Tag Archives: skagit river

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.


“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.

* 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.

Skagit, Sauk Opening For Steelhead

Spring steelheading will open on parts of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers for the first time since 2009.


Federal overseers this morning signed off on a permit allowing the state to hold the catch-and-release fishery on the big North Cascades waters over this and the coming four seasons.

“This is the most important fishery in the state to me,” said angler Ryley Fee, who was getting an early head start on the weekend. “I’m leaving tonight.”

Per WDFW HQ, here are this year’s regs:

* Open dates: April 14-15, 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

In a press release, regional fisheries manager Edward Eleazer advised anglers to keep an eye on his agency’s emergency rule-change notice page, as an early closure and additional restrictions might still be applied to the fishery.

“Anglers have an incredible opportunity to fish for wild steelhead on one of the renowned rivers of the West Coast,” Eleazer said. “To ensure there will be steelhead fishing in the basin for years to come, we’re asking anglers to comply with all fishery rules and to help keep the river free of litter.”

The opening is the culmination of years of lobbying by Occupy Skagit, which ironically had just recently given up hope the rivers would reopen in time this month.

According to Eleazar, cooperation from the Skagit tribes was also “essential” in getting the permit. WDFW also reports that tribal fishermen will not hold their “scheduled steelhead fisheries this year in order to limit fishery impacts.”

I don’t think I can express how huge and important of a deal that is — hat tip to the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagits, I appreciate it.

Ultimate approval hinged on National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator Barry Thom giving the final OK to the proposed fisheries.

“The key is that we believe the comanagers found the right balance between allowing some fishing opportunities and protecting Skagit River steelhead for the future,” said federal spokesman Michael Milstein. “The improved resilience of Skagit steelhead is a positive reflection on the many partnerships and hard work that has gone into habitat restoration and other recovery actions.”

The popular spring recreational season was halted in 2010 by a series of low forecasted returns and then written out of the regulations pamphlet because WDFW didn’t have a permit to open it due to the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead.

But the past three years have averaged over 8,000 spawners, though the 2018 run is expected to be down yet still within fishable numbers.

“Stay of my rock,” joked Fee, as the fishery likely will draw a good crowd due to pent-up demand.

Under the approved plan, state managers will monitor the rivers, taking creel data. Those staffers had been ready since late winter, but the approval process has dragged on and on.

“We all would have liked to issue a decision sooner but the great value of the Skagit population required us to do a careful and complete job, and that took time,” said Milstein. “We appreciate everyone’s patience with us, and we ask for continued support as we continue toward recovery of these fish that have so much meaning to so many people across the region.”

Not every Westside angler agreed with reopening the rivers, but it provides an opportunity on a strong stock in a region where steelhead fisheries are rarer and rarer as hatchery releases tapered off and habitat issues come home to roost.

“Anglers are keenly aware of the condition of our wild steelhead rivers and can be powerful advocates for their conservation,” Trout Unlimited’s Rob Masonis said in a press release. “If we want healthy, productive rivers with resilient wild steelhead, we need to keep anglers on the water when wild steelhead populations can handle it.”

Even if I don’t have a chance to hit the Sauk and Skagit before the end of this month, I’m looking forward more than ever to 2019’s full late winter-spring season!

Details On Washington’s 2018 Salmon Fisheries


Puget Sound
Below is key information for Puget Sound salmon fisheries this year. More details will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.


Marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton): Marine Area 9 will be open July through September with a chinook quota of 5,563 fish, which is similar to last year’s quota. Marine Area 10 is scheduled to be open June through mid-November for coho fishing with hatchery chinook retention allowed mid-July through August. The chinook quota for Marine Area 10 is 4,743 fish, up significantly from 2017.

Baker Lake sockeye: The forecast for sockeye returning to Baker Lake is strong enough to allow for a lake fishery, open July 7 through early September, and a fishery on the Skagit River.

North Sound freshwater: Anglers will have the opportunity to retain wild coho in the Nooksack River and coho in the Skagit and Cascade rivers, where gamefish fisheries have been restored this year.

Skokomish River: A portion of the Skokomish River remains closed to non-tribal fishing this year, due to an ongoing dispute over whether the river is part of the Skokomish Reservation. WDFW will continue to work with the Skokomish Tribe to resolve the matter. The closed area includes the section of river from the Tacoma Public Utilities power lines (near the mouth of the river) upstream to the Bonneville Power Administration power lines (upstream and west of Highway 101).

Marine areas 8-1 and 8-2: Both areas will be open to fishing for coho in August and September. The areas will re-open to fishing for hatchery chinook in December.

Marine Area 7: Anglers can fish for chinook and coho in Marine Area 7 beginning July 1. The area closes after Labor Day to chinook retention but remains open for coho fishing through September. The area re-opens for salmon fishing in January.

Marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (East Juan de Fuca Strait): Both areas open in early July (July 1 in Marine Area 5, July 3 in Marine Area 6) for hatchery chinook and hatchery coho. Anglers can retain hatchery chinook through mid-August and hatchery coho through September. Marine Area 6 reopens Feb. 1 while Marine Area 5 reopens Feb. 16 for hatchery salmon.


