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Author Topic: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017  (Read 3552 times)

Dave

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Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« on: April 12, 2017, 06:45:39 PM »

Buck, Emmathedog, and I made our first trip of the season into the upper Chilliwack River this morning to count early run steelhead. This is the 7th year we have done this and as always, we start with the caveat that this not meant to be a population estimate … we simply count fish at the same 3 sites at the approximate same date each year in the hopes of determining trends and spawning times.  Along with the numbers we report, we add what we think are relevant observations.
First stop was Chilliwack Lake, still winter there; snow in the bush and shaded areas and no greenery at all.  Amazing how 2000’ in elevation can make such a difference in plant growth.  It was pouring rain and of course the Park gate was locked so we had to walk the 5 or so km (round trip) to the outlet.  As like last year, this was a non issue for our 3rd crew member, but for Pete and I .…
It was pouring rain and as expected, the holding/staging area below the bridge across the river offered very poor visibility.  Pete was finally able to see one fish.  The new gravel at the outlet, partially funded by the Wally Hall Jr steelhead derby, was very easy to see and, we saw nothing.  For some perspective on fish observed on past approximate dates; 2014 – 1, staging; 2015 -2, staging; 2016 – 7, staging.

On to Centennial Channel .. we were surprised how low the water level was in this, the biggest/most productive off channel habitat in the upper Chilliwack River. As usual, the only fish we saw (and conditions were such we believe we saw all that was there), were in the upper 1/3 of the channel.  There we found a pair, apparently quite happy.  The female was about 10 lbs, the male, a rainbow trout, about 2 lbs.  Gotta think he was quite proud of himself!
No gravel disturbances were seen, indicating no spawning before this date. We have not seen any fish on this approximate date in the past six years, making this pairing the earliest we have observed.   This is not the first time we have seen trout and steelhead paired up, and one wonders if it is simply a matter of fewer early run steelhead able to find mates, or opportunism by this trout.  Whatever, pretty sure this will turn out with eggs in the gravel. DFO has been asked to increase water flows and we expect to see more water in this channel next week. Water temperature was 5° C

Last stop as usual was the Middle Creek Bridge, a site with holding/staging water and thanks to DFO”s Habitat Restoration Unit, a substantial gravel augmentation area.  Here we saw 4 fish staging, none on the gravel. In 2015 at this site, on this approximate date, we saw 5 staging; in 2016 we saw 3, again staging/holding.
 
We think the next 2-4 weeks will give us a better idea of how these 3 sites correlate numbers of wild fish to the past 6 years; we all know hatchery returns this season were far below normal returns so it will be interesting to see if wild numbers are also less.   
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Novabonker

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2017, 08:02:25 PM »

Good work and very much appreciated that you and Buck take your own time to do this. It provides a lens for the average Joe like myself to get an idea as to where the run stands. I know that cute little dog of yours likes it . Thanks!
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2017, 08:21:28 PM »

Not so little any more ... and she loves dead fish :o
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Novabonker

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2017, 09:50:08 PM »

Not so little any more ... and she loves dead fish :o


That's part of doggery... ;)
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2017, 03:58:27 PM »

Pete, Emmathedog, and I made our second trip into the upper river this morning, hoping for better results than last week.  Weather was good, but on arrival at Chilliwack Lake (again, the gate was locked … sure we had to walk a bit, no big deal, but if I was an angler wishing to fish this lake I would be severely pissed that there is no access to the boat launch) we found some people taking water flow measurements in the very spot we count staging fish.

They had a large orange floating thingamagig, hanging off the bridge, most likely measuring flows, so we were not surprised to see no fish. Not sure what agency they were with as their vehicle was unmarked and it became obvious early on they did not want to talk to us, even though we told them why we were there.

The upstream spawning pad was however easy to see and count, and we saw nothing.  Were the fish spooked and headed into the lake or were they simply not there?  2-3 more weeks will tell … water temperature was 5° C.    For perspective, on approximate dates … in 2014 we saw 3; in 2015 we saw 14; in 2016 we saw 10, 6 of which were spawning.

Centennial Channel had no fish, no visible redds; not even where the steelhead and trout were making happy last week.  That surprised us as they definitely seemed to be a spawning pair. The water flow had not been increased but while we were there, the senior habitat restoration technician from DFO arrived to right this situation.  Thanks Jonathan!   Water temperature was 6°C . For perspective, on approximate dates … in 2012 we saw 2; in 2013 we saw 0; in 2014 we saw 0; in 2015 we saw 5; in 2016 we saw 8.

The Middle Creek bridge gravel pad had no spawning steelhead but one very visible redd; 3 fish were seen staging. For perspective in 2013 we saw 4; in 2014 we saw 0; in 2015 we saw 0, but conditions for observations were poor, as were the conditions for observations in 2016 where again no fish were seen.

