The latest smolt release data for Western Washington rivers shows three you might want to put on your radar this coming winter season.
They doubled on the Elochoman and Naselle in 2017 for return this season, and were up sharply on the Quinault system as well, according to state figures.
Now, whether the fishing’s twice as good as last year on them is anyone’s guess, as ocean conditions play a strong role in returns, but they will be ones to watch for reports in the coming months.
On the Lower Columbia trib, releases jumped from 66,000 in 2016 – a year-class that produced a “phenomenal” return that allowed managers to recycle and even surplus fish – to 139,000 last year.
According to a WDFW hatchery tech’s report, last season’s fish were the first smolts at the Elochoman’s Beaver Creek facility protected from predation by netting and fencing since 2009.
A bit further west on Highway 4, the Naselle jumped from 37,000 to 73,000, bringing it back up to where it’s been in recent years, outside of 2015 when Puget Sound smolts were let loose here due to a court settlement.
And releases into Lake Quinault and Cook Creek climbed by 73,000 over 2016 and previous years, to 488,000. You’ll need a tribal guide to fish the system.
The one major blip is that Cowlitz stocking dropped by 161,000, but the number of late-returning smolts that went out is still nothing to shake your fish stick at – 437,000 from Blue Creek, 13 percent of all the winter-runs released in the state.
Elsewhere on the Westside, the number of young steelhead turned loose in most waters didn’t vary all that much from the prior year.
But for the record, they were up slightly on the Nooksack (+13,000), Salmon (+10,000), Wynoochee (+7,000) and Willapa (+7,000) and down somewhat on the North Fork Stillaguamish (-20,000), Bogachiel (-20,000), Satsop (-17,000) and Skookumchuck (-13,000).