The creel checker was a little surprised when I volunteered the city that my zip code – which she’d asked for – belonged to.
Shoreline was a mighty far way to come fish Vancouver’s tiny Salmon Creek for hatchery winter steelhead, she noted.
A SALMON CREEK STEELHEADER POSES FOR A SELFIE ON THE VANCOUVER STREAM.
One hundred seventy miles, to be exact, but I had other business in the neighborhood last Saturday — namely, picking up my two sons at a halfway point between the Seattle suburb and Newport, where the boys had just spent a week with their Nana.
Dropping them off or retrieving them during school and summer breaks over the years has always given me a chance to try a few casts in the creek, or the Kalama or East Fork Lewis Rivers.
Can’t say I’ve been very lucky overall, but that jig-biting winter-run on the blog’s skyline did come from Salmon several years ago, during a better run.
Hooked it twice, the first time on a spoon, lost it, let it rest, came back 20 minutes later, hooked it again, got it in and then made a mad dash to the pickup point where my mother-in-law was waiting with one of the boys.
This season, however, steelhead so far have been few and far between in this part of the Evergreen State, as well as elsewhere.
WDFW’s weekly creel summary for Southwest Washington has been pretty woefully low on fish actually creeled, and last week was once again no exception.
As she enquired about what I’d been using, its hook size and how long I’d fished (about half an hour’s worth more of one more last casts than I should have — sorry, Diane!), the Salmon Creek checker told me she hadn’t actually checked any fish of late and had only heard rumor of two caught since New Year’s.
When the official stats were emailed out this morning by the agency’s Bryant Spellman, it reported 40 of my fellow bankies had had no catch either.
Pretty discouraging. Other weekly reports this winter haven’t been any better and, frankly, I didn’t even bother posting the last one or two from Spellman, they were so grim compared to years past.
Washington Columbia River mainstem and its tributaries sport sampling summaries for Dec. 29 (2014)-Jan.4 (2015)
Cowlitz River – 72 bank anglers kept with 3 steelhead and 3 coho kept. 49 boat anglers had 31 steelhead and 8 coho kept and 7 coho released.
Partially it’s poor ocean conditions.
Returns are much lower than recent years at this same time at state hatcheries throughout Western Washington, and last week that led to closures on my home waters, the Skykomish and Wallace, as well as the North Fork Stilly, to meet eggtake goals.
Partially it’s a question of access.
That’s the case on the Elochoman, which saw smolt releases doubled, but where the new owners of a prime spot aren’t allowing access across their property.
And mostly it’s just the long-term switch away from early Chambers Creek fish to late-timed local stocks.
The former used to fuel solid holiday steelheading, most notably on the Cowlitz — 1,980 were harvested in December 2012, a figure which had slumped to just 88 in December 2016.
Future flame runs to pick up River and Kiran this time of year will just see fewer and fewer steelhead around.
With the new Mitchell Act biop, WDFW said the last release of Chambers smolts would be in spring 2017, into the Kalama, Coweeman, Washougal Rivers and Rock and Salmon Creeks, for return this winter.
Starting last year, Salmon and Kalama releases were being switched to a late-returning stock, while the other three were to be bridged with Eagle Creek, Oregon, fish.
WDFW said it hoped to develop an early-returning strain of winter steelhead out of late-timed broodstock, but warned that “will likely take a decade or more.”
By then I won’t have to taxi the boys anymore — they’ll be able to drive themselves back and forth to their Nana’s.
The younger one is more likely to detour to one of the streams along the way, and hopefully there will be some fish around for some midwinter break angling.
Ahhh, the continuing changing world of winter steelheading in the Northwest …
For what it’s worth, here is Spellman’s latest Southwest Washington fishing report, covering Jan. 1-6
Columbia River Tributaries
Grays River – 3 bank anglers had no catch.
Elochoman River – 31 bank anglers kept 3 steelhead and released 1 coho jack. 2 boats/7 rods kept 2 steelhead.
Abernathy Creek – 3 bank anglers had no catch.
Germany Creek – 4 bank anglers kept 1 steelhead and released 1 steelhead.
Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 3 boats/5 rods kept 1 steelhead.
Above the I-5 Br: 8 bank rods released 1 coho jack. 2 boats/4 rods had no catch
Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 35 coho adults, 57 coho jacks, one cutthroat trout, one summer-run steelhead adult and four winter-run steelhead adults during four days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.
During the past week, Tacoma Power released one coho jack into the Cispus River near Randle and they released two coho adults and 15 coho jacks into Lake Scanewa in Randle.
Tacoma Power released 27 coho adults, 36 coho jacks, three winter-run steelhead adults and one cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 8,680 cubic feet per second on Monday, Jan. 7. Water visibility is 11 feet and the water temperature is 44.8 degrees F. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.
East Fork Lewis River – 24 bank anglers released 2 steelhead. 3 boats/8 rods released 1 steelhead.
Salmon Creek – 41 bank anglers had no catch.
- Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.