Rain Could Help Sauk, Skagit Steelheading Pick Up

Rain in the forecast could improve steelheading on the Sauk and Skagit Rivers next week and beyond after a slow first two months of catch-and-release fishing.

Low, clear and frigid water for most of the winter-spring season have made for tough fishing, confirmed WDFW district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull.

DRIFT BOATERS GLIDE DOWN THE SAUK ON APRIL 1. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“When we got some water when the snowmelt happened (in mid-March) it got better, and then it’s dropped off again. We need rain badly — that will help the fishing,” he said.

I spent all day on the Sauk on Monday and all I had to show for it — besides uplifted spirits and a nice sunburn on my arms, though a lighter tackle box than I started out with — was a Zion Williamson-esque wading boot disaster.

It began to blow up a mile down a gravel bar and only got worse from there on the hike out.

THE SAUK NEAR ITS CONFLUENCE WITH THE SKAGIT RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

According to the creel checker who pulled up just as I was calling it a day, just two steelhead were caught yesterday, 6- and 8-pounders caught on plugs by one drift boat.

The sampler said that four had been hooked on Sunday.

DRIFT BOATERS COME THROUGH A RIFFLE ON THE SAUK YESTERDAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Guys pulling plugs probably are doing the best overall, but guys are catching fish on other things too,” said Barkdull.

Fishing is open under selective gear rules, and yesterday’s very scattered anglers were using a mix of jigs, beads, spoons, plugs and flies.

This is the second year in a row that late-season steelheading has resumed on the Sauk and Skagit, and it follows on a 12-day opener last April.

THE SAUK AND SKAGIT HAVE BEEN FLOWING PRETTY COLD. DESPITE RECENT WARM, SUNNY SKIES, EVIDENCE OF A FRIGID END TO WINTER COULD STILL BE SEEN IN THE STRAY PILES OF SNOW IN DITCHES AROUND DARRINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last year’s best day came after a solid rain lifted the river, and the Northwest River Forecast Center is calling for the Sauk to jump to around 9,000 cubic feet per second by next Monday.

Later next week and weekend could be good, but that also depends on more fish moving in or becoming more active as the spawn — the latest in Pugetropolis — nears.

“The Sauk has been a little better than the Skagit. The Skagit below the Baker has been a good spot, though,” Barkdull said.

BUT SPRING IS ARRIVING IN THE MOUNTAINS, IF WILLOW BUDS AND THE DRUMMING OF RUFFED GROUSE IS ANY INDICATION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Skagit is open from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete up to the Cascade River Road Bridge in Marblemount. The Sauk is open from the mouth up to the Sauk Prairie Road Bridge at Darrington.

In announcing the season, WDFW warned that it was possible the fishery could close early if anglers encountered a set number of fish in the agreed-to management plan, but Barkdull said that with the low catches so far it’s extremely unlikely the fishery will close before the end of the month.

THE AFOREMENTIONED WADING BOOT DISASTER. THE BLOGGER’S PAIR OF YAKTRAX ALSO BROKE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Biologists forecasted around 6,500 wild winter-runs back this year, not quite as good as returns from 2013-15 but definitely better than the 2,200 or so in 2009, which was the last year until 2018 the rivers were otherwise open this time of year.

As for the rest of this season, Barkdull has some advice for when to hit them again.

“Wait till we get some rain,” he said.

That’ll give me a little time to replace that blown-out wading boot and get back on my favorite spring river.

CLOUDS CAP WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN OVER SWEDE HEAVEN IN THE LATE AFTERNOON LIGHT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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