South Sound freshwater: Anglers will have the opportunity to fish for coho in Minter Creek beginning Oct. 16. Strong hatchery chinook returns are expected to several south Sound rivers this year.

Southern Resident Killer Whales: The governor and NOAA Fisheries have instructed WDFW to take steps to help recover killer whales. In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are also limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in these areas critical to the declining whales.

Washington’s Ocean Waters (Marine areas 1-4)
More details on these fisheries will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Catch quotas

The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a recreational chinook catch quota of 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000. The PFMC, which establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast, also adopted a quota of 42,000 coho for this year’s recreational ocean fishery – the same as last year’s coho quota.

Fishing seasons

Recreational ocean salmon fisheries for chinook and hatchery coho will be open daily beginning June 23 in marine areas 1 (Ilwaco), 3 (La Push), and 4 (Neah Bay). Marine Area 2 (Westport) will be open Sundays through Thursdays beginning July 1.  All areas will close Sept. 3 or when the catch quota is met.

In marine areas 1, 2, and 4, anglers can retain two salmon, only one of which can be a chinook. Anglers fishing in Marine Area 3 will have a two-salmon daily limit. In all marine areas, anglers must release wild coho.

Coastal fisheries including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay
Below is key information for coastal salmon fisheries this year. More details will be available in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Grays Harbor Area

The Area 2-2 Humptulips North Bay chinook fishery begins in August and runs through Sept.15.

The Area 2-2 East Bay coho fishery begins two weeks later than 2017 and is scheduled Oct. 1-Nov. 30.

The Chehalis River spring chinook fishery is scheduled May 1-June 30 while the jack fishery in the lower river runs Aug. 1-Sept. 15.

The Humptulips River is scheduled to be open for salmon fishing Sept. 1-Nov. 30, about two months fewer than last year. Anglers can keep one wild chinook during the month of September but must release wild chinook the remainder of the fishery.

Willapa Bay Area

The season in Willapa Bay (Area 2-1) is similar to last year and is scheduled Aug. 1-Jan. 31. Anglers can keep three adult salmon, one of which may be a coho.
The freshwater rivers in the Willapa Bay area have similar seasons to 2017. Anglers may retain one wild coho.

Columbia River
Below is key information on the major Columbia River salmon fisheries this year. More details will be in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in June.

Summer fishery

The summer season on the mainstem Columbia River from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open from June 22 through July 4 for hatchery (adipose fin-clipped) summer chinook. Bonneville Dam to Hwy. 395 near Pasco is open from June 16 through July 31. The daily limit will be two adult hatchery salmonids. All sockeye must be released.

Fall fisheries

During fall fisheries, anglers fishing from the same boat may continue fishing for salmon until all anglers have reached their daily limits in the following areas of the mainstem Columbia River:

  • Buoy 10 salmon fishery will be open from Aug. 1 through Aug. 24 for chinook retention.  The daily limit is one salmonid (chinook, hatchery coho or hatchery steelhead). From Aug. 25 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to the Lewis River will be open from Aug. 1 through Sept. 2 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid. From Sept. 3 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Lewis River upstream to Bonneville Dam will be open Aug. 1 through Sept. 14 for chinook retention. The daily limit is one adult salmonid.  During Sept. 15 through Dec. 31, anglers will have a daily limit of two adult salmonids, but chinook must be released and no more than one hatchery steelhead may be kept.
  • Bonneville Dam upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco will be open Aug. 1 through Dec. 31 with a daily limit of two adult salmonids with no more than one chinook and no more than one hatchery steelhead.

Sockeye, chum and jacks

Columbia River anglers are reminded that retention of sockeye and chum salmon is prohibited. Catch limits for jack salmon – salmon that return at a younger age – follow typical permanent regulations and will be listed in the 2018-19 pamphlet.


With low returns of chinook and coho salmon expected back to numerous rivers in Washington, state and tribal co-managers Tuesday agreed on a fishing season that meets conservation goals for wild fish while providing fishing opportunities on healthy salmon runs.

The 2018-19 salmon fisheries, developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty tribal co-managers, were finalized during the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting in Portland, Ore.

Information on recreational salmon fisheries in Washington’s ocean waters and the Columbia River is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. The webpage also includes information on some notable Puget Sound sport fisheries, as well as an overview of chinook and coho fishing opportunities in the Sound’s marine areas.

A variety of unfavorable environmental conditions, including severe flooding in rivers and warm ocean water, have reduced the number of salmon returning to Washington’s rivers in recent years, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

In addition, the loss of quality rearing and spawning habitat continues to take a toll on salmon populations throughout the region, where some stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, he said.

“It’s critical that we ensure fisheries are consistent with ongoing efforts to protect and rebuild wild salmon stocks,” Warren said. “Unfortunately, the loss of salmon habitat continues to outpace these recovery efforts. We need to reverse this trend. If we don’t, salmon runs will continue to decline and it will be increasingly difficult to develop meaningful fisheries.”


A bright spot in this year’s salmon season planning process was a renewed commitment by Indian and non-Indian fishermen to work together for the future of salmon and salmon fishing, said Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“No fisherman wants to catch the last salmon. We know that the ongoing loss of habitat, a population explosion of hungry seals and sea lions and the needs of endangered southern resident killer whales are the real challenges facing us today. We must work together if we are going to restore salmon to sustainable levels,” she said.

