By Frank Hanson
“An evening with Bill and John McMillan,” Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Olympic Natural Resources Center, Hemlock Forest Room, 1455 S. Forks Ave, Forks.
Presentation: This Evening Talk is a continuation of the 2019 Wild Steelhead Review Series on the Olympic Peninsula and will be a combined presentation with Bill McMillan and his son John. Bill brings an extensive historical steelhead account in Washington State since the 1950’s forward. His short talk will lead into John’s work in the Northwest and the Olympic Peninsula.
For Bill McMillan’s presentation, it will be a brief off-the-cuff perspective on early visits to the OP in the latter 1950s into the early 1970s. It will lead into what John’s life as a boy was like on the Washougal with his early interests in what the river held beneath the surface with snorkeling. Bill will also describe his transition as John grew up from life on the Washougal dominated by steelhead fishing, to increasingly that of doing spawning and snorkel surveys. This was done to try and fill the void in wild steelhead information on Lower Columbia tributaries in the 1970s through latter 1980s, which was not being collected by Washington Department of Game. He will explain how those volunteer surveys came to become basic methods for determining wild steelhead escapements on SW Washington rivers by the end of the 1980s and then transitioned to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as continued to the present day. He will describe his move to the Skagit River and again going back to volunteer spawning surveys. This began in his mid-60s to once again fill a data gap and continuing to the present – 10 years later. In this case WDFW was not surveying tributary streams early enough to capture earliest wild steelhead spawning and their interactions with hatchery steelhead. With the great reduction, and then the elimination of Skagit hatchery plants, two of the five tributaries regularly surveyed have come back with quite spectacular recovery for which graphs will be shown. It is an example of what volunteer biological interests can contribute to wild steelhead understanding.
John McMillan will follow his father with a short talk about why steelhead are so unique among salmonids, and the types of behaviors they have evolved that allow the species to pack so much diversity into a single population. Interested in what Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common with steelhead? How about the parallels between steelhead, a Philips screwdriver and a Leatherman? Ever wonder what it looks like underwater when male steelheads fight one another to compete for a female? All that, and more, will be answered as John explains the complex world of steelhead mating in a way that every non-scientist can easily understand. So, if you wanted to know what makes a steelhead a steelhead and why that is important to their conservation and management, this presentation is for you.
Bios: Bill McMillan has been fishing for steelhead since the mid-1950s. Although he often considered his first steelhead on a fly to have come from Wind River in 1961, his first steelhead on a fly was actually a 16-inch half-pounder on the Quinault River near Graves Creek in August of the late ’50s. The books of Roderick Haig-Brown, famed angler and conservationist of British Columbia, had a large influence on him from late grade school on. Beginning in 1970 Bill came to rear a family on the Washougal River with a life dominated by either fishing for steelhead, or doing spawning and snorkel surveys to better understand and protect them. In 1975 he collected a small group of fly fishermen that resulted in the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers that continues today out of Vancouver, Washington. He has written dozens of articles over the years on steelhead fly fishing, wild fish conservation, and wrote forewords to several prominent books on fly fishing. In 1989 he was part of the group that began Washington Trout (today Wild Fish Conservancy), served on its board through 2007, and was board president for 10 years. In 1995 and 1996 he was co-director of a remote camp as part of an American/Russian expedition studying steelhead on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. In late 1996, at age 52, he moved to Puget Sound and was employed by Washington Trout to fulfill a lifelong hope to be an employed fisheries biologist (until retirement in 2006). His book Dry Line Steelhead was published in 1987, and in 2012 May the Rivers Never Sleep was published as written by son John and Bill together. Bill remains active as a volunteer hobby biologist and conservationist, writing many detailed reports on his findings, as well as on histories of anadromous fish in the Pacific Northwest dating to earliest Euro-American exploration and settlement. He has also been author, or co-author, of several published science papers and is presently Archivist for The Conservation Angler.
John McMillan is the Science Director for Trout Unlimited’s Wild Steelhead Initiative. He moved to Forks in 1997 as an intern with the USFS, and once the internship ended, he didn’t want to leave. Soon after, he was hired by the Hoh River Indian Tribe and since, he has also worked as a biologist and fishery research scientist for the Wild Salmon Center and NOAA on the Elwha Dam removal project as a biologist. Much of his professional scientific study has focused on the biology, behavior and ecology of steelhead and rainbow trout, with a particular interest in the mechanisms influencing why individual fish adopt particular life history strategies — such as anadromous migration and residency. In his pursuit of understanding steelhead John has snorkeled over 1,500 river miles, spent thousands of hours observing steelhead, and as a result is considered a regional expert on the plight of steelhead. In addition to publishing scientific manuscripts on this topic and others, his writing and underwater photography and videography has been broadly published in scientific journals, books, popular magazines, newspapers, movies, and television. He is also an avid steelheader and has been featured in various movies, including Shane Anderson’s film Wild Reverence. His latest publication is the book May the Rivers Never Sleep, a collaboration with his father Bill McMillan that pays homage to the strong conservation influence of Roderick Haig-Brown.
For a quick view of our coastal salmonid needs take a look at https://vimeo.com/326387618 for a short video developed by Wild Salmon Center: Coldwater Connections to the Olympic Peninsula. You may see a familiar face or two on this short video on the coastal salmonid strongholds on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with a quick view at the Hoh, Queets, and Quillayute Rivers with concerns on the coast’s fish barriers we are all challenged with as well as a glimpse of the great work being done on the Olympic Peninsula for salmonid restoration by many partners working together for good habitat restoration.
Please join us!
Evening Talks at ONRC is funded through the Rosmond Forestry Education Fund, an endowment that honors the contributions of Fred Rosmond and his family to forestry, natural resources; and the Forks community. Refreshments will be served and a potluck of your favorite dessert is encouraged. For more information contact: Frank Hanson at 374-4556 or [email protected]