Idaho's Redfish Lake

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by Steve Buckner, Nov 22, 2007.

  1. Steve Buckner Mother Nature's Son

    "Two Sockeye Return to Redfish Lake in Idaho
    Here's the thing...
    Last year, around this time, I wrote an entry about the sockeye of Redfish Lake in Idaho (see last year's blog entry) I wrote about how Redfish Lake - named for the fabled sockeye salmon that turned its waters red - only saw three (3) wild sockeye return in 2006. I probably mentioned that a species can't really be much more thretened with extintion than one that has three individuals remaining. I'm sure I commented on how lucky those sockeye were last year that there was at least one male and one female. We all know it takes two to tango.

    Well, most recent reports for Redfish Lake sockeye in 2007 tell us that these fish will live to tango another year. Of the 80,000 smolts released to the great Snake River in 2005, two (2) have returned to Redfish Lake to complete this most amazing life journey. As in 2006, the returns include both a male and a female. whew. That could have been close.

    The sockeye of Redfish Lake travel the farthest inland (about 900 miles from the Columbia River estuary) and to the highest elevation (6,500 feet) of all populations of sockeye. This tremendous journey takes them from the rugged wilderness of Idaho to the salty marine waters at the end of the mighty Columbia River - and back. Two hundred years ago, we can be sure that Lewis and Clark saw more than a few sockeye returning up the Columbia to spawn in Redfish Lake.

    With the construction of the four lower Snake River dams in the mid 1950s, however, the numbers of sockeye returning to Redfish Lake started to dwindle. Tens of Thousands. Thousands. Hundreds. Tens. By 1992, there was only one. Lonesome Larry. And, we all know it takes two to tango. Luckily for the Redfish Lake sockeye (but not for Larry), cryogenics and freezers allowed scientists to perpetuate the sockeye of Redfish Lake, saving Larry to spawn another year. Fifteen years - and millions of dollars - later, we have two. Two. 2. Perhaps, not such a great return on this investment. Then again, what is the price of extinction?

    In 2007, we may get more sockeye back to Redfish Lake than just these two. Estimates are as high as 10. This is good since scientists are saying that preserving the genetic diversity of our salmon populations is critical for their longterm persistence. Some sicentists are saying that high-elevation spawners may be the populations most genetically able to withstand the habitat changes we will see with global warming. Those that can swim 900 miles inland and climb 6,500 feet to spawn in the clearest and coldest water may be the ones to survive when the waters downstream get too warm, too degraded.

    If it takes two to tango, does it take ten to save a population?

    If we are serious about recovering the endangered salmon of the Pacific Northwest, we need to support real solutions. As our climate changes and our Northwest rivers become less suitable for our coldwater salmon and steelhead, we need to restore our degraded rivers and estuaries. We need to reconnect pristine habitats by removing outdated dams. And we need to make some tough choices. It is no secret that I support removing the lower Snake River dams. I have written about this issue before in this blog - and I continue to believe that if we want to see salmon as more than expensive remnants of what used to be, that we need to take action now to save them.

    Posted by James Schroeder at August 8, 2007 4:43 p.m."
  2. Jake Smulkowski Throwing hoppers into baetis falls

    Posts: 483
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    That lake is a beautiful spot and one of my favorite spots on this planet. I don't think you can put a price on those fish. The effort is worth it. When I bring my kids there somewhere down the line, I don't want to have to explain to them why there are none of those fish the lake was named after left. Two represents hope.
  3. Panhandle Active Member

    Posts: 4,103
    Selkirk Mountains, Idaho Panhandle
    Ratings: +23 / 0
  4. Allison Banned or Parked

    Posts: 829
    Seattle, WA
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    A skosh o/t, but I've used Redfish Lake for a jumping-off point for a couple of trips to the local backcountry. Last year it was four days in the White Clouds, and in '04, hiked up into the Sawtooths on another multi-day backpack/fishing trip.

    Staying in the lodge at Redfish Lake is like being at summer camp, little crummy rooms with a bathroom down the hall. Crummy in a good and charming way as long as your room is not right above the bar. The food in the restaurant is delish, and they have a mud pie on the menu that is unforgettable.

    There's also a great fly shop right in downtown Stanley, outstanding local hotsprings, rafting, you name it. My favorite CG in the area is Sunny Gulch, which is considered the overflow CG. It's newish and super nice.

    I just can't say enough about the Stanley area, and can't wait to get back there. If any of you saw me on the cover of Washington Trails last year, that lake I'm fishing is in the high country of the White Clouds.

    Just an incredible area. I can make a few reccos based on my trips there if anyone's interested. Hope to get back this summer and maybe try the Frank Church this time.
  5. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,994
    Walla Walla, WA
    Ratings: +783 / 0
    Ever since lonesome Larry showed up, I've been waiting for the expiration of this run. Not looking forward to it, just expecting it.