Low returns of some salmon stocks prompted state and tribal fishery managers to limit opportunities in many areas to protect those fish.

For example, recreational anglers will have less opportunity to fish for chinook salmon in both the Columbia River and Washington’s ocean waters compared to recent years. Tribal fisheries also will be restricted in certain areas to protect weak stocks.

In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in areas critical to the declining whales.

Details on all recreational salmon fisheries will be provided in the 2018-19 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in late June.

For information on tribal fisheries, contact the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (http://nwifc.org/).

‘Paperwork, A**-covering, Scary Numbers And Veiled Lawsuit Threats’ — Skagit Steelheading Still Up In Air

Frustrations are boiling over on the Skagit-Sauk steelheading front.

A group of anglers who’ve been a driving force in trying to reopen the rivers since 2013 all but threw in the towel on a spring catch-and-release season this year.


“Whatever happens next will not be good. One of our most litigious dot-orgs has got the Feds wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats,” Occupy Skagit posted on its Facebook page overnight. “If a season were to open now, it will be too short and concentrated with too many encounters. Best to not open it.”

But another angler who’s been closely tracking the issue is holding out hope.

“NOAA is dragging their feet,” replied Ryley Fee, “and whoever the organizations are who are impeding on our right to fish by threatening lawsuits ought to be publicized so we can all write them a letter and let them know how we feel about taking this resource away from us this year. I’m pissed off and angry, and need an outlet if it doesn’t open.”

The North Cascades rivers haven’t been open for a winter-spring C&R fishery since 2009 due to a series of low forecasted returns, then was written out of the regulations, but subsequently saw strong escapement though this year’s run is predicted to be a bit low but in the fishable range.

As for which dot-orgs might be involved in the stalling tactics, if one were to draw up a list of the usual suspects, it would likely include the Wild Fish Conservancy, which stumbled very badly recently when it made exaggerated claims about Atlantic salmon but ultimately was on the prevailing side in the Puget Sound netpen issue; the Native Fish Society; and The Conservation Angler.

The three either wrote or signed onto a letter calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service to withdraw its December pending approval of WDFW and three Skagit Valley tribes’ fishing plan for the system.

More pragmatic steelhead groups have offered qualified support for a season.

(As for Occupy Skagit’s concerns about “too many encounters” in a condensed fishery, that’s the reason the rivers will be monitored by state creel samplers, to gauge relative effort and success and modify any season if need be.)

The final 30-day comment period on the state and tribes’ plan wrapped up back in January, and ever since anglers on all sides have been waiting with bated breath for word from NOAA-F’s regional administrator Barry Thom one way or another on whether the rivers would open.

Certainly the feds have had more on their plate than just approving or sending back Skagit-Sauk steelhead plans this winter — there’s also been their initial review of the 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan, plus involvement in North of Falcon salmon season setting and southern resident killer whale issues.

But the delays are rapidly narrowing the window on a fishery in the next month, and at some point we’re just going to run out of time, which is probably the end game for some parties, the unstated acceptance of others, and the increasingly grim reality for those who just want to get back on the water.

Still Waiting On Federal Go-ahead For Spring Skagit-Sauk Steelhead

Spring has arrived and although there are some positive recent signs for those eagerly anticipating a Skagit-Sauk steelhead fishery, the waiting continues.

“No decision yet,” said federal spokesman Michael Milstein this morning.

With the state’s monitoring program in place and ready to go, Milstein’s boss, National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator Barry Thom, has the final call — and is being hounded by all sides to decide in their favor.


“We realize the intense interest based on the many diverse comments we received and we are working hard to complete it as soon as we can. However, we are not there yet,” Milstein added.

As first mentioned yesterday afternoon by angler advocate Ryley Fee, a five-day-a-week fishery could start as early as late March and run through April, word that set off waves of excitement online — at least among some.

Reopening the North Cascades rivers for a catch-and-release season is a long-held dream of Occupy Skagit and others.

We’re eager to chase these famed wild winter-runs, which have been otherwise off limits since 2009 due to a series of low runs and then changing regulations to protect the strong but still ESA-listed stock. Anglers have had to travel to the Olympic Peninsula instead to get their kicks, adding pressure to rivers there.

But it’s also not universally supported by fishermen, and for a variety of reasons.

No less than famed steelheader and former Skagit guide Bill Herzog said he’ll take a pass on hitting the water, at least the opener, which if authorized could be crowded.

Some think we should hold off, that opening the rivers in the short term threatens what the fishery could be over the long term.

At 5,200 and change, this year’s run forecast is well below recent years’ average and it remains to be seen how the blob will have affected it, though it is likely the steelhead that do return will still be able to flood the available habitat with their progeny.

While it sounds like there’s little actual interest on the part of treaty fishermen, there are also objections to the tribal gillnetting that would be reallowed under the plan.

And for others, it’s about ensuring enough fish are available for a possible broodstock program, as allowed under the 2014 settlement between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Speaking of the latter outfit, their love of lawsuits weighs heavily on NMFS’s collective mind.

