Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Retired Disabled Vet Building ADA-accessible Blinds At SW WA Refuges, Wildlife Areas

By Brent Lawrence

Rick Spring smiles even as the cold wind and rain blow across his face in the waterfowl blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The call of cackling geese overhead and the sight of wildlife relax him as he pets Max, his yellow Labrador retriever who doubles as his certified therapy dog.

Being in the outdoors is where Spring finds peace.

RICK SPRING, A DISABLED NAVY VET, BOEING RETIREE AND MEMBER OF ONE OF WASHINGTON’S OLDEST FISH AND GAME CLUBS, THE VANCOUVER WILDLIFE LEAGUE, POSES WITH HIS SERVICE DOG MAX BY ONE OF SEVERAL WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE WATERFOWL BLINDS HE’S BUILT ON PUBLIC LANDS IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

For many people, however, there are barriers to finding that outdoor enjoyment. A disabled Navy veteran himself, Spring knows that spending time hunting, fishing and hiking isn’t always a given for injured veterans or other people with disabilities.

That’s why Spring pours his passion for accessibility to the outdoors into building hunting and birdwatching blinds on federal and state lands that are compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. A Spring-made blind, for example, is big enough to accommodate two wheelchairs.

SPRING’S BLINDS CAN ACCOMMODATE TWO WHEELCHAIR-BOUND HUNTERS OR BIRDWATCHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

He does it as a volunteer, donating countless hours to the cause.

“Before they were disabled, veterans were usually very active people,” says Spring, a Boeing retiree who also served as an E4 3rd Class Petty Officer for three years in the U.S. Navy, running ship-to-shore teletypes and crypto aircraft identification. “Then they get injured and they feel like their time in the field isn’t available anymore. Knowing that these blinds are available, it will help veterans move on and have prosperous lives. They want and need this experience.”

Spring is one of conservation’s good neighbors, creating opportunities that open the door to nature for people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see a flock of mallards coming in to land or even hear the wind whistle through the Douglas firs.

MAX SOAKS UP THE RAYS AT THE JOB SITE ON A WARM SPRING DAY. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Whether they hold a shotgun or a camera, those aiming to connect with nature need access to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of their physical abilities. That’s why Spring hopes to expand the use of his custom-designed blinds to Oregon and then to the national level so more people with disabilities can have access to the outdoors.

It’s impossible to quantify the impact ADA-compliant access has on disabled veterans, says Heath Gunns, outreach manager with Honored American Veterans Afield. The impact on an individual, however, is easy to see when you witness it first-hand.

“You’re a 19-year-old kid and you go to boot camp, where they build you up to think you can do anything. Then you get hurt and the first thing doctors do is tell you the things you’ll no longer be able to do. … That is wrong,” Gunns says.

“Disabled veterans just have to learn to do it differently and that’s where ADA-compliant blinds and other access opportunities come in. The outdoors can’t give them their legs back, but it can give them hope.”

A RIDGEFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE BLIND SITS NEXT TO A FLOODED FIELD. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

Spring is determined to keep that hope alive for people with disabilities. He pulls in partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vancouver Wildlife League, Washington Waterfowl Association, Northwest Steelheaders, and numerous businesses to make it all happen.

The Service manages the National Wildlife Refuges, where Spring does some of his best work.

In addition to the blind at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, two of his custom ADA-compliant blinds can be found at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and another at Vancouver Lake. Spring is a member of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission ADA Advisory Committee, and he’s finalizing a proposal to build ADA-compliant blinds in each of the commission’s six state regions.

The importance of Spring’s work is underscored by a surprising statistic: 60 percent of requests for Washington’s reduced-fee or special-use permits come from disabled veterans. Overall, there’s a high level of public interest in ADA-compliant facilities, according to Sam Taylor, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s liaison to the seven-member ADA advisory committee.

“This is an amazing volunteer advisory group,” Taylor says. “They’re having a real impact on hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. Rick is doing some great work, and not only with the blinds. He’s also working on a shooting range that is ADA compliant and looking at some other opportunities for fishing piers.”

POSITIONED NEAR A TREELINE AND WATER, A RIDGEFIELD NWR BLIND SITS IN A GOOD LOCATION FOR DUCK HUNTERS AND OTHERS. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

That access-for-all-people policy plays an important role in public lands recreation. A recent Service report shows the outdoors has a strong allure. In 2016, an estimated 101.6 million Americans – 40 percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older – participated in hunting, fishing, wildlife-watching and related activities. The findings reflect a continued interest in engaging in the outdoors. These activities are drivers behind an economic powerhouse, where participants spent $156 billion in 2016.

Spring reached out to Jackie Ferrier, project leader at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, last year to discuss opportunities for adding a new blind. They had never met prior to the call, but Ferrier quickly seized the opportunity to improve recreational opportunities for the public.

“We had a discussion about some of his work at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and we had an instant rapport. I realized we had an amazing opportunity to partner with him on this,” Ferrier  says. “He and his team of volunteers were amazing.”

Willapa Refuge plans to add another ADA-compliant blind once some habitat restoration is complete on a different part of the refuge.

“Access is a priority for us, and Rick will make sure it happens. He gets things done,” Ferrier says. Spring, she notes, is a part of the refuge’s hunter working group that provides input on hunting opportunities. “He’s an incredibly dedicated, positive and inspirational person to work with.”

“HE’S AN INCREDIBLY DEDICATED, POSITIVE AND INSPIRATIONAL PERSON TO WORK WITH,” SAYS WILLAPA NWR’S JACKIE FERRIER OF SPRING. (BRENT LAWRENCE, USFWS)

When not helping veterans get into the field, Spring and Max bring that inspiration to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Vancouver. Two days a week they spend time with veterans and their families at the hospital, often devoting hours to patients in hospice care.

Just like he does in the hunting blind, Max will gently nudge his big yellow head alongside the hand of a veteran.

Spring watches as they slowly rub Max’s head with their fingers, hoping it brings them the same peace, hope and memories of the outdoors.

Editor’s note: Brent Lawrence is a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region in Portland. Governmental agencies and non-profit groups interested in connecting with Rick Spring’s regarding his blinds may contact the author at brent_lawrence@fws.gov.

Survey Finds Good Krill Numbers Again Off Oregon, But Even More Pyrosomes

An annual spring survey off the Northwest Coast came up with some good and bad news for key stocks.

Krill — hugely important near the base of the ocean food web — and young Dungeness crab numbers were as high as they’ve been in some time, but there are even more pyrosomes off Oregon’s Central Coast and to the south than last year.

RESEARCHERS CALLED THE RETURN OF KRILL TO THEIR SAMPLING NETS “A WELCOME SIGHT SINCE THESE IMPORTANT FORAGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN ABSENT OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS SINCE THE ANOMALOUS WARMING” FROM THE BLOB. (NWFSC)

Jennifer Fisher, fresh off a 10-day survey between San Francisco Bay and Newport, reported the findings on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center blog.

