Somewhere around 80 to 100 anglers descended on a North Cascades boat ramp this past Saturday for Occupy Skagit, an effort to reopen the Skagit and Sauk Rivers to catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead.
Many cast hookless lines into the water at Howard Miller Steelhead Park below Rockport in support of the effort.
The number of anglers who came was “twice as many as I dreamed,” said one organizer, according to an article in the Skagit Valley Herald.
Some held signs reading “I should be holding a fishing pole not this damn sign” and “Fish Now”; the back window of a pickup truck canopy said, “Let my people fish.”
With the listing of Puget Sound steelhead under the Endangered Species Act and a lack of a NMFS-approved plan for directed fisheries, the rivers are now closed either at the end of January or mid-February.
Previously, they were open through April and were a favorite of many. One of the folks who was there on Saturday was former river guide Dec Hogan, who came all the way from Utah for the event, according to the Herald.
WDFW fish and wildlife officers were also on hand to ensure that no lures with hooks were cast. A sergeant lamented the loss of his eyes on the water.
Occupy Skagit now plans to take their cause to Olympia, and on their Facebook page is asking anglers who couldn’t make the event — or who showed up late and found nobody around the very rainy park — to send an email with their thoughts on C&R steelhead to email@example.com for delivery this weekend to the Fish & Wildlife Commission.
UPDATE: 5 P.M., APRIL 9, 2013: OS filed this important information about when C&R fishing would be appropriate on the Sauk and Skagit:
We wanted to give you a quick history of the Skagit since the CnR closure in 2010.
The Skagit did make escapement in 2012 with a total run size of 6,185. We also saw 5,655 return in 2011 and 4,113 in 2010 . In 2009 we had a very low escapement of 2,502 and the offspring of those fish are expected to be the major contributor to this years return. Hopefully the returns this year will be significantly above the forecast level. If so that maybe an indicator of improving marine survival conditions and bode well for the future of the wild Skagit Steelhead resource.
I would like to make it very clear that we at OS are not advocating fishing over low returns – we would like to have a CnR season when numbers return to the escapement levels.
Because of NOAA’s current management plan – they will not open a specific river meeting escapement in Puget Sound, they are advocating a total Puget Sound Recovery – which is great, but if the Skagit has 6,000 to 9,000 fish returning and the Puyallup, Skykomish, Stilly or Green are not meeting escapement – it makes no sense to us that the Skagit should not have a regulated Catch and Release season on it.
With better marine survival and some of the best freshwater habitat still left in Puget Sound – our hope is that we will see strong returns in 2013 and 2014. So putting in place a basin by basin abundance management plan with WDFW and NOAA – when returns are strong say 2014 and after – it will not be a huge fight with government to open a river meeting escapement. Our goal is to be proactive and have a plan in place when things are good – we are all Steelheader’s so being optimistic is in our blood.
Thanks again for your support and taking the time to understand what we are trying to accomplish here
Please email us your support – with your name and hometown to take to the Commission Meeting this Saturday, April 13th. Its important they know that anglers care and want to have an opportunity for Catch and Release seasons.