“Given the record, we have to anticipate litigation, so we have to be sure the decision is solid and well-supported,” says Milstein. “Otherwise we risk being sent right back here again.”

The feds are reviewing comments received in early winter on their tentative approval of WDFW and three Skagit Basin tribes’ plans for fisheries.

The comment period ended in January and ever since NMFS has been crossing its t’s and dotting its i’s “so we don’t leave any loose ties,” Milstein says.

Albeit at an aggravatingly slow pace for those who want to get on the water as spring comes to the North Cascades.

Run The River, From Your Desk

I floated Marblemount to Rockport on the upper Skagit River on the final day it was open in January, not a single fish.

Pretty decent water conditions too. Nice midspring flows, wasn’t raining.

I probably would have heard the grouse drumming back in the budding cottonwoods if I hadn’t had my head underwater most of the way looking for steelhead and bull trout in their hideouts.

All from the comfort of my office here on the banks of the Duwamish River in Tukwila.


Say whaaaaat?!?!?

That stretch of the famed Washington salmon and steelhead river is one of a dozen Northwest waters that have now received the street view treatment from an outfit called FishViews.

They’re based in Texas but three of the founders have links to the Seattle area.

Their motto is “Deliver a data-driven experience — that tells the stories of our rivers, coasts and shores — for science, conservation and recreation.”

Basically, they strap a 360-degree camera in the middle of a raft, jab another one underneath the water and push off. Gauges record water temperatures, dissolved oxygen levels, pH and other things.

Afterwards they do a bunch of stitching and techy stuff with all the images and data, then post the above- and below-water “tour” on their website.

At right on the tour screen is a Google map that highlights the trip in blue; a red arrow shows you where you are on that stretch.

You can play the float as a video, but if you want to see what lurketh below, you’ll need to click on the tiny little screen at bottom left, then hit the forward arrow on the main image to advance from frame to frame.

If there’s a drawback, it’s that you only see one line down the river, directly below the raft, which may or may not always be the fishy spot.


If you’ve got a virtual reality headset, there’s a mode for that, and perhaps it has a more seamless way to see the bottom.

FishViews will probably prove to be a pretty powerful tool for biologists and folks of that nature, but if you’re an angler like me, giddyup, this is pretty damned cool!!!

Along with the upper Skagit, so far FishViews has done portions of the North Fork Stillaguamish, South Fork Stillaguamish, Main Stilly, Elwha, South Fork Hoh, Snoqualmie, Duwamish and lower Willamette Rivers, as well as Lakes Washington, Green and Union, plus the nearshore waters of Shilshole Bay and the Ballard Locks and Discovery Park.

Hours and hours and hours of entertainment right there, fellow fish fiends!

If OKed, Skagit-Sauk Steelhead Fishery May Not Open Till Spring

Between the hopes, the vow, the disappointment, the so-so run forecast, the budget and the feds, will anybody be happy with a wild steelhead fishery on the Skagit-Sauk if we get one this year?

However long it might last.

Whatever shape it might take.

Whenever it might get approved.



In early December, the National Marine Fisheries Service put WDFW and local tribes’ proposed fisheries on the North Cascades river system out for final comment.

Two days later, during open public input at WDFW’s December 9 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia, Leland Miyawaki of Occupy Skagit — which has long been a driving force behind reinstating the catch-and-release season — spoke once again in support of it.


As he finished his testimony, Commissioner Jay Holzmiller from Anatone, in the opposite corner of the state from the Skagit, asked WDFW Director Jim Unsworth if he could get Miyawaki some answers.

Unsworth went one better.

“If we get the approval, it’s going to happen,” he said right then.


The “if” really isn’t a question, but Unsworth’s vow confidently glossed over a crucial unresolved issue: finding the funding to monitor and enforce the rules during a federally permitted fishery over what is an ESA-listed stock, albeit the strongest one in Puget Sound.

When WDFW rolled out its Wild Futures fee increase proposal last year, the cost to hold a Feb. 1 to April 30 season on the Skagit between Concrete and Rockport and the Sauk from its mouth to Darrington was modeled at $110,000.

Wild Futures went nowhere in the state Legislature.

The $110,000 evaporated.

That meant the money has to come from elsewhere in WDFW’s coffers.

Sure, their wolf people tamer just got a new $425,000 contract extension, but the reality is this money could never come from that pot. Instead, local staffers would need to be retasked from their important stream surveys, work at hatcheries and crunching data to do creel sampling.

Anglers like you and I might accept that as a good tradeoff, though ultimately it could cost us down the road in other ways.

Anyway, with Unsworth all but guaranteeing we’ll fish, when WDFW held the first of two recent public meetings with steelheaders to help shape a fishery, managers said they had located enough funding — roughly $30,000 — for a two-week season.

Er, two weeks?

Having not been able to fish the Sauk and Skagit in prime time — February, March and April — since 2009, it would be fair to say that 14 days is not exactly what many anglers such as myself had in mind.

The federal plan allows fishing from as early as Feb. 1 to as late as April 15 or 30. (It’s unclear which is meant — both are listed as end dates in different areas of the document.)


That’s like … a freshwater halibut season, man!