“These are the most Dungeness larvae and juveniles we’ve collected in a long time, and we have not seen krill numbers like this since before 2015,” Fisher followed up via email.

That year, 2015, was the height of The Blob — the huge pool of warmer than usual water in the Northeast Pacific that messed things up at sea and on land — and it was also a year after pyrosomes first began to be found in our coastal waters.

By last year, the tropical gelatinous, sea-pickle thingies that are actually colonies of organisms were clogging fishing gear off our coast and even turned up as far north as the rim of the Gulf of Alaska, also a first.

While rockfish were observed feeding on pyrosomes, it’s not clear how their numbers will affect the food web. Another NOAA blog from last October states, “At this point, there are more questions than answers.”

But the May survey answered the question whether they’re still out there.

“The pyrosome catches appear slightly larger and the colonies are larger compared to last year,” reports Fisher.

They can be found starting about 10 miles off the coast, living on the bottom during the day and rising to the surface at night.

PYROSOMES FILL A COOLER ABOARD THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S VESSEL, THE BELL M. SHIMADA. (NWFSC)

The Science Center will soon conduct another closely watched spring survey, collecting information on young Chinook and coho off Oregon.

Last year’s produced very low catches while one a couple years ago found very small fish. But the resurgence of krill is a hopeful sign that the food web could be rebuilding coming out of the hangover from the Blob.

Fisher also reported on Science Center’s blog that copepods are in a state of flux between winter warm-water communities and summer, cold-water ones that come with the upwelling.

So what does it all mean?

“The krill is a good sign, but the pyrosomes are not, since they are indicative of warm water,” she says. “And the transitional copepod community is also not a great sign for salmon. But it’s still early in the summer upwelling season, so things can certainly change.”

St. Helens Just Latest, Most Visible Evidence Of How Earth Forces Affect Our Fisheries

The 38th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens is once again a reminder that things change, sometimes cataclysmically fast, mostly slowly, in the Northwest’s natural world.

Nearly 60 people died on this day in 1980, along with 12 million hatchery Chinook and coho fingerlings, and upwards of 7,000 deer, elk and bear, from the volcano’s initial sideways blast, pyroclastic flows, lahars and mudflows.

It forever changed the upper end of the Toutle River watershed, as well as Spirit Lake.

Yesterday, rooting around in the state digital archives, I found some old photographs showing anglers fishing at the now off-limits and initially gray, log-filled anoxic dead zone …

(SPIRIT LAKE, 1945, PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN, STATE LIBRARY PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION, 1851-1990, WASHINGTON STATE ARCHIVES, DIGITAL ARCHIVES, HTTP://WWW.DIGITALARCHIVES.WA.GOV)

(SPIRIT LAKE IN COLUMBIA NATIONAL FOREST NEAR MT. ST. HELENS, JOSEF SCALYEA, STATE LIBRARY PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION, 1851-1990, WASHINGTON STATE ARCHIVES, DIGITAL ARCHIVES, HTTP://WWW.DIGITALARCHIVES.WA.GOV)

Life finds a way and in 1993 a rainbow trout turned up there, and by 2000 one over 2 feet long had been sampled by state crews.

While efforts to reopen the lake to fishing fizzled in favor of continued scientific study, for a piece on St. Helens’ 30th anniversary geologist Willie Scott at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver pointed to all the others available.

Besides Coldwater and Castle Lakes on Loo-wit’s flanks, Lakes Kapowsin and Silver were also damned by debris flows, while lava created nearby Merrill as well as Oregon’s Lake of the Woods, Davis, Waldo, Sparks, Lava and Hosmer Lakes.

“Damn, that’s what’s created fishing in the Northwest,” he mused about volcano-related activity.

Volcanism’s hardly the only natural force at work in these parts, of course.

Glaciation — both continental and alpine — along with the slow work of meltoff and quicker pace of massive floods helped form more than a few lakes in Pugetropolis and the Columbia Basin.

I’ve written about that here and in the magazine, but of late I’ve been interested in our rivers.

Some once flowed in other beds, these too-broad valleys with too-small streams tell us.

When the Big Glacier was in the house, every river from Bellingham to Olympia once drained out through Grays Harbor  — the Skagit, Sauk and Stillaguamish through a gap east of Mt. Pilchuck, those and the Skykomish through a pass between Mts. Persis and Index or subglacially around the western side of Mt. Haystack, those plus the Snoqualmie, etc., along the Cascade foothills to Enumclaw, Eatonville and Yelm.

As the ice retreated, the waters found plenty of new grist to mill and set to work making faster ways to the lowlands.

The Sultan, now blocked by sediment from meeting with the Pilchuck to join the Snohomish, forged through a canyon of an older creek to hook up with the Skykomish instead.

I’d be willing to bet the South Fork Nooksack, perhaps even the Middle and North Forks too, once was the upper Samish before topping a pinchpoint near Deming.

And I know for sure from the historical record that the White was once tributary to the Green before an early 1900s flood sent it over to the Puyallup.

Probably the Green and Puyallup have been swapping the White for millennia, though that’s unlikely to occur again.

Argh, I should probably wrap this up and do some real work now, but before I go, I’ll loop this back around to volcanoes.

In late April, I steamed up the wide North Fork Stillaguamish past Death’s Head, the 2014 slide, and over buried lahar debris that some 13,000 years ago roared off Glacier Peak and blocked up the top end of the valley, redirecting the Sauk due north.

With its largely unrestricted sashaying from side to side and plentiful logjams between Darrington and Rockport, the river represents the healthiest habitat for wild steelhead in Western Washington.

From death and destruction life is made anew, and better.

Or as the Forest Service tweeted out on Mt. St. Helens today:

“Disturbance can eliminate and create habitats. At , about 90 square miles of forests were lost in the 1980 eruption, but the amount of lake and pond habitats increased five-fold. Many of these new ponds are some of the most productive ecosystems today.”

San Juan Islands Angler Leery Of Voluntary No-boat Zone For Orcas

Kevin Klein has done his part to feed starving southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound.

As he fought a very big Chinook in the San Juans a few summers ago, a bull from J-pod swam over from a quarter mile away and chomped off the meatiest bits of the salmon.

“I THINK ALL OF US WANT THE BEST FOR THE ORCAS. THAT’S NUMBER ONE,” SAYS SAN JUAN ISLANDS ANGLER KEVIN KLEIN, HERE WITH ALL THAT WAS LEFT AFTER A KILLER WHALE SNARFED A BIG CHINOOK OFF HIS LINE IN JULY 2013. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The encounter left Klein temporarily deflated and holding a 5-pound fish head, but also gave him a new appreciation for the “giant marine super predator.”

