Ask Zimo: Crappie fishing at Owyhee could improve in the short term

February 20, 2014 

Q: I wonder if you could offer an opinion concerning fishing in Owyhee Reservoir this year?

As I’m sure you remember, last year was horribly bad. The water was down 30 feet, and the redds were way out of the water.

I’m wondering if the crappie even spawned? Most fish were very small, and the eggs were immature.

Will there be better and bigger fish from last year, or still the same?

The snow pack is suggesting that this year will be worse than last year.

LARRY GAUKEL, via email

A: It’s not all bad news. Biologists at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are predicting the crappie fishery at Owyhee Reservoir will be average or slightly above average, and fish will be slightly larger than last year.

To see what’s happening in the reservoir, you have to look back to 2013, when biologists expected the crappie fishery would be dominated by fish 5 to 7 inches.

“These fish were recruited from the recent dominant brood year tied to the good water year in 2011,” said Shannon Hurn, a biologist with the agency. Those fish will likely average 8 to 10 inches this year, she said.

“If folks are really after catching trophy-size crappie in the 12-inch-or-more range, we have not had the water years to support that over the last decade,” Hurn said.

The major problem with the crappie population at the reservoir, located southwest of Adrian, Ore., is that it’s cyclical and depends on the fickle annual water supply.

At least three good back-to-back water years and low winter loss of fish are needed to create excellent crappie fisheries with abundant and large fish, she said.

As far as the redds, basically, crappie dig small depressions to form their nests. Their spawning is triggered by water temperature at or near 50 degrees, along with a change in the amount of daylight. Usually, the bulk of the spawning occurs in May in the reservoir.

Depending on the water temperature in relation to increased daylight, sometimes spawning is condensed to one week, but usually it is spread out over three weeks, Hurn said.

The incubating eggs take an average of a week to hatch, and the fish to emerge.

Reservoir levels last May only dropped 6 feet from May 1 to May 30, Hurn said, adding that this would probably cause some egg loss in redds, but not completely wipe out a brood year.

Summing up your question, the condition of the crappie population at Owyhee Reservoir in future years will be the timing and rate of withdrawal of water this season.

Good brood years are needed on a regular basis to support a fishery as older crappie disappear from the population.

Besides affecting the crappie, the below-average snowpack and low water levels in the reservoir make it more difficult to launch a boat and fish. Although recent storms have improved the situation, there’s still a long ways to go to fill the reservoir.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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