19 Days on the Willamette by Bill Egan

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In 2007 while a PHCAG member, I organized and took part in a fish collection of smallmouth bass for the LWG.  Five members of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club participated along with contractors from Interval International.   A baseline collection had been made in 2002 using a variety of methods including electroshocking, baited lines, nets, etc.  That collection led to 2007 which they narrowed the target fish to bass, scaulpin, and carp.  We accomplished the bass collection in just over a week-- basically 5 fish per river mile covering most, but not all, of the superfund site-- around 80 fish between 9 and 14 inches where collected.  We also assisted in collecting carp and training others how to do so.   That brings me to 2011 and 19 days on the river.
In August this year Chip Humphries of the EPA told me that they had come up with some money and wanted do another baseline.  For a variety of reasons the LWG, except for the City of Portland, decided not to participate in the funding or the collection, which they needed to finish by early October.  I declined because of health reasons, but attempted to set the collection up with the Bass and Panfish Club.  On short notice and consisting of members 5 years older than me, they declined as well.  I gave Chip contact numbers for other clubs and wished him well.  I foolishly told him that if they could find no other anglers to help I would do it.
The end of August arrived, and out of options the EPA had failed to find enough help to collect the fish.  I enrolled my friend Micheal Clardy, an avid fisherman and a brute to assist me in catching fish.  Ed Chin, president of the Oregon Bass Federation also assisted on evenings and weekends.  The collection was not able to start until the second week of September and we missed the 100 degree week but it put us behind.  The thing about bass is they are affected by tides, weather changes, and moon phases.  The best you can hope for is stable weather.  When we started, the river temperature was 68 degrees.  The last day we fished it was 57.  The weather was not stable, dropping 20 degrees at times, the tides where tough and so was the fishing.   The city hired GSI Water Solutions as the contractor to handle the fish and log data.  Each fish was lifted into the boat when hooked, placed in a sterile container, measured to assure it was the right size, followed by a GPS reading to assure the location.  The data was recorded, fish were killed and then wrapped in aluminum foil, placed in a zip lock bag with identification and ultimately placed in a cooler on ice.  Erin Carroll from GSI worked with us for 17 days and Kevin Parrett the last two to insure we had enough fish.  The collection in 2007 featured 2 boats and four fishermen working roughly 252 hours in 7 days to collect the fish.  The target number of fish this time was 152 fish, ten to be collected above Ross Island in 2 different spots for comparison purposes.  Those 10 fish where the easy ones.
We fished a variety of baits, Micheal went through some 40 dozen worms.  We fished plastic baits and crank baits mostly in crawfish color.  We started at 7 am until daylight or weather caused us to start at 8, and we averaged about 9 hours a day on the water.  I was disappointed in the fishing as the bass where missing from places I have caught them for the last 20 years.  We saw and caught very few smaller fish, indicating that perhaps they are not spawning and surviving in the lower harbor.  From river mile 10 to the Steel bridge there seems to be a good bass population, whereas from that point downstream, smaller fish where lacking.  The numbers of fish present were way down from the 2007 survey.  This is a picture of a "smallie" I caught in the harbor.
By fishing worms we also caught other species of fish.  Yellow perch were the most predominate and could be found in most areas of the river.  Baits we fished produced NO fish at Arkema, and it was not the only area we encountered this phenomenon.  One stretch of bank that we have constantly caught fish was at Gunderson and we encountered nothing.  The Gunderson site had been cleaned up in the spring and invasive plants removed.  It may be that herbecides were used and the fish just left.  We fished from 2 to 30 feet with most of the bass coming from 4-8 feet.  I think our deepest fish was at 26 feet.  We caught 2 flounder, both on worms.  We caught a number of sculpin, pumpkinseed (a colorful panfish), black and white crappie, carp, and suckers.  We also caught a number of largemouth bass which we could not use in the survey but their numbers were also down.  We also caught a flounder, which although normally found in the ocean can sometimes be caught in the Willamette (shown in picute below).

