Two separate sport-fishing groups have asked state fishery managers to resume catch-and-release fishing on wild winter steelhead in the Umpqua River basin, saying the fish deserve protection despite catch rates biologists have considered sustainable.

Two separate sport-fishing groups have asked state fishery managers to resume catch-and-release fishing on wild winter steelhead in the Umpqua River basin, saying the fish deserve protection despite catch rates biologists have considered sustainable.

The Steamboaters have petitioned the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ban the killing and keeping of wild steelhead in the main-stem Umpqua and the North Umpqua — a vaunted fly-fishing stream made famous by Zane Grey.

A coalition of fishing guides also have filed a similar petition for the main-stem river, but not the North Umpqua.

Both rivers have a wild steelhead limit similar to that on the Rogue — up to one wild steelhead a day, and no more than five a year, during the winter run. Also like the Rogue, the killing of wild summer steelhead is banned.

The North Umpqua's so-called "1 and 5" rule went into effect in 1997. It began in 2005 on the main stem.

"We believe no wild steelhead should be killed, period," says Peter Tronquet, a Medford man who sits on the Steamboaters board of directors. "From the very beginning, this was a social thing.

"But, with all the water-quality and water-quantity problems in that basin, those fish eventually are going to take a hard knock," Tronquet said. "So let's get out ahead of things and don't wait until there's a problem to protect these big, wild steelhead."

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists in 2004-05 did a biological assessment that helped entice the commission to re-open wild steelhead harvest on the main stem; it contained a belief that the system can biologically sustain a fishery if up to a third of the wild steelhead are killed before spawning.

A combination of surveys over the past two winters, including following radio-tagged wild steelhead, reveal exploitation rates lower than that.

In the main-stem Umpqua, the rate was 6 percent and 7 percent over the past two seasons, while the rates were 21 percent and 18 percent for the North Umpqua, says Jim Brick, the ODFW's acting district fish biologist in Roseburg.

But wild steelhead have a strong constituency among anglers who are releasing all the wild steelhead they catch in freshwater whether the regulations require it or not.

"When we manage a fishery, we manage it on biology and we manage it on sound values," Brick says.

The ODFW is taking public comment on the proposals before offering a recommendation to the commission Aug. 3 in Salem. The commission is set to adopt new 2008 angling rules at its Sept. 6-7 meeting in Klamath Falls.

Any changes would go into effect Jan. 1.

To comment, send e-mails to comments@dfw.state.or.us.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.