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Lack of steelhead in Applegate trap no cause for alarm

I keep watching your fish counts for winter steelhead that you put in the weekly fishing report and it has me worried about the Applegate River. Here it is already in March, with less than a month to go in the steelhead fishing season on the Applegate, and there are no winter steelhead captured at the fish trap. Isn’t this something to worry about?

— Alan, via email

Well, Alan, we at Since You Asked Central have been watching the lack of steelhead captured at the trap at the base of Applegate Dam and also are worried that this year’s season is looking like a bust.

But we did a little digging and, really, the data show that there really isn’t much to worry about.

The trap is operated by Cole Rivers Hatchery, and data from there show that seven of the past 10 years had no steelhead captured in that trap through the third week of February, which is the last time the trap was checked.

In fact, the past three years in a row have had no winter steelhead by that time at the Applegate trap, records show.

When fish show at the trap is more a function of water flow than run size. If we had more storms, more steelhead would have run the gantlet to the trap, which is used to collect brood fish for spawning to create the roughly 150,000 winter steelhead smolts released annually into the Applegate to make up for spawning habitat lost with the dam’s completion in 1980.

Consider last year: Even though no fish had appeared by the end of the third week of February, a total of 3,435 winter steelhead eventually reached the trap. In 2017, 62 had reached by then, but the total run was just 1,619.

There is no way to gauge how many adult winter steelhead, both hatchery and wild, reach the Applegate annually, so the fish trap is the only index to compare year by year.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.