A mad rush to the river, overcrowded boat ramps, 20 drifters or sleds side-drifting every run and lumberyard, fly guys and spoon chuckers and bobber lobbers lining the banks, Howard Miller packed to the gills.

It didn’t go over so well with some.

Subsequent to that first meeting was a second, and afterwards Occupy Skagit reported on Facebook “there was talk from the presenters at Sedro Woolley that the entire season may well be funded.”

Setting aside what “the entire season” might mean for just a moment, it wasn’t clear where those additional dollars were coming from, though it’s possible Unsworth — who is an eager river angler himself — took some words from Commissioner Kim Thorburn to heart.

“Director, you can do double duty, doing the monitoring while you’re fishing,” the Spokane birder said at the Dec. 9 meeting.


Regardless of how much spare change Unsworth et al have found underneath the agency’s assorted cushions, how long we’re able to fish the Sauk and Skagit in 2018 boils down to when Barry Thom literally signs off on it.

Thom would be NMFS’s West Coast administrator in Portland. His minions put the fishery proposal out for a 30-day comment period starting Dec. 7 and ending Jan. 8.

During that time, NMFS received somewhere around 120 missives, according to spokesman Michael Milstein.

So now of course those have to be gone through for their merits.

I imagine many are legit — clearing up that confusing double end date deal, say — while others may be more about delaying or even scuttling a 2018 season altogether.

I want to be clear that this doesn’t work for me What. So. Ever, but an argument can be made to just take a deep breath and get everything in order for a full February-April fishery in 2019.

Spread out the pressure, maybe there will be more fish than the 4,000 to 6,000 expected this year, down from recent years’ average spawner escapement of 8,800.

But with 2017’s North Sound salmon fisheries (LOL) and all this with the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan and its potential impacts if king forecasts are low, getting area anglers something — anything — is pretty damned important.

So it’s good to hear that federal overseers are busting their butts to potentially get us on the river.

“We have put extra people on this and expect a decision this spring, but we don’t have a date. It won’t be January, but we’re moving quickly so Barry can make a decision as soon as possible,” NMFS’s Milstein says.

“This spring” technically means anywhere between March 20 and June 21, though an approval in the latter half of the period is utterly useless in terms of a fishery this year.

Trying to buy us some more time, I pointed out to Milstein that, according to University of Washington weather blogger Cliff Mass, the Westside’s meteorological spring actually starts “the third week in February.”

He didn’t respond.

Maybe he’s helping review all those comments.

Possible Skagit Basin Winter-spring Steelhead Fishery Subject Of 2 Meetings


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled meetings to discuss with the public a proposed recreational steelhead fishery in the Skagit Basin, where rivers have been closed to steelhead fishing for several years.


The public meetings are scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. and include the following dates and locations:

Mill Creek: Jan. 12, WDFW Regional Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek

Sedro-Woolley: Jan. 16, Sedro-Woolley Community Center, 702 Pacific St., Sedro-Woolley

At the meetings, state fish managers will discuss a proposal to allow fisheries for wild steelhead in the Skagit, Sauk and Suiattle rivers. These rivers have been closed to steelhead fishing since 2010 due to low numbers of returning fish.

WDFW is proposing catch-and-release recreational fishing for wild steelhead.

“In recent years, we’ve seen more steelhead returning to the Skagit Basin than before we closed the rivers to fishing,” said Edward Eleazer, WDFW regional fish program manager. “Given the low number of steelhead mortalities associated with this sport fishery, we don’t expect it will harm efforts to recover steelhead populations.”

The Skagit Basin steelhead proposal, developed by state and tribal co-managers, is pending approval from NOAA Fisheries.

The federal agency is seeking comments through Jan. 8 on the proposal, which can be found on NOAA’s website at

If the proposal is approved, the state could allow a sport fishery within the next few months. During public meetings, WDFW will gather feedback on timing for the proposed fishery as well as discuss gear regulations.

Skagit-Sauk Steelhead Fishery Proposal Going Out For Public Comment

Steelheaders are a step closer to once again tossing spoons, jigs and more into a pair of famed North Sound rivers during prime time for their brawny wild winter-runs, but there’s still thick brambles and slick cobbles to wade through first.

Tomorrow, federal overseers will put a proposed Skagit-Sauk winter-spring fishery out for a 30-day public comment period.


Yet even if OKed for this coming season, the rub for sport anglers will be whether state funding is found to monitor fishing over Puget Sound’s strongest, yet still ESA-listed stock.

The rivers are otherwise scheduled to again close at the end of January.


Recent years have certainly seen enough winter steelhead in the system that alone accounts for 38 percent of the inland sea’s overall production.

Springs 2013, ’14 and ’15 saw an average of 8,800 hit the gravel on the upper Skagit and Sauk Rivers and their tribs.

That’s a 350 percent increase over 2009’s woeful return and well above the average for the 25 years between 1980 and 2004. (The 2018 forecast isn’t out yet.)


And support has been building since Occupy Skagit held its first hookless fish-in at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in April 2013.

That was the year after the last time the rivers were scheduled to be open as the cottonwoods budded, grouse drummed and skunk cabbages bloomed, but four springs after it actually was due to emergency rule changes.

Opening the water would put anglers back on a once-proud system where the only viable opportunity of late has been plunking for sockeye due to critically low pink and coho salmon runs and the end of hatchery steelhead releases.


