About 15 years ago, the pioneering White Salmon River whitewater outfitter Phil Zoller hypothesized that the White Salmon may have once harbored a population of what he called “June hogs”. June hog was the term used by early European inhabitants of the Columbia basin for an almost mythological run of summer or spring Chinook salmon that once migrated far up the Columbia past Kettle Falls and on to British Columbia. These fish grew to almost 100 pounds and over 4 feet in length. Phil based his belief on the large river cobbles that characterize the White Salmon’s bed, and reasoned that only a large 50+ pound fish would be capable of churning the heavy rock into a spawning bed. The 85 pound “June hog” pictured above was caught at Astoria in 1925 (photo courtesy NWCouncil.org). Compare this to fish possibly caught in White Salmon River below.
Fifteen years ago was also the time that tribal, state and federal fish managers began discussing what fish might be suitable for recolonizing the White Salmon after dam removal. Although I was only peripherally involved these discussions through our local White Salmon River technical committee, we all continued to share Phil’s wonder as what fish may have been in the river before the dam, and whether June hogs may have been part of the mix.
Somewhat unexpectedly, in 2004 a gentleman in The Dalles, Oregon named Bill Kreps shared a collection of his family photographs showing construction of the dam. It turned out that one of Bill’s relatives was actually the original superintendent at the dam, and had photographed aspects of his job, and also his fishing expeditions. After scanning Bill’s collection, I examined them with fish biologists who were working on the issue, including Larry Marchant (manager of the USFWS Spring Creek Hatchery) and Brian Bair (fish biologist with USFS). A few images from the Krep’s collection are included below. The first shows a huge “June hog” next to a young boy, probably near the superintendent’s house. The second shows men who were likely connected to Condit, shown with steelhead males.
Today, White Salmon fish managers are pretty certain that the river above Condit Dam once held populations of steelhead, fall Chinook, spring Chinook, coho and Pacific lamprey. Although the Kreps photos show tantalizing evidence of what fish may have found a home in the White Salmon, we can’t be 100% certain that the fish pictured were actually caught in the river. Perhaps the answer will never be known, but if anyone reading this article has any additional information (identity of the people pictured, scenes, other photos related to fishing on the river, etc.), posting that information to this site would be appreciated (or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).