Breeding Better Biting Fish

Oregon works toward getting hatchery fish to bite like wild cousins

Breeding Better Biting Fish
Steelhead, which are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean, are one of the targeted species. (Wikipedia photo)

In theory, it only makes sense that a more aggressive fish would be more apt to wind up on an angler’s hook.The more aggressive fish would seem more likely to assertively protect its spawning nest or pursue food items, not to mention a fisherman’s bait.

Fisheries officials and biologists in Oregon are taking a proactive approach toward improving fishing in the state, and are beginning work toward breeding hatchery steelhead trout and Chinook salmon whose bite can match that of the wild members of species. The process has just begun and will be lengthy, but if it works, the same process could be applied to other species.

“It’s an exciting day for us,” David Noakes, a professor of fisheries at Oregon State University and senior scientist at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, told the Associated Press. “Depending on what the answer is, we might be changing a lot of things about raising hatchery fish and stocking hatchery fish.”

Along the Alsea River in northwestern Oregon, anglers have long maintained that wild fish in the area are more aggressive and, as a result, easier to catch. Results of recent studies back up that hypothesis.


Since 1990, the adipose fin, a fleshy knob at the base of the tail, has been clipped on hatchery fish to distinguish them from the wild ones, which generally must be released unharmed. Salmon and steelhead born in the hatcheries make up the vast majority of those returning to the rivers in the area, but rarely the largest number of those being caught.


Surveys of anglers on the Deschutes River in central Oregon since 1977 consistently have shown that wild fish account for the bulk of the fish caught, even as their numbers have dwindled. In 2013, nearly six wild fish were caught for every hatchery fish, even as hatchery fish outnumbered the wild ones nearly 3 to 1.

The Alsea hatchery releases 120,000 steelhead smolts every year. Hatcheries have been used to supplement salmon and steelhead numbers in the West for more than 120 years, helping increase numbers depleted by overfishing and habitat lost to dams, logging, mining and development.

Evidence has grown to show that hatchery fish are less likely to survive in the wild and also can add to decline in the wild fish population. With eyes toward improving the gene pool, many hatcheries have been mixing wild fish into their breeding.

Now the first year of a three-year creel survey on the Alsea River has shown that hatchery fish bred from wild parents were caught by fishermen three times more often than those bred from hatchery stock.


The largest of species of the Pacific salmon, the Chinook salmon is native to the north Pacific Ocean and river systems throughout western North America, from California to Alaska. Steelhead trout are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean to grow up.

In 2009, a 30-year study was published in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society on the effects fishing had on black bass in an Illinois lake. It showed that removing the aggressive fish that bite while defending their spawning areas produces a population that is less likely to bite.

In short, according to Dr. David Philipp, the study’s lead author, the tendency to bite aggressively can be inherited.


“As you fish a population, you tend to catch the most aggressive ones,” Philipp, a conservation geneticist for the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois, told the AP. “Often times, they are removed from the population. As a result, the population becomes less vulnerable to angling because it is less and less aggressive.”

Complete results of the Alsea River study will not be known for at least four years. A small number of steelhead returned to the Alsea this year, so volunteer anglers did not turn in the 30 wild fish needed to start the experiment, according to Ryan Couture, the director of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. They will try again next year, but then it takes a year for the fish to be old enough for release and another two years for them to return as adults.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

Major League Fishing pros Alton Jones, Jeff Sprague, Anthony Gagliardi and James Watson share their thoughts on how to approach fishing a new lake for bass.

13 Fishing Inception SZ

13 Fishing Inception SZ

Florida angling pro Jessie Mizell knows that the saltwater found in Sunshine State coastal fisheries can wreak havoc on even the best fishing gear. But with 13 Fishing's new feature laden Inception SZ saltwater baitcasting reel, tackling inshore and light tackle saltwater game fish just got a whole lot easier!

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance's Lucas Steward shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead what all of the fuss is about in the brand new Ghost trolling motor being brought to market by the Tulsa, Okla.-based fishing equipment manufacturer.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record. Walleye

Record-Sized Walleye Was Foul-Hooked, Agency Says

G&F Online Staff

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record.

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them. Reels

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them.

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time. Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

See More Trending Articles

More News

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere. Records

State Records Reported in Maryland, Michigan

G&F Online Staff - May 23, 2019

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere.

2019 edition, now available, commemorates ethical sport and productive science. News

IGFA ‘World Record Game Fishes' Celebrates 80 Years

Jack Vitek - July 15, 2019

2019 edition, now available, commemorates ethical sport and productive science.

‘Great Red Snapper Count' includes angler incentives to report tagged fish. News

Gulf Red Snapper Could Be Worth $500 Each

G&F Online Staff - June 05, 2019

‘Great Red Snapper Count' includes angler incentives to report tagged fish.

Catch-and-release still permitted, but harvest and possession are not. News

Florida Orders Halt to Keeping Shoal Bass from Chipola

G&F Online Staff - June 07, 2019

Catch-and-release still permitted, but harvest and possession are not.

See More News

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.