But just as WDFW is required by its NMFS permit to do on fisheries it holds on the Methow and a host of Columbia Basin waters over federally protected runs, it must track angler effort and catches on the Skagit and Sauk.

The agency’s Wild Futures fee-increase bid this year would have paid for that.

Some steelheaders strongly urged others to support it.

But it got snagged by fellow sportsmen and Senate-side state lawmakers during the legislative session.


So now, with other projects competing for the same scarce dollars, WDFW managers are struggling to rationalize spending, let alone come up with the estimated $110,000 needed to perform creel sampling from Concrete to Rockport on the Skagit, and from Rockport to Darrington on the Sauk.

Some are optimistic; some are pessimistic.


As it stands, under the plan now out for review and submitted by WDFW and the Sauk-Suiattle, Swinomish and Upper Skagit Tribes, as well as the Skagit River System Cooperative, sport fishing could open as early as February and run through April 30, depending on run forecasts.

Late winter and early to midspring are the best times to get after wild steelhead with pink worms, double-stacked spoons, flashy plugs and flies.

Retention of them is even possible, but would require the Fish and Wildlife Commission to amend the regulations.


Tribal harvest could occur from Dec. 1 to April 15.

A range of 40 to 457 wild steelhead were taken annually during test and other netting this millennium, according to the plan.

Proposed overall sport and tribal impacts range from 4 percent at run sizes of less than 4,000 to 25 percent at returns greater than 8,000.

“While we recognize that substantial improvements to enhance the productivity and protection of habitat are necessary to ensure the long-term viability of Skagit steelhead populations, the assessments presented in this plan indicate that a low level of fishery mortality is consistent with the survival and recovery of the Puget Sound DPS,” the authors argue.


I appreciate that WDFW and the tribes worked together on the proposal, and hats off to NMFS for getting it out for comment. This is a really important fishery to start up again.

Best case scenario is that commenters don’t find faults, the state does locate money to sample anglers, and the tribes get their share of fish.

Worst case scenario is that it’s approved, the state doesn’t find the money, the tribes get their share of fish, and anglers are stuck on the bank.

Comments on the plan when it comes out can be sent to James Dixon, NMFS Sustainable Fisheries Division, 510 Desmond Drive, Suite 103, Lacey, WA 98503 or skagit-steelhead-harvest-plan.wcr@noaa.gov with “Comments on Skagit River Steelhead Harvest Plan” in the subject line.


Some Puget Sound Pink Salmon Runs In Trouble

This year’s low return reminds us that despite the explosion of odd-year salmon in increasingly developed Pugetropolis, humpies are still affected by floods, ocean conditions.

Editor’s note: This is an expanded and updated version of an article that appears in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.

By Andy Walgamott

You may not recall Sunday, October 20, 2003, but it sticks in my memory for two reasons:

1) At shooting light – or what passed for it that gloomy-ass day – while sitting in the rain under a leaky poncho I flubbed an excellent opportunity at a nice Methow muley due to the puddle in my scope.

2) Indeed, it rained like hell that day – several inches there in western Okanogan County, 5 inches at SeaTac Airport, 10 and change on the slopes of Glacier Peak.

I went home venisonless; on the other side of Washington’s North Cascades, freshly dug Skagit River pink salmon redds were utterly destroyed.

Yes, it’s all ancient history now, but if you’re wondering what happened with Puget Sound pinks this year, the Day of the Deluge is a useful starting point.

A Duwamish River pink salmon thrashes on the end of the editor’s line during 2015’s run. Humpies bit amazingly well in the salt and rivers that year, masking what was a smaller run that was then hit hard by repeated floods, leading to this year’s forecast of just over 1 million, the fewest expected in Puget Sound in nearly 20 years. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THAT FALL, SOMEWHERE around 867,000 humpies made it back to the gravel on the Skagit and its tribs. (Just under 310,000 were harvested beforehand.)

By Oct. 19, most had spawned and were well on their way to assaulting the olfactory organs of everyone from Mount Vernon to Marblemount.

Then Oct. 20’s atmospheric river hit. An atmospheric river is what meteorologists call the long, continuous band of moisture that gets sucked out of the central Pacific and is jet streamed to the Northwest, where it becomes terrestrial rivers that run willy-nilly. (Pineapple Expresses are those that originate near Hawaii.)

Floodwater, silt, sand, trees – all sorts and manner of debris washed away or covered the redds.

It was a disaster for Skagit pinks. Two years later, 2005 saw a run of just 83,000 limp back to the mouth of the river, with an escapement estimate of a mere 60,000.

The next run of the odd-year fish improved, with 300,000 hitting the gravel, though harvest actually declined to roughly 15,000, state stats show.

It wasn’t until six years after the big flood, 2009, that the Skagit was back in business as a prime producer of pinks, thanks to a run of 1.6 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey gauge for the Skykomish, an undammed river pouring out of the Cascades east of Everett, shows the four fall 2015 floods that hit pink and other salmon species’ redds. Scientists say repeated scour events like these are increasing to the detriment of the fish. (USGS)

FALL 2015 WAS not unlike Oct. 20, 2003, in several ways. It didn’t see one monster flood; it saw four big ones, all again after that year’s pinks had spawned. The first downpour arrived on Halloween, with another two weeks later, followed by a third just four days after the second, and the last coming in mid-December.

