This Saturday, I’ll haul my spinning rod out of the shed, take the hook off the big spoon that’s on it, and make a cast into a Sauk River that these spring days only runs through my mind.
I’ll do it in solidarity with the Occupy Skagit movement.
On the 6th, they’ll be holding a wade-in at Howard Miller Steelhead Park, and some of the boys will be casting hookless lures into Puget Sound’s last best finest wild steelhead river, the Skagit, now closed below there at the end of the January.
While the Skagit from Rockport to Marblemount is open through mid-February, to remove as many hatchery steelhead as possible, the Sauk too closes at the end of January.
The end of freakin’ January.
The group would like to see the rivers reopened this time of year.
They believe that “a well managed, catch-and-release season on the Skagit/Sauk Rivers would not be inconsistent with the recovery of its wild winter steelhead.”
I can’t say that I’ve got the history on those rivers that many do, but I’ve certainly missed driving up the peaceful North Fork Stilly, crossing that low divide into the Sauk basin, cruising north out of Darrington with a fresh cup of coffee and poking around the river as the grouse drum, snowfields sparkle, trees bud, and cold waters, which make these steelhead the last in the area to spawn, slide by.
It’s always a trip made more special when one gets a go out of a fish, or two.
The system is among those in Pugetropolis that have seen fishing opportunities reduced sharply in the wake of 2007’s listing under the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The wild fishery here was managed first under an escapement of 10,000 and then 6,000 fish. As long as WDFW and tribes were forecasting a run within 80 percent of the latter, we could fish in March and April.
With the new statewide steelhead plan, the buffer was out, and then regulations were proposed and subsequently passed by the Fish & Wildlife Commission that precluded the opportunity all together.
Currently, there’s no NMFS-approved management plan for a directed fishery, thus no way to hold a season.
As I was told at the start of this winter steelhead season, hell, we could have a run of 40,000 wild fish and still not be able to practice catch and release on the rivers.
The problem isn’t that WDFW hasn’t been trying to get them open. They want to have a plan in place with that flexibility, I’m told, but two documents the agency and area tribes wrote towards that end were summarily rejected by NMFS.
One source wonders why the Feds are being so persnickety about steelhead management in the Puget Sound basin compared to plans they’ve OKed for fisheries in the Lower and Upper Columbia and Northern California.
Heck, a couple years ago we were able to have that fishery on similarly listed wild Chinook in the Skagit when enough were forecast to return.
It’s all left devotees of the “holy water” of the North Cascades unhappy, and late last year they began organizing.
It started with fly guys, but this is not just about opportunity for them but for gear guys too.
Of course, the movement has a Facebook page.
It’s also got Curt Kraemer, who happens to know a thing or two about steelhead management and how to navigate the ins and outs of the bureaucracy, being a retired WDFW fisheries biologist.
“It’s about being proactive,” he said on The Outdoor Line while outlining the group’s path forward last month.
Occupy Skagit’s motto is “catch and release is not a crime,” and the April 6 cast-in won’t be a protest or about breaking the rules, Kraemer says, more like “pseudo fishing.”
Sgt. Rich Phillips, who supervises fish and wildlife law enforcement in the region for WDFW, says he has been in contact with the movement’s leader and, though he doesn’t expect any fishy business, will be on hand with a couple other officers to ensure no rules are broken. It would not be to our advantage to flaunt the law.
Kraemer told The Outdoor Line that the group will then talk to the Fish & Wildlife Commission at its April 11-13 meetings to “lay out what we think can be done to begin recreating some of these opportunities and see if we can kickstart the process.”
(Southwest Washington hunters will be there April 12 to bring up hoofrot issues with local elk.)
“If we don’t try, we’ll never succeed,” said Kraemer on the show.
Perhaps a certain pair of commissioners can have back-channel conversations with their contacts at NMFS … perhaps that might help kick start new dialogue between Sandpoint and Olympia … perhaps the commission can reassign some funding to writing yet another plan …
Meanwhile, this Saturday, Kraemer will be at Howard Miller, probably not with a rod, but there to talk about the stocks and more.
He hopes that more than a half-dozen guys come out.
“I’ll be very disappointed if not a lot of people show up because that’s really a big message that people don’t care that we lost the opportunity. It’s time that we stand up and be counted or shut up,” he said on the radio.
The program is, meet and greet at 9 a.m. with wade-in scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In case you’ve never put in or taken out there (or stopped for a potty break on the way to or from the deer hunting grounds), Howard Miller is on the north side of the Highway 530 bridge over the Skagit at Rockport.