That might help explain why he’s not too crazy about WDFW’s request yesterday for boaters to voluntarily avoid a quarter- to half-mile-wide strip along much of the west side of San Juan Island, prime feeding and fishing grounds for orcas and anglers alike.

The goal is to reduce human activity there and follows federal overseers’ call to do more to protect the endangered pods in Washington waters.

But Klein says it won’t do a bit of good to help out the killer whales and instead is just a “feel-good ‘win'” for the species’ enthusiasts.

“They did something. Picked some low-hanging fruit so now the grant money can keep coming in. If there is no problem with the killer whales, then professional orca advocates don’t have funding or jobs. So it’s in their best interests to perpetuate a problem rather that actually addressing the tougher issues that would help the whales,” says the Anacortes-based angler and yacht brokerage employee.

Lined up against fixes such as increasing hatchery salmon production and reducing pinniped and fish-eating bird predation are groups like the overly litigious Wild Fish Conservancy and PETA, which Klein claims are ready to sue the state as well as “take on even the Puget Sound tribes and boycott casinos if you start culling cuddly seals and sea lions.”

Other challenges include northern fleets’ interception of salmon bound for Northwest rivers, which in some cases have severe habitat issues.

He says he doesn’t want people to chase whales and notes that there are laws against that already.

The state legislature passed a measure in 2008, and a 2011 rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bars “vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning the vessel in its path” in Washington’s inside waters.

But NOAA has been pushing for more and more action, and earlier this year Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order directing WDFW and other state agencies to do all they could to help out the killer whales.

That included bumping hatchery production, though it will take several years for those fish to become available, and pruning salmon seasons in some areas.

When we posted WDFW’s press release on its “difficult request” to San Juan Islands fishermen Tuesday afternoon, anglers generally reacted against it.

They’ve already kicked us in the teeth taking September Chinook away. So … no,” wrote Bellingham angler Rory O’Connor, referring to the closure of the popular Chinook fishery that time of year in the islands.

Besides seven likes of the post, there were no supportive comments, though there was more on the agency’s version.

According to WDFW, the voluntary no-go zone — a quarter-mile strip of shoreline from Mitchell Bay to Cattle Point, with a half-mile bubble around Lime Kiln Lighthouse — is the “most frequently” used feeding and lounging area for southern residents.

(WDFW)

“This step will help support killer whale recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon fisheries throughout the entire Sound,” Fish Program chief Ron Warren said in a press release.

He takes the long view, adding that recovering orcas “will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will benefit anglers” too.

Ultimately, the request is another straw on the usual camel’s back, sportfishermen, who are already bearing the burden of Washington’s failure as a whole to stem the loss of salmon.

Is it one straw too many this time, or the wrong straw?

“Really, we all know that the orcas aren’t bothered one bit by our 20- to 30-foot rec boats trolling at 2 mph,” says Klein. “The best thing a small rec boat can do is just keep trolling and let the whales react to you on a predictable path. If anything, they are attracted to us and curious. I think they know exactly what we are doing and might even think it’s funny.”

“They are highly advanced super predators. Top of the food chain, with sonar and perceptions of their world that we can’t begin to fathom,” he says. “Give them some credit. They’ll thrive with more fish in the water.”

Despite April Showers, Washington Trout Opener ‘Another Statewide Success’

A 29-inch rainbow trout, 20-minute limit and high catch rates at several lakes in the greater Seattle area were among the highlights of the start of Washington’s lowland lakes season.

THE SPOKANE AREA’S WILLIAMS LAKE WAS AMONG SEVERAL THAT YIELDED 20-PLUS-INCH TROUT, AS WELL AS WDFW DERBY WINNERS, LIKE THIS TAGGED FISH. (WDFW)

“Opening Day 2018 was another statewide success story, although one of the common themes statewide was the weather,” reported WDFW’s Bruce Bolding. “It was gray and rainy off and on, which seemed to keep some anglers indoors, however the other common theme was lots of happy anglers because fishing, for the most part was very good.”

That whopper was caught at Grays Harbor County’s Inez lake while the fast fishing occurred at Skagit County’s Heart Lake.

State biologists say they saw catch rates of 9.8 fish per angler at King County’s Lake Langlois, 8.5 at Snohomish County’s Storm Lake and 8.2 at Lake Ki, 8.1 at Mason County’s Panther, 6.7 at King’s Pine Lake and 6.6 at Whatcom County’s Toad Lake, indicating anglers were able to catch and release fish as they worked towards their five-trout limit.

“The other common theme, which seemed more pronounced than last year, was the number of tagged derby fish that were caught, all across the state,” says Bolding. “This was really great news. There were tagged fish caught in each district throughout the state (with the exception of Region 3, where we have no creel data because there are no Opening Day lakes. There are however, tagged fish in Region 3).”

Here are more details from WDFW on catches, information that can also be found here: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/lowland/