Flood heights vary by river system and where each storm hits, of course, but to use the Skykomish as an example, 2015’s quartet crested at Gold Bar at 70,000 cubic feet per second, 60,000 cfs, nearly 100,000 cfs and 80,000 cfs, respectively. Not all-time records, but not insubstantial either — flows on the South Fork were the third highest on record. The average for the Sky that time of year is between 3,000 and 4,000 cfs. Systems controlled by dams saw similar surges.

The Northwest is of course floodprone, especially in mid to late fall as the jet stream migrates back south for the winter and we get rain-on-top-of-snow events the deeper into the season we get. Salmon have evolved to deal with that, spreading their spawning runs out, but scientists say we’re seeing increasing numbers of sharp flow fluctuations this time of year. That’s not good news for fall salmon – even for pinks, which have adapted to spend very little of their lifespan in freshwater.

“Nooksack, we have a preliminary estimate of 24,000. Just barely got done with surveys there. We are not done (theoretically) with spawning surveys on the Skagit, but by the time we can get back visibility, the fish will likely be done spawning. Doesn’t matter, it’s bad. Best guess is about 40,000, but don’t hold me to it. Last night’s storm probably wiped half of what spawned. Upper Skagit tribs all blew up. Sauk blew up … We have a huge hole to dig out of now.”

–WDFW Nooksack-Samish-Skagit Fisheries Biologist Brett Barkdull, October 19, 2017

Fall 2015’s four floods probably had an outsized impact on pinks for two more reasons. If you recall, that year was the height of the Blob, which really ought to be a four-letter word around these parts for what it did to Northwest fish, wildlife and habitat. That year’s run was starved at sea, and so they came into Puget Sound smaller than usual. The females produced fewer eggs. It’s also likely the fish weren’t able to dig as robust redds as usual.

Meanwhile, the previous winter had been warm, with rain falling even in the high mountains, leading to a failed snowpack, with spring and summer runoff setting new all-time lows. By fall, pinks had no place left to lay their diminished supply of eggs except in what essentially was the middle of river channels, where scour is typically greatest. And scour the floods did that fall. This year’s paltry preseason forecast of 1.1 million pinks is largely a reflection of that, say state biologists.

That’s not to discount the ocean, so important in the pinks’ lifecycle. While the Blob faded and we rejoiced, as it turns out, it left the Pacific with a massive hangover – species in the wrong places, prey-switching up and down the coast – that also affected this year’s Columbia Basin sockeye and steelhead runs. Unlike those stocks, however, pinks are almost entirely wild, so how long it will takes the runs to rebuild is a good question.

A WDFW graph shows the brief spike of Puget Sound pink salmon returns in the mid-1960s and the spike in the 2000s as South Sound rivers came on line as the basin’s primary pink producers. (WDFW)

WE WERE SPOILED beyond imagination, we Puget Sound pink salmon anglers, by the flood of fish. We had it good – better than good. We witnessed the most productive and greatest expansion of humpy fisheries of the modern era. It is unlike anything seen in the Northwest salmon world.

Since 2001, the Dawn Of Humpydom, in which yours truly recalls sitting in a leaky canoe off downtown Snohomish with a friend and utterly killing it one day, this millennium has provided a streak with no equal in WDFW records that stretch back to 1959.

There’s just a single spike in pink runs and catches in the 40 years between the end of the Eisenhower Administration and the end of the Clinton Administration, and a whole lot of blah not unlike this year’s forecast and fisheries.

Outside of 1963’s where-in-the-hell-did-that-come-from? run of 7 million, the best years produced 2 million and change, while the worst years – 1969, ’75, ’81, ’97 – barely reached half a million or fell decidedly short of that mark.

But starting in 2001 with Humpzilla and Humpzilla’s slightly bigger brother, Puget Sound became the Bristol Bay of the humpy world.

We saw returns of 3.8 million pinks that year, 3.3 million in ’03, 2 million in ’05 and 3.2 million in ’07, when the standing state-record 15-plus-pounder was caught.

Then things really got sideways: ’09, 10.3 million; ’11, 5.3 million; ’13, 8.75 million; and ’15, 3.7 million. Those last four runs alone – 28 million fish – roughly equal how many returned between 1961 and 1999.

State records for pink salmon started falling fast in 1999 when in the month of August alone, at least seven topped the standing saltwater record, then in 2001 freshwater records started toppling before Adam Stewart set the benchmark at 15.4 pounds in 2007. (WDFW)

The explosion of salmon primarily occurred in three rivers. While the North Sound’s Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Skagit had long accounted for all but the tip of the pinks’ hump when it came to production and harvest, South Sound rivers suddenly came into their own.

There is literally no catch data for the Duwamish until 1999 when five dozen pinks were recorded. That figure and all those in this section include sport, commercial and tribal catches in the river and marine areas. It was followed by 790 in 2001, then 8,646, 18,491, 30,249 and in 2009, things went nuclear – 393,806.

