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Salmon and steelhead could return to McKay Creek, anglers reminded of fishing closure

August 24, 2023

McKay weir
Weir at McKay Creek blocking fish passage. The left side of the weir has been dropped so summer steelhead can now get above the weir and into suitable habitat in the Umatilla River Basin. Click image to enlarge
McKaysteelhead
Wild and hatchery summer steelhead at the Bonneville Dam viewing window on July 21, 2023. Summer steelhead could migrate and spawn in McKayCreek. Click image to enlarge

PENDLETON, Ore.—Anglers fishing for trout in McKay Creek, a tributary of the Umatilla River, could soon encounter a salmon or steelhead.

Anglers who catch a steelhead or salmon should safely release it (see tips) as this area is closed to salmon and steelhead fishing under permanent regulations. Anglers should also take care not to fish over spawning fish (look for fish paired together or actively digging redds). Fall Chinook and coho typically spawn in late October and November, while summer steelhead will spawn in April and May.

Salmon and steelhead haven't spawned in McKay Creek for nearly 30 years. But an experimental study is allowing salmon and steelhead access to the lower six miles of McKay Creek below McKay Creek Reservoir Dam.

Last month, fishery co-managers ODFW and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation along with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) dropped the left-hand side of an adult weir that's been in place since the 1995 blocking passage. (The right side remains up as the project is also an experimental study to determine the weir's effects prior to its full removal.) Fish can now pass above the weir.

The adult weir was installed at the mouth of McKay Creek to keep anadromous species out of this section due to flows being shut off during the winter months to retain water in the reservoir for contracted irrigation storage. In 2004, a federal mandate under the ESA was issued requiring the BOR to release 10 cfs in the non-irrigation season months to protect any juvenile ESA listed summer steelhead or bull trout that might have migrated into McKay Creek. In 2019, fishery co-managers outplanted adult coho above the adult weir to look at migration and spawning in the lower six miles of McKay Creek. They found evidence of both.

"Anadromous fish will now be able to use the lower six miles of McKay Creek while fisheries managers study habitat usage, migration and spawning," said Taylor McCroskey, ODFW Umatilla District Fish Biologist.

McKay Creek represents about 25 percent of suitable steelhead habitat in the Umatilla River Basin, with the majority of this habitat located above McKay Creek Reservoir, which currently lacks fish passage. The reservoir discharges mostly cold water into the creek, making it ideal spawning/rearing habitat.

These efforts are part of a larger scale study in which fisheries managers are working towards possible reintroduction efforts into the upper McKay basin above McKay Creek Reservoir Dam.

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Contact: Taylor McCroskey, (541) 318-7969, Taylor.McCroskey@odfw.oregon.gov
 
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