Chelan County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Wapato Lake 53 72 1.36 1.4 17-inch Rainbow Trout The overcast and rainy conditions off and on all morning (and heavy at times) could have been a factor in how poor the fishing was.
Douglas County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Jameson Lake 40 143 3 3.65 3.6 14-inch Rainbow Trout Cloudy, cool weather. On average, the fish were smaller than last year, but overall, anglers were happy just to be out fishing.
Ferry County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Lake Ellen 14 63 8 5.1 4.5 17-inch Rainbow Trout Rainy weather, but fishing was good. Lots of happy anglers!
Grant County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Blue Lake 42 137 3.3 3.3 15-inch Rainbow Trout Anglers were happy with both the size and catchability of the trout in Blue Lake.
Deep Lake 51 147 43 3.8 2.9 13-inch Rainbow Trout Lots of effort once the weather got better, but anglers were not especially happy about the size of the fish.
Park Lake 62 289 11 4.8 4.6 15-inch Rainbow Trout The number of people increased once the rains stopped and the wind died down. Most fish were 2017 fingerlings. Fat and good fighters. Shore anglers had good success, especially from the dock.
Warden Lake 31 40 10 1.6 1.3 13-inch Rainbow Trout
Grays Harbor County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Failor Lake 42 108 61 4 2.6 22-inch Rainbow Trout The anglers here were happy and there was one Derby-tagged fish caught.
Lake Aberdeen 36 70 91 4.5 1.9 24-inch Rainbow Trout Weather limited participation and length of time fished.
Lake Bowers 26 32 38 2.7 1.2 24-inch, 7lb. Rainbow Trout Kid’s derby brought anglers early, but rainy weather limited their stay.
Lake Inez 34 49 16 1.9 1.4 29-inch Rainbow Trout The catch rate was low but two Derby-tagged fish were caught.
Lake Silvia 5 1 7 1.6 0.2 18-inch Rainbow Trout The wather was rainy and there were very few anglers, with many fishing for only an hour.
Jefferson County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Sandy Shore 28 27 35 2.2 1 25-inch Rainbow Trout Fairly slow fishing and most fish were smaller than 12 inches., however, there were several large Rainbow Trout in the 20-25 inch range. All fish looked very healthy with good fins.
Silent Lake 2 10 5 5 12-inch Rainbow Trout All the fish looked very healthy.
Tarboo 13 13 31 3.4 1 22-inch Rainbow Trout It rained all morning and most of the afternoon, but fishing success was good.
King County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Cottage Lake 57 159 29 3.3 2.8 14-inch Rainbow Trout 1 Derby-tagged fish caught.
Geneva Lake 14 60 5 4.6 4.3 13-inch Rainbow Trout
Langlois Lake 43 176 247 9.8 4.1 16-inch Rainbow Trout 1 Derby-tagged fish caught. Anglers were happy in spite of the rain because almost all of them limited
Margaret Lake 28 81 52 4.8 2.9 12-inch Rainbow Trout
North Lake 13 34 34 5.2 2.6 16-inch Rainbow Trout The surface bite was good for trolling.
Pine Lake 63 182 241 6.7 2.9 17-inch Rainbow Trout 1 Derby-tagged fish caught.
Steel Lake 13 42 3.2 3.2 13-inch Rainbow Trout
Walker Lake 9 40 14 6 4.4 13-inch Rainbow Trout
Wilderness Lake 46 117 92 4.5 2.5 18-inch Rainbow Trout
Kitsap County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Horseshoe (Kit) 15 39 12 3.4 2.6 24-inch Rainbow Trout There was heavy rain from 7:00-10:00 and lighter for remainder of day. One Derby-tagged fish caught.
Mission 24 59 76 5.6 2.5 there was rain for most of the morning, but anglers very satisfied and the fishing was good.
Panther 19 64 89 8.1 3.4 12-inch Rainbow Trout Rain at 7 am, stopped about 10:30. Most anglers were very happy. There was pretty even flow of boats leaving and entering the lake all day. There seemed to be much better succes by boaters than shore/dock anglers. Boat anglers said the fish were easy to catch on hardware (Vibrax spinners, Triple Teasers, Rooster tails, and wedding ring rigs). Very few used bait of any kind. All boaters said they had a very successful day.
Wildcat 25 71 6 3.1 2.8 12-inch Rainbow Trout There was moderate to heavy rain most of day but anglers were very happy with the fishing. It was quite successful, with most anglers limiting fairly easily. Best day of creel sampling ever by the sampler on this lake.
Wye 21 30 40 3.3 1.4 20-inch Rainbow Trout The fishing was generally poor and rain for most of day reduced effort. Bait fishing was not as effecive as lure fishing. Most fish were around 12 inches.
Klickitat County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Horsethief Lake 115 12 3 0.1 0.1 Anglers were very happy about the larger fish. The smallest fish caught was 16 inches.
Spearfish Lake 131 13 1 0.1 0.1
Lewis County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Carlisle Lake 78 77 136 2.7 1
Ft. Borst Lake 73 93 43 1.9 1.3 2 Derby-tagged fish were caught.
Mineral Lake 76 217 151 4.8 2.9
Plummer Lake 15 14 52 4.4 0.9 Anglers reported that most fish seemed small (under 9 inches), which was the reason for the high number of fish released. Most anglers fish from boats.
Mason County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Aldrich Lake 18 68 3 3.9 3.8 12-inch Rainbow Trout There were lots of kids fishing with their parents. The camping area was full for the 3 days prior to Opening Day.
Benson 25 31 31 3 1.1 14-inch Rainbow Trout It rained most of morning and fishing was considered only fair, however most anglers were happy with the good quality of the catchables.
Clara 14 44 5 3.5 3.1 14-inch Rainbow Trout It was rainy most of the day and the fishing was a bit slow.
Haven Lake 14 54 63 4.5 3.9 14-inch Rainbow Trout There were many happy anglers with good success rates from both shore and boats, using both bait and lures. There were some complaints about the weather.
Howell Lake 7 13 1.9 1.9 17-inch Rainbow Trout It was rainy and the fishing was slow but there was one 17-inch caryover caught. There was also and eagle and an osprey joining the fishing effort on the lake.
Limerick 21 31 15 2 1.5 25-inch Rainbow Trout It rained most of the day but there were some larger fish present from the local HOA Derby. The anglers were generally happy with the quality of the fishing.
Phillips Lake 7 10 4 2 1.4 18-inch Rainbow Trout The stready rain and wind seemed to reduce the number of anglers
Robbins Lake 13 34 13 3.6 2.6 20-inch Rainbow Trout There was one 20-inch broodfish caught although the size of the catchables were smaller than last year
Tiger Lake 29 61 36 3.3 2.1 14-inch Rainbow Trout The fishing was good but not great. It rained most of morning.
Wooten Lake 25 94 14 4.3 3.8 15-inch Rainbow Trout The fishing was good and the anglers were happy for the most part, in spite of the rain for most of the morning.
Okanogan County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Alta Lake 20 10 1 0.55 0.5 14-inch Rainbow Trout Heavy rains until 11 a.m. put a damper on catch rates, but anglers were in good spirits. The number of anglers targeting Kokanee really increased from last year.
Conconully Lake 42 83 24 2.55 2 17-inch Kokanee Heavy rains slowed trout catch rates, but Kokanee sizes were great! One angler caught 4 Kokanee (all 16- or 17-inches).
Pearrygin Lake 35 105 20 3.57 3 13-inch Rainbow Trout Fishing was slow before 10 a.m, but it really picked up when the weather cleared.
Pacific County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Black Lake 46 55 11 1.4 1.2 21-inch Rainbow Trout there was light angling pressure and a slow bite.
Cases Pond 18 42 40 4.6 2.3 17-inch Rainbow Trout The weather kept the fishing day short for many anglers.
Pend Oreille County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Diamond Lake 28 43 29 2.6 1.5 23-inch Rainbow Trout Rainy and cool. Fishing was fair, but it seemed that the rain kept a lot of anglers away.
Pierce County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Bay Lake 21 73 10 4 3.5
Carney 16 15 7 1.4 0.9
Clear Lake 52 183 28 4.1 3.5 Fantastic fishing and the fish were large.
Crescent 19 60 38 5.2 3.2
Jackson Lake 4 1 0.3 0.3
Ohop 8
Rapjohn 27 106 45 5.6 3.9
Silver Lake 30 30 49 2.6 1
Tanwax 19 8 4 0.6 0.4
Skagit County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Erie Lake 29 64 5 2.4 2.2 16-inch Rainbow Trout The wet and cold weather conditions made for some slow fishing.
Heart Lake 57 83 110 3.4 1.5 23-inch Rainbow Trout There was one 20-minute limit but there was relatively low effort effort on this lake. The weather could have been a factor.
McMurray Lake 50 38 47 1.7 0.8 17-inch Rainbow Trout In spite of the low effort and catch rate, there were many fish over 12 inches.
Sixteen Lake 28 69 132 7.2 2.5 14-inch Rainbow Trout 1 Derby-tagged fish was caught.
Snohomish County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Bosworth Lake 21 70 27 4.6 3.3 17-inch Rainbow Trout
Echo Lake (Maltby) 12 37 30 5.6 3.1 12-inch Rainbow Trout
Howard Lake 37 82 53 3.6 2.2 17-inch Rainbow Trout
Ki Lake 35 110 178 8.2 3.1 15-inch Rainbow Trout The anglers seemed happy in spite of the rain.
Martha Lake (Alderwood Manor) 31 56 49 3.4 1.8 17-inch Rainbow Trout There were fewer kids than last year, likely due to the poor weather conditions.
Serene Lake 13 27 15 3.2 2.1 14-inch Rainbow Trout
Stickney Lake 18 51 64 6.4 2.8 14-inch Rainbow Trout
Storm Lake 41 111 238 8.5 2.7 14-inch Rainbow Trout
Wagner Lake 12 31 30 5.1 2.6 18-inch Rainbow Trout There were many holdovers caught.
Spokane County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Badger Lake 35 104 24 3.7 3 21-inch Rainbow Trout Participation was good. Fishing was slow due to rainy/windy weather but it improved around 10:00 am. One tagged Derby fish was checked.
Clear Lake 22 18 14 1.5 0.8 20-inch Rainbow Trout A good mix of Rainbows and Browns were caught. There was decent participation but rain and wind were factors. There were also quite a few people fishing from docks.
Fish Lake 32 26 26 1.6 0.8 16-inch Brown Trout Fishing was slow overall. Several 14-15 inch Brook Trout were caught. Low catch/harvest may be due to weather or the dense Yellow Perch population.
West Medical 34 39 3 1.2 1.1 19-inch Rainbow Trout There was a high proportion of larger rainbows in the creel (averaging about 15 inches). A 17-inch Brown Trout and 16-inch Tiger Trout were also checked. Few fry plants were observed. Rainy and windy, but decent number of anglers.
Williams Lake 31 111 58 5.5 3.6 24 & 25-inch Rainbow Trout Lots of happy anglers out enjoying opening day. The 24 and 25-inch Rainbow trout were caught by a mother and son. Busy boat launch despite bad weather.
Spokane/Lincoln County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Fishtrap Lake 50 81 50 2.6 1.6 22-inch Rainbow Trout Pretty good turnout and the anglers were happy the lake has returned to good trout fishing after last year’s rehabilitation.
Stevens County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Cedar Lake 29 59 41 3.5 2 20-inch Rainbow Trout It rained off and on all morning, but fishing was good. Lots of carryovers in the catch. One WDFW Derby tagged fish caught and kept.
Mudgett Lake 25 100 4 4 19-inch Rainbow Trout Good fishing. Most fish larger than 14 inches. Lots of happy anglers.
Rocky Lake 11 32 32 5.8 2.9 21-inch Rainbow Trout Rainy and cool, but pretty good fishing. Everyone was really happy with the size of fish they caught.
Starvation Lake 16 33 5 2.4 2.1 23-inch Rainbow Trout Nice fish, but rain kept a lot of anglers away. One WDFW Fishing Derby tagged fish was caught and harvested.
Waitts Lake 50 123 13 2.7 2.5 19-inch Rainbow Trout Good fishing, but angler turnout was low due to rainy, cool weather. Catch was a pretty even mix of Rainbows and Browns. One WDFW Fishing Derby tagged fish was caught.
Thurston County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Clear Lake 48 123 44 3.5 2.6 Anglers were happy and there were some large trout being caught.
Deep Lake 12 13 18 2.6 1.1
Hicks Lake 43 83 69 3.5 1.9
McIntosh Lake 41 19 19 0.9 0.5
Pattison Lake 26 8 11 0.7 0.3
Summit Lake 29 88 97 6.4 3
Ward Lake 8 5 9 1.8 0.6
Whatcom County
Lake Name # Anglers
Checked
Total #
Fish Kept
Total #
Fish
Released
Avg. # Fish
Caught per
Angler
Avg. # Fish
Kept per
Angler
Largest Fish
(Species/TL)
Highlights
Cain Lake 37 139 119 7 3.8 18-inch Rainbow Trout
Padden Lake 37 84 22 2.9 2.3 14-inch Rainbow Trout The average size of the trout caught today was just over 12 inches.
Silver Lake 194 449 622 5.5 2.3 18-inch Rainbow Trout
Toad Lake 49 172 152 6.6 3.5 16-inch Rainbow Trout