We saw only 2 deer, a yearling and a doe and one group of 4 raccoons.  We also saw a raccoon in the parking area at Cathedral Park and smelled skunks twice but did not see them.  Usually we see a number of deer, we have seen mink (in the evenings), beaver, and nutria.  It has been a long time since I have seen river otter in the lower harbor but they are present in the Ross Island area as are coyotes.


There are many outflows along the river, some are creeks covered by the city years ago.  Others are the old overflow sewers, while others carry rain water.  In August and September most are visible, and some show rusty colors from metal or chemical deposits.  If you take the time, you see a lot of them, and we did.  In 2007 there were abandoned homeless camps that needed cleaning up, and they still do.  There are about 50 people camping along the lower harbor in tents and other shelters and at least 8 river rats (groups of people living in boats in Willamette Cove, the back of Swan Island, and other sites).  One day when we pulled into the International slip, we found a boat sunken on submerged pilings.  It stayed there several days and then was moved to the fishing dock at Cathedral Park where it sat on the river bottom and then was moved to the back of Swan Island.  When we quit fishing, it was afloat again and nestled with 4 or 5 other boats using the BES property to camp out.
We only fished one evening and, though it was memorable, we caught no keeper fish.  We fished Oregon Steel Mills (OSM) and then moved to the International slip (Schnitzers).  I caught a small largemouth bass in the back of the slip and then noticed what I first thought was an algae bloom.  It in fact was green dye which is used to look for leaks in the sewer system.  It looked like anti-freeze.  We called the BES hot line number and reported it and also notified the coast guard who did not know where the International slip or Schnitzers was located.  We finally gave them the river mile number so they could find it.  We spotted the flow at about 6:20 pm and DEQ said the flow was still going after midnight (strange time to check for leaks).  An estimated 20,000 gallons entered the rive,r and we never got a bite in the three later attempts we made to catch fish there.  They also spread an oil boom along their dock and the back of the site to limit our fishing.  They never told us to leave, and we caught 3 of the 6 samples we needed from there.  No culprit was ever found for dumping the dye which went into a 100 year old sewer system.
We fished the ODM site at least 8 times trying to catch smallmouth, and we did lose 3 fish there that would have otherwise been kept.  We caught numerous other species including several nice largemouth.  We never had an access problem, but the other boat was yelled at and told they could not fish there, but since they had finished they moved on to avoid conflict.  If you are on the Columbia River or Willamette you have access to the normal high water line of the river including the banks.  In man-made slips, if you do not anchor or tie up to property, you are on public water and cannot be kicked off.  Exceptions are government property since 9/11 for obvious reasons.  There are 8 other rivers in the state that enjoy these rules and the rest are waiting for a state ruling.
We fished the Kinder-Morgan/Chevron facility upstream from Arkema.  They were dredging in the back, Chip had been there earlier in the week, and they where moving slow and careful.  When we were there, the slip was muddy and they seemed to be taking no care in the dredging to prevent turbidity.  I talked with a gentleman (!@#$%) who turned out to be a turbidity consultant, and it was okay until we took pictures of what was going on.  He had a fit, told us to leave, and forbid us from taking pictures or fish there.  He called some gentlemen from Chevron who came over and asked politely what we where doing.  When we mentioned "Chip and feel free to call him," our presence was suddenly okay.
Basically people were friendly along the river, although we ran into one guy with definite mental health problems and we were glad to be in the boat and he on the bank.  The last day we fished with Erin, and we went up river and fished a polluted site with PCBs.  Wwo separate groups told us we could not fish there even when we told them what we where doing.  I also told them who to call...

It is a good idea to always have a camera, the one on most cell phones will do.  Police emergencies are still 911 and they can connect you to the river patrol which is Multnomah County.  In the city of Portland, the Bureau of Environmental Services has a hot line # 503-823-7180 for spills and other environmental problems.  Do not be afraid to report a problem, it is the only way things get fixed.  Do not assume dredging always legal, but instead take pictures for evidence and do not wait to call-- 2 hours is a long time on the water.


To see a video of Bill on the river discussing the issue of putting a Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) in Terminal 4 of the Port of Portland, visit https://picasaweb.google.com/105994736877405850010/ExportedVideos?authkey=Gv1sRgCLGkudqcvLnHsQE&feat=email#5646032490357783810