Pete and I hope things are simply behind a bit and because of the colder water temperatures, fish are not sexually maturing as quickly as last year.  Still no green growth at Chilliwack Lake and it’s just starting at Centennial.  Stay tuned, the next few weeks should be interesting.



« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 08:21:46 PM by Dave »
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2017, 02:22:04 PM »

Visit number three for Buck, Emmathedog, and I this morning. When we left the Long Table the weather was decent, but the further up the valley we went, the more socked in it became and the rain was pouring down.  Knowing the visibility would be terrible, we opted to not bother with looking at the outlet of Chilliwack Lake.  So, in the downpour we went to Centennial Channel.  As readers remember, we had requested DFO supply more water to the channel … well, they certainly did, increasing the flow at least 30-40%.  In our past six years of walking this channel, and in the 10 or so years I had visited this site previously, this is the most water we can recall.

We were happy to see this as we expected the increased flow to attract and entice fish into the channel … but as so often in recent years at this location, we were disappointed. Due to the heavy rain, increased flow and slight turbidity, conditions for observations were not optimal.  No fish were seen and no gravel disturbances were noted. In 2011 on this approximate date we counted 15; in 2012, 7; in 2013, 3; in 2014, 0; in 2015, 2; in 2016, 8.

Last stop as usual was the Middle Creek bridge where a pair of fish were seen spawning on the new gravel pad and a large area had been dug up by other fish recently.  Three fish were seen staging, but again, conditions for accurate counts were poor. In 2013 on this approximate date we saw 4; in 2014 we saw 5; conditions for observations in 2015 were too poor for accurate counts and in 2016 we saw 6, all spawning.

On the way back we stopped at the hatchery where no hatchery fish were seen in the over flow channel. This was expected as the return of hatchery fish this season was dismal and we feel very few hatchery fish made it past the gauntlet of anglers.
Too early to call this season a disaster for early run wild fish, but it is not looking promising.
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2017, 01:17:01 PM »

Buck, Emmathedog, and I completed our 4th trip into the upper river this morning, with much better results than the previous 3 trips.  At Chilliwack Lake we saw 8 fish staging and one on the new gravel pad. The gravel is so clean it was hard to discern redds but it did appear there had been some digging activity.  This site will be easier to gauge next year when algae and peripyton have covered the gravel, making disturbances more obvious.  Water temperature was 8° C.   In 2012, on the same approximate date, we saw 14; in 2014 we saw 14 also; in 2015 we saw 16; and in 2016 we saw 12.

At Centennial Channel we were greeted with blatant hooliganism – large trees fallen in the channel, garbage strewn all over, and direct vandalism to an important experimental water intake structure.  Very sad and disturbing to see.

 We’re not sure if it was the added water flow, or simply the timing, but today we saw 12 steelhead and lots of signs of gravel disturbance and very obvious redds.  One male was massive … We were very close to a few of these fish and try as we might, we could not see adipose fins. We are not suggesting these were hatchery fish but in years past adipose fins were quite conspicuous.  The increased flow did make accurate observations difficult and we firmly believe we did not see all the fish present. Water temperature was 7°C. In 2011 on the approximate date we saw 20; in 2012 we saw 9; in 2013 we saw 9; in 2014 we saw 13; in 2015 we saw 4, and in 2016 we saw 1.

The Middle Creek bridge gravel pad had 3 fish staging – the gravel pad did not appear to be any more used by spawners than last week. In 2013 we saw 18 here; in 2014 we saw 2; in 2015 we saw 4, and in 2016 we saw 1.

Pete and I (and Emmathedog agrees ;D) are convinced these early run fish spawn and leave the area very quickly, meaning once a week counts are just a snapshot of what is actually there and spawning. Perhaps if we were younger we could confirm this by counting more often, but that ain’t gonna happen :)

Last stop was the overflow channel at the hatchery where 3 fish were seen.  In the 30 years Pete worked there, and in the 5 years since his retirement, this is the fewest fish he has ever seen at this time of year.  This pretty much confirms what we all believe- that this was the worst hatchery return in memory.

« Last Edit: May 06, 2017, 07:43:08 PM by Dave »
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stsfisher

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2017, 03:07:58 PM »

Thanks for doing this guys!! I look forward to these reports.

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AaronWilde

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2017, 07:48:01 AM »

Hopefully these low numbers are related to the unfavorable ocean conditions for the fish over the past few years with el the El Niño we had. Or hopefully as you mentioned this is simply a snapshot of what you can see while you go look at these spots, and you simply missed seeing the numbers! Thx for doing this! It's interesting.
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CohoJake

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2017, 10:51:59 AM »

Looks like the freshet has just begun - will this be the end of counting for this season?
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2017, 11:44:41 AM »

Looks like the freshet has just begun - will this be the end of counting for this season?
I sure hope not ... unless Chilliwack Lake is turbid we should be able to see the gravel pad, and Centennial Channel is a controlled flow site with a large settling pond in it's upper area so that should be OK as well.  Most likely the Middle Creek site will be a write off though.
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chris gadsden

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2017, 03:36:04 PM »

Thanks Dave, Pete and your faithful companion. Too bad about the garbage, maybe we should clean it up. Can you describe where it it is as I might make a trip up there, when the sun shines.

Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2017, 04:29:22 PM »

Thanks Dave, Pete and your faithful companion. Too bad about the garbage, maybe we should clean it up. Can you describe where it it is as I might make a trip up there, when the sun shines.
Thanks for the offer Chris. As you know many local Chilliwack River valley residents voluntarily clean up crap left by irresponsible people most every week. If this stuff is still there next count, Pete and I will collect it.  The downed trees were mentioned to the Chilliwack Hatchery staff - they are super busy at this time of the year but said they would attend when they could.
Not sure about the vandalism on the experimental channels as they are not being used at the present. 
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2017, 12:58:12 PM »

Buck, Emmathedog, and I made our 5th trip into the upper river this morning.  At Chilliwack Lake we saw 2 staging and 6 on the gravel pad; lots of digging activity was visible. On the approximate date in 2012 we saw 30; in 2013 we saw 21; in 2014 we saw 10; in 2015 we saw 15; and in 2016 we saw 0.  In 2006 a reliable source reported seeing 80.

On to Centennial Channel, where we were happy to see the garbage from last week had been picked up, saving us the chore. Today we saw 8 fish, but only one pair, the remaining 6 fish were by themselves and appeared to be all males.  On the one fish close enough we saw an adipose fin. There was more digging activity and redds seen than last week, so fish are obviously using the channel on days we are not there.  Water temperature was 7 ° C.  On the approximate date in 2011 we saw 32; in 2012 we saw 7; in 2013 we saw 18; in 2014 we saw 4; in 2015 we saw 2; and in 2016 we saw 1.
 
The Middle Creek bridge site had 2 fish on the gravel, and again the whole gravel pad had been dug up by fish between last week and today.  No comparisons for previous years are given as water conditions for observations were poor.  This site seems to attract more spawners when the water levels are lower; probably today will be the last day for reasonable observations.

No fish were visible in the Chilliwack Hatchery overflow channel because the channels upstream were being cleaned, making the water turbid.  One staff member reported seeing about 60 fish mid week … considering we saw only 3 last week reinforces our theory these fish are “here today, gone tomorrow”.

We have come to the conclusion it is quite conceivable we are only seeing 1/3 to 1/2 of the fish using the 3 sites we monitor.
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Dave

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Re: Upper Chilliwack River steelhead counts, 2017
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2017, 03:33:19 PM »

Trip #6 for Buck, Emmathedog and I into the upper river. Finally, a day without rain!!!  As usual first up was Chilliwack Lake, where we saw 4 fish staging and 12 spawning on the new gravel pad.  Despite tons of new gravel, fish are still spawning in the same place as past years; tight to the bank, under some cover of overhanging branches and about 100 m upstream of the bridge.  Past numbers: in 2012 we saw 31; in 2013 the water was turbid so no fish were observed; in 2014 we saw 10; in 2015 we saw 1, and in 2016 we had curtailed observations due to a complete lack of fish.

On to Centennial Channel where we had hopes of good numbers because of what we saw at the lake outlet. Again, just when we think we know what is happening, we were disappointed to see only 4 single males, all showing signs of battles with other males … scarring and fungus patches on the back near the dorsal fin where fish are apt to bite opposing suitors.  We saw no evidence of increased redds or digging activity from last week, leading us to think (most likely a mistake on our part, lol!) the channel is finished for the year.  Our 4 legged crew member caused us some considerable concern when she ate a pile of salmon bones and got a dried pectoral fin lodged in her upper palate, very near the throat.  She was in distress and panicking, digging at her mouth and shoving her snout in the ground.  Despite several attempts by me to see and remove the obstacle, with no success, finally Pete subdued her enough for me to pry open her mouth and dig out the fin;  incredible how tightly it was lodged and had it been another inch or two lower, well, I won’t go there ….   After drinking a lot of water, she was fine and two minutes later, eating more bones!  Dogs!!!   OK, some perspective on numbers: in 2011 we saw 19; in 2012 we saw 4; in 2013 we saw18; in 2014 we saw 0; in 2015 and 2016 it was not counted.

On to the Middle Creek Bridge where the entire gravel pad was visible but no fish were seen spawning or staging.
 
Last stop was the Chilliwack River hatchery overflow channel where 4 fish were seen.  We plan at least one more trip next week based on what we saw at Chilliwack Lake, but if the weather warms up as it is supposed to do, full freshet will be on and there is a lot of snow in the mountains, some fresh this morning … expect high water for a while.
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