Last Chance To Save Lake Washington Sockeye Fisheries?

Too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

SOCKEYE SMOLTS FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS IN LAKE WASHINGTON (THESE WERE PHOTOGRAPHED IN IDAHO), INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AND NOW WALLEYE AND NORTHERN PIKE. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

That’s according to modeling put together by Dr. Neala Kendall, a WDFW research scientist, and shared for the first time publicly last night.

“Our analysis suggests that only small numbers of sockeye salmon will persist in Lake Washington under current conditions, much less provide future opportunities for tribal and recreational fisheries,” read one of her slides.

“Maintaining the run and restoring fisheries will be very challenging but not impossible,” it also said.

Kendall was presenting to 50 to 60 anglers and members of the Cedar River Council who’d gathered in a banquet room at Renton’s Maplewood Golf Course on an unusually warm evening for April.

The findings were grim news for the fishermen and state managers, as there are few salmon seasons as popular — or that provide the local economic jolt — as Lake Washington sockeye.

It’s been 12 years since the last one, held in 2006 after “insanely high” ocean survival for that year-class of fish brought home one out of every two smolts that left the lake.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Despite the promise and production of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, returns have only averaged 84,000 since then, with even the best of those years more than 200,000 fish shy of the mark to open the lake.

Aaron Bosworth, the state district fisheries biologist, was also on hand and said that smolt survival is now not only lower than it used to be but well below what it is to the north of the continent’s southernmost sockeye system, 2 to 4 percent versus 16 to 20 percent.

As for why that is, Bosworth said that University of Washington studies have ruled out forage and competition — there’s enough zooplankton in the lake to support the pelagic salmon as well as the huge biomass of longfin smelt.

A big and increasing problem is prespawn mortality on returning adults.

His data showed that between 1995 and 2013, from 45 to 85 percent of the sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the Cedar River. But since 2014 only 20 to 33 percent have. That may be function of warm waters in the ship canal making less-healthy fish more susceptible to disease. With the stock comprised of roughly 60 percent natural-origin fish, fewer spawners produce less eggs overall.