There appears to have always been pinks in the Nisqually and Puyallup but numbers didn’t blow up until recent years. All of one fish was recorded as reaching the former river during 2001’s run, but by 2013 it produced a harvest of 101,676. The Puyallup’s 1999 take was just 179 fish. By 2009 that figure climbed to 298,485 and it still has yet to drop below a couple hundred thousand. Well, until surely 2017.

And it wasn’t like those North Sound rivers gave up either. The Nooksack lit up, producing back-to-back harvests better than any seen in Whatcom County in 50 years. The Snohomish yielded 1.13 million alone in 2013, the Skagit 720,000 that year.

Our Little Chiefs couldn’t keep up with the bounty; all the salmon smoking we did helped push CO2 levels over the 400-parts-per-million mark. Not really, but still.

WDFW Sunset Falls (SF Skykomish) Pink Salmon Count*
Oct. 19, 2017: 1,205
Oct. 15, 2015: 17,293
Oct. 17, 2013: 54,644
Oct. 20, 2011: 23,643
Oct. 22, 2009: 98,158
Oct. 18, 2007: 41,168
Oct. 13, 2005: 17,595
Oct. 16, 2003: 18,822
Oct. 18, 2001: 12,444
Oct. 21, 1999: 962
* Passage is typically greater than 99.7 percent complete by mid-October

THROUGH THAT LENS, there was no way 2017’s return was going to be anything but the redheaded, warty, mutant, split-tongued bastard cousin at the barn dance. The preseason prediction was the lowest since 1999, which produced a sport catch of just 35,067 for those hucking Humpy Special spoons and other OG lures.

I’ll be honest, I went ahead and bought Buzz Bombs anyway, along with 1/0 and 2/0 hooks and two different kinds of pink hoochies. I’m weird like that; it makes tackle shacks happy, and probably gives them a laugh about the fool and his money. But I’m an optimist and I had visions of catching pinks off my local beach all summer long. In the end I hooked coho and kings, but no humpies. It wasn’t just me: WDFW’s daily saltwater creel checks rang up a ridiculous number of goose eggs in the pink salmon column when the Straits and Sound should’ve been boiling with the buggers, even with a low run.

“We haven’t done preliminary estimates yet for the Snohomish or Stillaguamish, but all the indexes showed feeble peak counts. It’s going to be well below the forecast which was 171,000 Snohomish and 40,000 Stillaguamish, and much worse than the parent year of 2015 which had escapement of 389,000 Snohomish and 91,000 Stillaguamish.

“This coming weekend’s rain, with predicted flood stages on Monday, should be the end for pink spawning this year and will likely not be kind to eggs in the gravel.”

–WDFW Snohomish-Stillaguamish Fisheries Biologist Jenni Whitney, October 19, 2017

My initial late summer forays on the Duwamish River were also desultory, to say the least: one snag-up and someone dropped a deuce in my high-tide spot. Eventually I did begin catching some, big bucks easily twice the size of 2015’s.

It’s probable the fish just didn’t need to feed in our saltwater like two years ago, and when they get in the rivers they can be notoriously lockjawed. With far fewer coming back, it’s no wonder we caught so few. It was also a humbling reminder I wasn’t exactly the angler I thought I was.

A buck returns to the Duwamish to continue on its way upstream. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE PINK EXPLOSION suggested, in a sense, we could have our pie and eat it too. Puget Sound Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and steelhead runs are in increasing trouble from a king tide of habitat destruction, lack of political will to do much about it and an ever-growing human population that’s less and less attached to the water but is still willing to fund fixing things with “guilt money.”

That’s the term Oregon State University Professor Robert T. Lackey used in a decidedly pessimistic but perhaps more honest paper than what you otherwise hear from those of us in the trenches, whether at the state, tribal, federal or NGO level, or in the fishing industry.

Indeed, you can’t be a hook-and-bullet magazine editor and believe the sky is falling. It just doesn’t work well. I want to believe recovery really is possible. I want to believe the gravel parking pad my family had turned into a rain garden – and many, many more like it – will help, that a couple of the juvenile coho my boys have been stocking in a nearby tributary return and make more, and those will make more, etc.

Meanwhile, pinks were bucking it all.

Or at least did until flood and ocean conditions caught up with them too.

“Pink salmon are still spawning in the Green River and we haven’t finalized an escapement estimate yet. Our forecast was for about 120,000. The survey crew tells me it seems like a pretty robust pink return this year. Sounds like the pink run has a good chance of coming in close to, or slightly below our forecast — maybe this year’s escapement will be around 100,000 pinks. That’s the best guess I can hazard for now, though.”

—-WDFW Green-Duwamish Fisheries Biologist Aaron Bosworth, October 20, 2017*

No, they’re not one of the glamour stocks. They’re an every-other-year oddity that created a cottage industry for the makers of small spoons, hoochie jigs and other tackle. They provided big-number days for anglers of all abilities. They brought heaps of marine nutrients home.

Here’s hoping Puget Sound pinks recover faster than how long it took for the Skagit’s to get back on track after October 20, 2003. 

* Editor’s note: Upon further consultation with Green-Duwamish River stream surveyors, WDFW district fisheries biologist Aaron Bosworth downgraded his expectations for pink salmon returns to the system and his quote was updated to reflect that.