    Some say that, technically, the Red Fish may be extinct already. Fortunately it seems they are wrong. RF Lake fish seem to share a lot of genetics with the Kokanee residing in the rest of the drainage (Wallowa, etc.) and there may be a bigger pool of relevant genes that orignally (back in the 80' and 90's) thought. I think I read that on link from a post on this board :)

    I hope to God they can find a recipe that brings these fish back. It may be a Pyrrhic victory from an economic standpoint, but worth every nickle IMO. With the recently published genetics work (now goiong on at the adult rearing facility I believe) I think there is a lot of hope.

    Best yet, I think that work could be applied to critical populations of wild fish everywhere. With cloning and stream channel rearing boxes (not 3 million fish from a factory...i.e. Dworshack) I think there is a way to subvert the issue of turning around low spawner count. I bet local fisheries enhancement groups would fun this work. I'd help my local waters with $, for sure.

    Now if we could fix the four H's...

    Great blog post.
  6. Keith Hixson Active Member

    Posts: 1,507
    College Place, Washington
    Ratings: +55 / 0
    I am not familiar with RedFish Lake. I am curious as to what route the salmon take on their return to RedFish Lake. It seems to me that they are so far from the ocean and all the dams etc it would be almost impossible for them to be ocean going fish. Are they a landlocked Sockeye?

  7. martyg Active Member

    Posts: 988
    The world at large
    Ratings: +79 / 0
    So I should know this, but is there an "A" List of people that we should be writing letters to? Or just wait until a new administration is in place?
  8. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,994
    Walla Walla, WA
    Ratings: +783 / 0
    Nope. They go up the Columbia, Snake, then Salmon.

    While digging areound I found this PDF about the God squad trying to snuff out the RedFish Sockeye. Some good history in there too.

    I wonder, why not captive breed some of the fish at a place with less obtacles (Ozette for example) to boost the spawner numbers? You could clip and tag the RFL fish and trap all returning adults. You could probably do in a few years what would take decades to do when based in ID. Or I'm an idiot and it wouldn't work :)
  9. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,994
    Walla Walla, WA
    Ratings: +783 / 0
    Write your congressman/woman. Congress holds the keys to funding. Without $$ support, things get real tough. And vote out people like this.

    Dude stood in the way of the Elwah removal as long as he could and ultimately held the purse strings on any project involving the removal of Dams (Senate appropriations comitte I think).

    And his family made their $$ harvesting fish. Maybe he thought lower numbers meant higer demand and more profit. Maybe all they fishticks they make use Carp (i.e. Talapia) and they don't care about Salmon at all.

    Maybe he's just an idiot.
  10. Steve Buckner Mother Nature's Son

    These sockeye are not landlocked, or at least, not by choice. The dams have done the damage, (so maybe they are landlocked???) Anyway, this is a clear case of the dams being the cause of the near extinction (if not total extinction) of these and other, wild, anadromous fish. In this case, the article focuses on Sockeye. As I understand it, before the dams, the lake and surrounding area would see runs in the millions, hence the name.

    In this particular case, these sockeye have to swim past the lower columbia and the Snake River dams to reach the lake. 20 something years ago, I stopped at Redfish lake because it was pretty much a given that these fish would one day become extinct. I distinctly recall looking at a small white board with the daily counts written with a grease pen. The counts showed the decline over the decade before, each year the run was decreased by about half.

    Who controls the dams is a political issue - and Larry Craig(R) of Idaho has been instrumental in the decimation of these fish. You could let him know how you feel about it. It seems somehow appropriate that the last Sockeye to return to Redfish Lake was named "Lonesome Larry", given Larry Craig's bathroom incident...
  11. gt Active Member

    Posts: 2,616
    sequim, WA
    Ratings: +6 / 0
    family cabin used to be on alturus creek. red fish lake was actually something to behold as late as the 80s. the creek actually had spawning chinook as well, totally amazing to see this so far from the tidal flow.

    the damns on the lower snake are there for one reason, lewiston ID wishes to be thought of as a shipping 'port.' they serve no other purpose at all. that free flowing part of the snake allowed me to catch my very first steelhead, 25#+, all under water for decades.

    take'um out is my vote.
  12. sharpshooter223 Member

    Posts: 486
    richland/pullman, wa
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    you cant just take out dams like that. those things provide so much energy that you cant just replace. a ton of people would be without energy for a long time if any of those were removed.
  13. gt Active Member

    Posts: 2,616
    sequim, WA
    Ratings: +6 / 0
    2-3% of the power in the PNW grid come from ALL of the snake river damns combined!

    take'um out!!!
  14. Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

    Posts: 3,076
    Missoula, MT
    Ratings: +13 / 0
    You are completely wrong, do you anything to back your claims up? What worries me is that your opinion seems to common among people from my side of the state (eastside)
  15. Will Atlas Guest

    Posts: 0
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    actually dude, the dams on the snake produce less than 3% of the energy in the PNW, which could easily be replaced by energy saving technologies as well as wind farms.