SOCKEYE MANAGERS SAY THAT THE PAST FOUR RETURNS OF SALMON THROUGH THE LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL (BACKGROUND) HAVE SEEN ABNORMALLY HIGH MORTALITY, WITH 67 TO 80 PERCENT OF THE FISH NOT SHOWING UP IN THE CEDAR RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, the “leading theory” now for why the runs aren’t better is predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth — Lake Washington was rated as the West’s eighth best for bass by Bassmaster as recently as 2016 — rock bass and perch.

The latter stocks might not eat as many smolts as the former, but they do exacerbate the problem, Bosworth said. With a warming climate, they’ll only do better too, it’s assumed.

Another invasive, walleye, are also now being found in the lake, and earlier this year a bass angler caught but unfortunately released a pike, the second known northern here in the past 15 months.

But sockeye snackers are also getting a helping hand from humanity.

Amy Windrope, who was WDFW’s director for the North Sound region before named acting deputy director for the agency, brought up a factor she’d heard a person in the audience mention: light pollution.

Essentially, between sunset and sunrise, all the bulbs we turn on to light the streets and highways, our sideyards, parking lots and more, create an overhead aura that has benefited the fish-eaters to the detriment of young sockeye as well as Chinook.

Kendall said that the effect has extended the time that salmon smolts are visible through the night, making them more vulnerable to predation and providing fewer hours for them to eat without risk.

Scott Stolnack, a King County watershed ecologist, said data showed that 20 years ago there was a definite period when cutthroat were not feeding, but for the past five years, their stomachs are now full at all hours.

“It’s always dusk for cutthroat,” he said.

Driving home afterwards as night fell on Seattle, that really hit home for me.

As I crossed the bridge between Bellevue and Mercer Island, I looked to the south and saw a particularly bright bank of big lights by the lake. And zipping along Interstates 405, 90 and 5 while illuminated for vehicle safety from above, it was like me and the other cars were smolts, any staters in the shadows cutts.

The question of the night really boiled down to: Do we want to do something about this in hopes of having sockeye fisheries again, and if so, What is that path?

Kendall’s modeling suggests the best way would be increasing survival of the young salmon, and that lifting it to rates of 4 to 8 percent yields a good response.

DR. NEALA KENDALL EXPLAINS LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE MODELING. A MODEL SUGGESTS THAT INCREASING SMOLT SURVIVAL WILL HELP REBUILD THE SALMON’S POPULATION OVER TIME. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

She did face questions from the audience about how confident she was in her work, which is based on current conditions continuing.

Tom Allyn, vice chair of the Cedar River Council, wanted to know how much increasing survival and other tweaks might cost.

When fellow panel member and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck called for a show of support for asking WDFW to crunch the numbers, most if not all fishermen raised their hands.

In other words, for our part we’re not ready to give up on the salmon.

“After having heard how difficult a challenge it will be to restore Lake Washington sockeye sport fisheries, the public attending the meeting last night overwhelmingly voted for us to continue to see if that can be done,” said Urabeck. “This means convincing the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other entities like the Muckleshoot Tribe, King County, City of Seattle, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, etc., to engage in a feasibility assessment of a sockeye recovery action plan. I hope that my colleagues on the Cedar River Council will work with me to this end.”

Even as the Muckleshoots plan another year of walleye studies in the lake and WDFW biologists will again sample for diet and abundance of spinyrays in the ship canal, when talk centered around whether there were any current plans to actively remove predators — there are not — one fisherman pointed out, “You have a room full of volunteers.”

WDFW Director Candidate Field Winnowed To 7

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission members are poring over the resumes of seven finalists for WDFW Director, and will interview them in mid-May before making a final choice in the coming months.

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the citizen oversight panel winnowed the septet out of a field of 19, mostly agreeing on the applicants known publicly only as A, B, I, L, N, P and R.

Commissioner Jay Kehne, who led the 23-minute morning teleconference, said he wasn’t surprised Chair Brad Smith, Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Commissioner Barbara Baker and himself concurred on the choices.

“It always seems there’s like a group at the top, a group of however many that seem to just have what it takes or everything matches — their skill set, their experience — and then there’s kind of a break and others are much lower in terms of abilities, skills and knowledge,” Kehne said.

Baker said she’d earlier worried the pool might be weaker, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

“I’m happy with these initial seven as potential interview candidates for the whole commission,” Baker said.

Both Carpenter and Kehne agreed with her.

For the most part, the other 12 candidates received all “nos” or a “maybe” or two as the commissioners went through the list alphabetically.

No information about the individuals was available, per policy, but it’s rumored that at least two WDFW staffers were interested in the position.

Smith’s votes were conveyed by Kehne as he dealt with a pet emergency.

The search for a new director was precipitated in late January, when after a rather disastrous year for the agency in some respects and not long after the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook management plan came out, former director Jim Unsworth announced his resignation.

The help wanted ad WDFW subsequently put out said that whomever the next director might be, they would lead the agency through a “transformative” period as budget pressures increase, requiring “clear vision, true leadership, and firm decisions” on their part.

It forecasted a tightening fiscal picture as hunters and anglers, who fund the department through license sales, “age out” of pursuing fish and wildlife, and says that unnamed choices the agency faces in the future “make this a watershed time” for WDFW and the next director.

The position just might be one of the most demanding in the country, what with its cross-currents of state and tribal comanagement, endangered species listings, growing human population and loss of fish and wildlife habitat in the smallest state in the West, all performed under the glaring lamp of many disparate stakeholders and in an increasingly polarized environment.

“The Director will be asked to develop effective new approaches to conserving and recovering fisheries resources, while resolving long-standing and increasing conflicts among competing stakeholders,” read just one part of a 10-point list of challenges in the job description.

Nine more grenades to juggle — enforcement, budget, organizational issues, state lawmakers, non-consumptive users, among others — await whomever is ultimately hired.

They’ll oversee a staff of 1,800, land base of 1,400 square miles and harness a $437 million two-year budget to hold and conserve fisheries and hunting opportunities and provide scientific rationale for what it’s doing.

During the search, Joe Stohr is holding down the fort as the acting director. He’s been a top deputy in various positions at WDFW since coming to the agency in 2007.

Applications for the job were accepted through March 30 and 19 people sent in resumes, though one subsequently withdrew theirs, according to Tami Lininger, the commission’s executive assistant.

She said she will soon be scheduling interviews for the commissioners with the seven finalists for May 11 and 12.

A final decision is expected “later this summer,” a WDFW press release in February stated.

Cry ‘Hiccup!’ And Let Slip The Dogs Of Spoor

Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs are set to begin searching for wolves in Washington’s South Cascades, where the number of public wolf reports is growing but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist.

