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Oregon keeps wary eye on drought-based fishing closures across California

California abruptly closed fishing on the Smith River and dozens of other streams throughout the state Wednesday because of extremely low water levels, and additional cutbacks are expected in the current sparse water year.

But Oregon fish managers said they don't intend to follow the Golden State's lead in Southern Oregon, where many streams are at the height of the winter steelhead fishing season.

California's suite of closures came after the streams dipped below minimum flows, forcing already depressed native winter steelhead runs to migrate and spawn amid drought conditions, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

California fish managers said they foresee poor spawning success this winter if drought conditions continue.

In Southern Oregon, streams such as the Chetco River have run low most of the winter but have seen enough little bursts of rain to get native steelhead up tributaries to spawn when needed, said Steve Mazur, assistant Gold Beach District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We don't have a biological concern with steelhead, and we're getting enough rain to keep the rivers up and get the fish moving," Mazur said Wednesday, as the Chetco rose after Tuesday night's rain.

"The rains haven't been real big events, but they've been perfect and well placed to get fish moving."

That differs from much of California, especially in central coast streams. Also, California already has declared the current water year a drought and has begun water-saving measures.

The California closures will remain in place until water levels are sufficient for native steelhead and salmon migration and spawning, according to the CDFG.

The main stem of the Smith River is closed from the mouth of Rowdy Creek upstream to the mouth of Patrick Creek, and the South Fork of the Smith is closed from the mouth upstream about 1,000 feet to the County Road bridge.

Also, Craig's Creek is closed to its confluence with Jones Creek, and the North Fork of the Smith is closed from its mouth to Stoney Creek.

The current closures on the Smith are only through Jan. 31 based on California law. The department intends to ask the California Fish and Wildlife Commission to extend them until flows reach more fish-friendly volumes, according to the CDFG.

Other closures are scattered around Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area and Central California, where many of the streams are home to steelhead runs listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Southern Oregon's wild steelhead are not federally listed.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.