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REEDSPORT — With the Chinook salmon's return to the Umpqua River, fishers filled the ocean and river over Labor Day weekend for the Gardiner, Reedsport, Winchester Bay Salmon Trout Enhancement Program's salmon derby, aiming to catch the biggest fish.

Over the course of the weekend, fishers were allowed two fish per day; as they came off the water, they weighed and measured their catch, so the numbers could be recorded. When a new entry came out as the heaviest, or smallest, it was updated on a white board.

An angler checks in fish with Salmon Trout Enhancement Program volunteers Saturday during the organization's annual salmon derby at the Winche…

As of Saturday, Deborah Yates, president of STEP, said things were a little slow at the weigh station near Rainbow Plaza's boat launch; however, the one in Winchester Bay had steady on-and-off traffic throughout the day. A representative from the Department of Fish and Wildlife was also on site in Winchester Bay to help clean people's catch.

Winners are to be announced Monday after the weigh stations closed.

The STEP Derby is the group's main fundraiser for the year; each fisherman paid $10, or $25 for a boat. The heaviest salmon awarded a prize of $500 while the smallest each day gave $150 and the smallest of the derby $100. Other than signing people up to fish, STEP also held a raffle for prizes like gift cards and sponsored products; the grand prize was a gift set of a kayak, fishing net, life vest, cooler, and other items for a fishing trip on the water.

The salmon derby marks the Chinook salmon's fall run up the Umpqua River for spawning. Bryan Hudson, secretary for STEP, said predictions were for smaller runs this year; he also noted that many rivers and bays were being restricted on how many fish could be caught. Many rivers are being held to one fish per day and five for the season when a normal year allows more.

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Jason Lobato, from left, of Eugene, weighs his catch Saturday alongside his fishing partners Chris Valasquez and Dan Wiltse during the Salmon …

"It's low returns," said Hudson. "Some of that's attributed to ocean conditions ... They just haven't been great the last few years; and if you don't have cold conditions at the right time, then the bait fish aren't there."

He also noted some rivers are only allowing fishing in certain areas, to ensure the strong males and females made it through to spawning grounds.

"There's a lot of emergency regulations right now," he said of the of fishing in Oregon.

A press release from GRWB STEP notes that fish tend to linger in the lower river as they adapt to its freshwater and warmer temperatures, having spent years in the cooler ocean saltwater; this makes for ideal fishing conditions as the fish fill into the more contained space. Recently, however, Hudson and Yates said the warmer temperatures and lower water levels mean the fish aren't always making it to the river at the right time.

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Reporter Adam Robertson can be reached at 541-297-3590, or by email at adam.robertson@theworldlink.com.

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