The University of Washington researcher heads up Conservation Canines, which received $172,000 from state lawmakers earlier this year to survey a 2,000-square-mile patch of countryside between I-90 and the Columbia River.

Conservation Canines field technician Jennifer Hartman and dog Scooby collect a sample during carnivore research in Northeast Washington’s Colville National Forest. (JAYMI HEIMBUCH)

Since 1997, Wasser and his rescue dogs have been deployed around the world to help monitor other species, collecting poop the pups find for labs to analyze.

Sending handlers and their canine companions into the woods and meadows around Mts. Rainier, Adams and St. Helens should produce results faster than leaving it to wildlife biologists chasing down intriguing leads or hoping to cut tracks in winter’s snows.

“Our goal is to maximize coverage of the study area, sampling all areas around the same time, within and between seasons to maximize comparison,” explains Wasser.

“Currently, the plan is for a fall and spring sampling, the latter being important to sample for pregnant females. We are still gathering data to identify the best sampling areas. Cost permitting, we hope to have four teams.”

While WDFW’S latest wolf map shows no known packs south of I-90 in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery zone, there have been numerous public reports in recent years from the mountains here, as an agency map illustrates. (WDFW)

Wasser has 17 dogs, including Hiccup, who’s also trained to find moose doots.

Which ones are deployed to the recesses of the Gifford Pinchot and south ends of the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests hasn’t been determined yet, but he’s confident in his pack’s abilities.

“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Wasser says. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”

Under the state’s wolf delisting scenarios, there must be at least four breeding pairs here to meet the management plan’s current recovery goals.

If wolves are found, that might decrease the need to translocate packs here from elsewhere in Washington, notably the northeast corner where most territories are full and conflicts with livestock occur annually.

State wildlife managers haven’t been inclined to move wolves around, despite that tool in the plan, but earlier this year Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) successfully kick-started efforts to at least consider it.

Legislators also asked Wasser to gather data on the effect any wolves in the region might be having on predator-prey dynamics, and if they’re not, establish base-line data for when they arrive.

For Skagit-Sauk Steelheaders, It’s ‘Great To Be Back On The System’

Despite a good spring rain that doubled flows on one river, North Cascades anglers were still happy to be out chasing wild winter steelhead on another for the first time in nine Aprils.

Last weekend saw portions of the Skagit and Sauk reopen for the first of three windows this month, thanks to federal approval of a joint state-tribal fisheries plan this past Thursday.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL OF INTERPID ANGLERS SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING LAST WEEKEND’S REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPIDANGLERS.COM, VIA AL SENYOHL)

“It felt great to be back on the system,” said angler Ryley Fee.

On Saturday, he and two other anglers went four-for-four, catching and releasing steelhead to 14 pounds.

That was better than most. According to state creel data, 47 boat anglers caught 19 steelhead that day and 37 landed 15 on Sunday.

Fishing was tougher for bank anglers, with 79 only catching two over both days, samplers found.

“A few guys (in boats, using gear) caught the vast majority of fish,” said WDFW district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull. “Those same guys were the hard-core, fish-all-day types.”

He said there were slightly more gear anglers than fly guys on the water.

“Most of the fish were caught from the (mouth of the) Sauk up to Marblemount, because flows were fine there,” he said of the dam-regulated upper Skagit River.

The Sauk jumped from 4,500 cubic feet per second Friday afternoon to 9,500 cfs by the time Saturday morning rolled around.

Barkdull estimated that, overall, 53.4 steelhead were encountered, along with another 103 bull trout. He said that his crews “caught” 63.71 percent of boaters at the launches.

As Puget Sound steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, intensive monitoring of the fishery is a key part of WDFW being able to hold it.

“Given all the flow issues, I think it turned out about what I would have expected,” Barkdull said.

SAUK-SKAGIT REGULATIONS
* Catch and release only
* Open dates: April 18-22, 25-29
Skagit River: Open from the Dalles Bridge in Concrete to the Cascade River Road Bridge in Marblemount. Fishing from boat under power prohibited.
Sauk River: Open from the mouth to the Sauk Prairie Road Bridge in Darrington. Fishing from a boat equipped with an internal combustion motor is prohibited.
Single-point barbless hooks
Night closures in effect
Use of bait prohibited

There was little if any effort on the Sauk, but one person apparently decided to take their sled up it, for which they received a talking to, as fishing from a power boat on this river is prohibited.

That was about in in terms of problems, however.

“Two no life jacket tickets,” said Barkdull of enforcement issues. “That’s it. Clean.”

The reopening came a little more than five years after Occupy Skagit held its first hookless fish-in at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport. With the ESA listing, WDFW and the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattle and Upper Skagit tribes needed to write a management plan that could pass muster with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Besides a state fishery, the approved plan allows for tribal harvest of wild steelhead, though the comanagers say they won’t do so this spring.

Al Senyohl, president of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, had previously expressed concern about holding state and tribal seasons this spring because impacts on this year’s relatively low but still fishable forecasted return of 4,700 might affect recovery of the run and the ability to start up a broodstock program.

However, Senyohl subsequently said it did provide an opportunity for North Sound steelheaders who “have been stranded on the bank for years” to get back on the water.

He took advantage of the opener himself, fishing the Skagit at Rockport.

“Great turnout for the opener, big economic boost for the upper Skagit basin!” Senyohl reported.

Steelheaders have two more five-day windows to get on the Sauk and Skagit before the fishery closes after the month’s last Sunday.

With flows looking good, Barkdull indicated he expects good fishing with Wednesday’s restart.

Sportfishing Leaders React To 2018 Salmon Seasons

Northwest salmon anglers are digesting news from the just-concluded season-setting process, which brought — as it always does — a mix of tasty, so-so and stomach-turning results.

Puget Sound and Southern Oregon anglers should be happier than in recent years, Washington Coast and Buoy 10 fishermen will be somewhat disappointed, and Skokomish River egg drifters are gnashing their teeth — again.

SILVER SALMON ANGLERS FISH AMIDST A BLIZZARD OF SEAGULLS AT POSSESSION BAR DURING 2014’S EVERETT COHO DERBY. THE PAST TWO YEARS’ DERBIES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO RESTRICTED FISHERIES, BUT THIS YEAR’S LOOKS TO BE BACK ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Those are very broad brush strokes and we’ll all be able to drill deeper into the details of Chinook and coho seasons as the days and weeks go by and the LOAF, or list of agreed-to fisheries, is posted, singling out our waters for their 2018 opportunities or looking elsewhere for different ones.

In the meanwhile, there’s some reason for optimism in the sportfishing community, including from Gabe Miller, who says there’s “a lot to look forward to this season, particularly in the Puget Sound region.”