    2 sockeye or 10, that run is functionally extinct. The genetic diversity of the run is basically completely lost due to the low numbers of individuals. While there are still fish (10) swimming back to redfish lake in the long run they're goners. It's tragic and should not be taken lightly, but we need to focus our energy and dollars on what CAN be saved. Snake river Chinook and Steelhead have a chance at recovery (albeit slim) but every year that goes by with those dams in place the likelihood of their extinction grows. Write your senators, lets make some noise guys. Time is SHORT!
  16. sharpshooter223 Member

    Posts: 486
    richland/pullman, wa
    Ratings: +0 / 0
    replacing stuff with wind farms, thats a bad idea, lets kill the migratory birds instead of the migratory fish. the point is even though it may only be 2-3 percent, its still alot of energy and i will admit we should improve the dams but not destroy them.
  17. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,994
    Walla Walla, WA
    Ratings: +783 / 0
    Your young and deeply misinformed. First off the Corps expected the runs affected by the dams to go extinct, they did studies and this was the conclusion. I have heard first hand accounts of the meetings held where these conclusions were presented.

    The hatchery system was supposed to provide sport and commerical fishing. This is the same conclusion the BPA came to when they damed the Columbia. Then us greenie weenies got the fish listed and thier "conclusions" were no longer OK. I'm not saying it was good or evil, just the way it was at the time.

    There is no way to improve dam and alleviate the condition that was the source of Sockeye smolt mortality. Large, hot reservoirs created by four neraly usless dams. Plain and simple. The Snake dams accomplished two (intended goals)

    1. Break the rail monopoly and help wheat shippers (not I said shippers, not farmers) get a bigger chunk of the harvest $$


    2. Pur millions of dollars into rural economies from a classic "government pork" project.

    Thats it.

    Power generation was a plesant side effect, but frankly (at the time) the surplus power wasn't needed, it performs no flood control and the only irrgators that benefit are a couple of commercial farms above ice harbor. No irrigation is supported by the other three. The big power consumer at the time was aluminum smelters and they were (until most of them tanked a few years ago) supplied by the columbia river (BPA) facilities.

    Funny thing is the peak temperatures in the Snake were higer ( smolts) than after the dams went in. Unfortunately they stay hot for a much longer time now that its a series of lakes and not a river.

    Temperature is the most significant stressors on small salmonids in this system (and large ones, re: the Klamath fish kill), and with the Dams in place, there is nothing that can be done to mitigate it. The Snake dams exacerbate the issue more so than the Columbia ones for a simple reason...gradient. The Snake canyon changes elevation from Clarkston to Burbank more than any comparable section of the Columbia. The resulting reservoirs are deeper and longer than thier kin on the columbia. And they get hot, and because they have a larger volume, stay hotter longer.

    There is a lot of science that suggests recovery would be assisted by removing the dams (sorry, there is no silver bullet and waiting for one will lead only to extinction) and volumes of scientific data showing what their existence has done. Wiers, barges and diversions have had almost no effect on the continued decline.

    If you take into account the 25-35 year ocean climate shift (which should have given us bigger returns starting around 2000...and it has) the runs are in the same shitty miserable decline they have been in for the last 3 decades.

    Your power rates won't go up. The jiuce is being sold to California. They need the power, not the NW. Screw 'em. They hosed the Colorado river and most of South Cal's waterways (used to be steelhead all the way into Baja). They can't have ours. Let 'em sit in the dark :)
  18. gt Active Member

    Posts: 2,616
    sequim, WA
    Ratings: +6 / 0
    before you knee jerk with '...kill migratory birds...' produce the science. were might i read an actual scientific investigation dealing with wind turbines and bird kill?? there should be something some where as these turbines have been in place all over europe for decades now.

    fact is, this is just some additional bunk put on the table by someone interested in the status quo, i.e. extinct fish.
  19. Jergens AKA Joe Willauer

    Posts: 2,141
    Twin Bridges, MT
    Ratings: +19 / 0
    Sharp, pick up a copy of Blaine Harden's A river lost, it will put things in perspective, great book by a guy who grew up in moses lake. should be a required read for eastern washington students.
  20. BDD Active Member

    Posts: 2,238
    Ellensburg, WA
    Ratings: +223 / 2
    There is a captive brood program for Redfish Lake sockeye. Very expensive and hardly a proven tactic though.

    The loss of sockeye salmon back to Redfish lake was not due entirely by the lower Snake River dams although they certainly didn't help. The state of Idaho installed anadromous fish barriers so trout and even eastern char could be planted into Redfish lake to create a sportfishery.