashing is also commonly carried out by male steelhead. 

As is now, I hope, evident, flashing is a complex behavior that is part of the communication system used by wild summer steelhead.  Having said this, my understanding of this behavior is partial and there are aspects of it that I still do not understand.  I became more sure that flashing was a response to a perceived potential threat as I realized that the main sensation exhibited by the steelhead using the pool-at all times-appears to be vigilance.  The vast majority of the actions carried out during a season by the steelhead in the pool are jumps, accelerations, rises, and flashing and each of these behaviors is primarily a response to a potential threat.  When the steelhead using the pool are at their most relaxed there is plenty of space between individual fish and they are not moving, holding in place by sculling with their dorsal fins, corkscrewing their tails back and forth, or alternately paddling with their pectoral fins.  These actions are so slight as to be unseen by most of the visitors to the pool.  Now and then, one or two steelhead may lazily wander a bit and reinsert themselves into the pod. 

When the steelhead jump, accelerate, rise, or flash; when they move about the pool in groups of five or more fish, particularly if these motions are relatively active; when the steelhead are grouped tightly or form daisy chains, when they are milling, or when in flight from what they perceive as a threat [for instance when the ODFW divers regularly swim with the fish during the summer], they are exhibiting variably pronounced amounts of vigilance.  If they have any memory of it at all, these fish were around five inches in length the last time they were in freshwater.  Possibly just as important as their size change is the fact that the marine habitats they have occupied for the last two years were without bounds, that is, during the balance of this time, steelhead have been living in an environment effectively without shores or a bottom. 

It could be argued that these adult steelhead have grown so big and are so energetic that there are now very few terrestrial or freshwater predators that stand any chance of taking one and none can take them easily in the refuge pool when they are fresh-run fish.  Wouldn't this aspect of their large size cause them to feel less vulnerable?  Perhaps, if the steelhead were meaningfully aware of it.  The occasional startles and daisy chains exhibited by the pod in response to autumn caddis flies, darner dragonflies, dippers and the shadows of dippers, to name a few things, make it clear that this new awareness has escaped these fish. 

Note:  my use of the word symbolic is because, for the life of me, I cannot think of a better or more representative term.

Jumps, accelerations, and rises are carried out with the objective of directly and visually assessing stimuli that have been perceived as potential threats.  Flashing, on the other hand, seems mainly to represent a symbolic flight response to a potential threat.  Flashing is a symbolic response because this behavior actually interrupts flight while making an individual fish more visible.  This is also part of the reason why flashing is clearly a complex behavior.  Insofar as I can make out, there is little that can be construed as symbolic about jumping, accelerating, or rising. 

Wild summer steelhead-and all other Pacific salmon-have an awareness of and a relationship with the gravels of their natal stream that transcends any human awareness I know of, with the possible exception our relationship to a nurturing loving mother.  The ultimate purpose of the migration of wild summer steelhead up into the various streams of the Umpqua basin is finding their natal gravels and also finding, if their luck is with them, another wild summer steelhead to reproduce with in these same gravels.  Suffice it to say, these fish, all of them, are exceptionally aware of the beds of the streams they migrate through. 

Every steelhead begins its life as an egg and then an alevin, life stages that transpire within the bed of a stream over several months.  Perhaps more illuminating with reference to the flashing behavior, is the reality that during the first few months of its life in a free-flowing stream, when threatened, a juvenile steelhead will swim down and squirm between the substrate rocks, burying itself again in the gravels.  To me, this is very suggestive in conjunction with flashing as documented here in the refuge pool.  Full-size steelhead, of course, have no hope of inserting themselves into the streambed as they once did.  There may be some sort of partial memory or some symbolic awareness of the gravels as a secure place, however.  Instinct may also play a part in this. 
It is also worth noting here that, unlike jumps, accelerations, and rises, flashing as usually carried out in the refuge pool is not something that could have been carried out in the marine environment since the bed of the ocean is almost always well out of sight.  If flashing of some kind is carried out in the marine portions of a steelhead's life cycle, it might well have looked like the flashes described herein but without the necessity of happening in proximity to any substrate. 

Alright then, does the communication purpose of flashing bear a relationship to its symbolic purpose?  I believe so.  Symbolic flight as a response to a perceived potential threat, a flight behavior that results in a profoundly bright flashing of light, may serve the communicative purpose of alerting the other steelhead in the pod of the fact that the flashing steelhead feels threatened.  Just like the pod of steelhead does not always noticeably spook when other steelhead jump, accelerate, or rise as a response to a threat, some flashes-perhaps as many as a half  or two thirds of them-do not elicit a response that I have been able to see from the pod.  This is the evidence that flashing may be an individual steelhead's, if you will, statement of opinion, that other steelhead assess. 

As I indicated at the outset, flashing is a complex behavior and one that I am sure I do not fully understand.  For instance, is the way a steelhead is heading during a flash significant?  What is the meaning of multiple flashes or the fact that they are carried out while swimming in a clockwise or counter-clockwise circle? 

        All things said and all qualifications aside, I am convinced that the purpose of flashing is, one, a response to a perceived potential threat, two, a sublimated flight response, and, three, serves to alert other steelhead of a perceived potential threat.

One Last Beautiful Thing by Lee Spencer

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The mission of the Steamboaters is to preserve, promote, and restore the unique aesthetic values, the natural production of wild fish populations, and the habitat that sustains these fish on the North Umpqua River.
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