“We are looking at substantially more coho opportunity than we have the past few years, especially in North Puget Sound,” says Miller, who works at Sportco in Fife and is vice president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Another bright spot is South Sound Chinook, which should provide anglers with plenty of harvest opportunity this summer and through the fall.”

He said that in the wake of 2016’s and 2017’s fishery restrictions, which affected coho the hardest, 2018’s seasons “should look a little more like what anglers were used to seeing in the past.”

A WDFW CHART OUTLINES MARINE AREA FISHERY TIMING FOR CHINOOK AND COHO. (WDFW)

Mark Yuasa, the boating and fishing director for the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association, said that these days salmon anglers need to be mobile with their boats.

“I’m pretty happy about what’s in store for anglers in late-summer and early-fall for coho fishing in Puget Sound, which is something we haven’t had for several years. We’ll also have some decent summer Chinook fisheries in certain areas,” he said.

While Puget Sound salmon are rebounding from the Blob, Columbia River Chinook are still in a bit of a rough patch, with this year’s Washington and North Oregon Coast quota dropping by 40 percent.

That’s not the best of news for Astoria, Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay, but there will still be good numbers of salmon caught out here, thanks to a coho quota of 42,000, the same amount as last year and which held up into early September.

“We are cautiously optimistic with the seasons set for Marine Area 1 and the Columbia River,” says Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director. “The managers did a good job at getting close to management objectives, and we are hoping the seasons proceed as planned. The numerous stock constraints this year were challenging. With any luck, the upriver brights will show enough strength by mid-September to provide some extra fishing time to the river above Buoy 10.”

“Fingers crossed,” she added.

GUIDE BOB REES NETS A CHINOOK AT BUOY 10. THIS YEAR’S FISHERY WILL BE A DEPARTURE FROM RECENT ONES, WHAT WITH ITS ONE-SALMONID LIMIT FROM AUG. 1-24 DUE TO ONE OF THE SMALLER RETURNS OF THE PAST DECADE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Well south of the mouth of the big river, Chinook anglers will be able to get back on the ocean between Humbug Mountain and the California border, which was closed last year, and ODFW is touting a “strong forecast” of fall kings back to the Rogue as one of the coast’s “bright” spots.

Oregon Coast coho are down, but there’s still enough for a 35,000 hatchery silver quota, with limited September fishing for wild and clipped coho.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the biologists and run modelers and fishery managers are breathing a collective sigh of relief that, finally, it’s all over, and the whole pile of paperwork is now headed for the feds’ desk for them to, hopefully, make faster work than they have with the Skagit-Sauk steelhead sign-off.

At least one state source says that this year’s extraordinary “plenary session,” which brought Washington and tribal fisheries leaders together last week, was a “huge success” and played a key role in helping the comanagers reach an agreement on schedule.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SPEAKS DURING THE PLENARY SESSION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In 2016, talks between the state and tribes dragged on for a month and a half before a deal was struck.

“This year there was a feeling of unity among all parties involved in a process that has long been a bitter battle filled with arguments, cultural indifference and over who was going to catch that ‘last salmon’ dating back to the Boldt Decision,” said NMTA’s Yuasa. “It was a good feeling to get everyone for the most part on the same table to address issues for the upcoming fishing seasons and save salmon populations, which are an iconic piece of Northwest history. We all need to swallow a bitter pill from time to time, but in the end you’ll find some exciting fishing this year.”

He was on hand during that one-hour say-what-you-wish confab in which sport and tribal fishermen talked about the importance of salmon habitat, heritage and the problems of pinnipeds.

So too was Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line. He expressed mixed feelings about what he heard in that packed Lynnwood hotel room and what eventually came out of another in Portland.

THE OUTDOOR LINE HOST TOM NELSON (RIGHT) LISTENS AS NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAKS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m disappointed that the nontribal part of the allocation took the biggest part of the cut and the Makahs will keep fishing at the same level as last year,” he said on a last-minute Chinook hangup yesterday. “Even a token movement on their behalf would have given something to the feeling of the plenary session.”

Essentially, impact rates on low mid-Hood Canal Chinook stocks put Puget Sound fisheries in jeopardy, so state managers reduced the coastal king guideline and there were losses in Areas 8-1 and 9.

“That said, we’re going coho fishing in Admiralty Inlet in September,” Nelson said.

That’s the best place, by catch stat, to put out herring strips or cast from the beach for silvers in late summer. Last year it wasn’t even available to boaters, and only through Labor Day for shore fishers, due to very low forecasted Skagit and Stillaguamish coho returns.

And while Nelson called losing September Chinook fishing in the San Juan Islands “brutal,” he noted it would help address starving orca issues, as Fraser-bound kings are a key feedstock for the marine mammals.

The Makah Tribe’s Russ Svec was among those who spoke during the plenary session, saying, “Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice.”

But one person who wasn’t buying the good feels was longtime sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who was angry that there still is no resolution to the Skokomish River problem, which leaves recreational anglers unable to access state-hatchery-reared Chinook and coho in the southern Hood Canal stream.

“What is a shame is that the other Puget Sound tribes let this happen, making a mockery of the recent NOF state/tribal ‘Kumbaya’ plenary session,” Urabeck said.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILL THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He also laid blame at the feet of WDFW Fish Program Manager Ron Warren and other state officials for failing to get the fishery restarted, and expressed doubt that it’s all about a reservation boundary dispute for the Skokomish Tribe.

“It is more likely there are other self-interest reasons and the tribe is just using the land ownership claim to significantly increase their harvest of Chinook salmon, including ESA-listed natural origin fish,” Urabeck said.

He’d gone so far as to call for a new nontribal commercial fishery in Hood Canal, where fall Chinook can otherwise be difficult for recreational anglers to catch, to access the state share.

Urabeck claimed that some observers feel the river has been lost to sport fishing and said that many anglers don’t feel public money should fund WDFW’s George Adams hatchery.

FRANK URABECK, LEFT, CHECKS HIS NOTES DURING A RALLY HELD AT THE STATE OF WASHINGTON’S GEORGE ADAMS SALMON HATCHERY THE FIRST SUMMER THAT THE SKOKOMISH WAS NOT OPEN FOR SPORT FISHING DUE TO A CLAIM THAT THE ENTIRE WIDTH OF THE RIVER WAS PART OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Radio’s Nelson might have summed up the whole months-long salmon-season-setting process best for all parties.

“Every North of Falcon you’re sort of left with that kissing-your-sister feeling,” he quipped.

He reiterated his support for working with the tribes on a host of problems facing Western Washington salmon.

“Now let’s move forward from here with the tribes,” Nelson said. “Let’s reach out to the Stillys [Stillaguamish Tribe] and stand shoulder to shoulder with them” on a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner’s recent proposed conservation hatchery and marine predation issues.