Tag Archives: skagit river

Yuasa: Silvers Are Gold In September

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

I wish there was a way to slow down how quickly summer comes and goes, especially with the memorable king salmon fishing we got to experience in some parts of Puget Sound.

And while we’re still relishing the “good old days” of the past few months, I can’t help but get geared up for silver being the gold medal winner in September and beyond!

AUTHOR MARK YUASA SHOWS OFF A NICE OCEAN-RETURNING COHO. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Coho salmon – often referred to as “silvers” for their distinct brightly metal-colored body – appear to have crossed the bridge of dire straits from the warm “blob” that plagued the North Pacific Ocean, and the drought-like conditions and warm water temperatures in river spawning grounds that led to a huge decline in salmon survival in late 2013 to 2015.

Puget Sound anglers who haven’t seen a viable early-fall silver salmon fishery since 2014 will be giddy to know that we’ve turned the corner and opportunities should be decent from the Strait of Juan de Fuca clear into southern Puget Sound.

WDFW biologists are predicting a coho return of 557,149 (249,174 wild and 307,975 hatchery) this season, which is down slightly from 595,074 (294,360 and 300,713) in 2017, but well above 2016 when coho runs tanked faster than the financial crisis in 2008.

Forecasts for the five Puget Sound wild coho stocks in 2018 that make or break our sport salmon seasons – Strait, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Hood Canal – are all up big time from years past.

The Skagit wild coho return forecast of 59,196 is up a whopping 350 percent over 2017’s return of 13,235 and up 564 percent of 8,912 in 2016. The Stillaguamish forecast of 18,950 is up 149 percent from 2017’s return of 7,622 and up 584 percent of 2,770 in 2016. The Snohomish will also see a big bounce back with 65,925 up 294 percent from a return of 16,740 in 2016.

When the salmon seasons were signed, sealed and delivered last April, the sport coho fisheries set by WDFW increased dramatically. In all, 30 weeks of total fishing opportunity was closed the past two years to address conservation issues of wild Puget Sound coho stocks and will reopen based on the stronger 2018 forecasts.

Some early indicators leading to this “happy face emoji” was the great June resident silver fishery in central Puget Sound (Area 10) that carried on well into August, and some early migratory coho began to show up in catches during the late-summer hatchery chinook fishery. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu was also seeing some decent early hatchery coho action in late August.

Hatchery coho are fair game Sept. 1-30 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu to Port Angeles (Areas 5 and 6). It is a given at this time the “no vacancy” sign will be flashing at resorts in the Strait and marinas will be filled to the brim with boats as hordes of anglers pursue feisty, big ocean-run coho.

In the San Juan Islands (Area 7) anglers can keep all coho through Sept. 30. The northern section of Whidbey Island’s east side (Area 8-1) is open through Sept. 30 for all coho, and the popular southern portion (Area 8-2) – Ports Susan and Gardner – are open until Sept. 23. Popular fishing spots will be from the south part of Camano Island clear down to the Shipwreck and Possession Bait House areas.

Shore-bound anglers can also get in on the action at the Bait House where coho were present when it opened last month. Other “go to” locations from shore are west side of Whidbey Island at Bush and Lagoon points, Fort Casey, Point No Point, Marrowstone Island, Point Wilson near Port Townsend, and various piers, docks and shorelines from Edmonds to Seattle and as far south as Tacoma.
The two marine areas that will be glittering with silvers are northern (Area 9) and central (Area 10) Puget Sound. Hatchery coho salmon fishing will be open in Area 9 through Sept. 30, and in Area 10 anglers can keep all coho through Nov. 15.

South-central (Area 11) and southern (Area 13) Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Area 12) are all open for coho through Sept. 30, and then each location remains open beyond that date for salmon fishing. Anglers should consult the regulation pamphlet for what salmon species you can target in each area.

Marine locations like Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca were good coming into the end of last month as was popular coho places like east side of Whidbey Island from Mukilteo south to Shipwreck; Possession Bar; west side of Whidbey Island from Bush Point to Fort Casey; Jefferson Head; Edmonds oil dock; and Meadow Point south to West Point near Shilshole Bay.

Lastly, anglers will also have a chance to fish certain sections of the Skagit and Snohomish river systems – closed in 2016 and 2017 – for coho salmon in September.

2018-19 coastal razor clam outlook is a mixed bag

This coming fall, winter and spring will see some highlights and lowlights for coastal razor clams depending on what beaches you choose to dig.

WDFW have finished summer razor clam population assessments and places like Copalis, Mocrocks and Twin Harbors while Long Beach looks somewhat dismal and Kalaloch is still in a rebuilding stage.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Expect this to be a gap year for Long Beach where a loss of juvenile razor clams and poor digging success in 2017-18 will lead to another season of struggles where abundance levels are the lowest seen in the past 25 years.

One theory in the population decline is poor salinity levels on a good portion of Long Beach and freshwater run-off from the Columbia River aren’t favorable for young clams to thrive in.

Preliminary postseason estimates coast-wide from 2017-18 for 27 digging days showed 257,004 digger trips produced 2,731,461 razor clams for 10.6 clam per person average – the first 15 clams is a daily limit regardless of size or condition.

The good news is a marine toxin known as domoic acid – a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities – is very low.

The latest testing showed levels between 1 to 2 parts-per-million and the action level is 20 parts-per-million.

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

Dates haven’t been determined by WDFW although looking at the calendar it appears the best low tides start date will occur on Oct. 26-29 and Nov. 8-10. Exactly how much digging time hinges on discussions between WDFW and tribal fishery co-managers.
State Fish and Wildlife plans to have the public comment review period should ready by the middle of September. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

NW Salmon Derby Series culminates this month with boat raffle

It has been a very busy summer with the NW Chevy Dealer truck and KingFisher boat traveling across the Pacific Northwest!

Angler turnout and fishing success has been delightful in July and August at the Bellingham PSA Salmon Derby; Big One Salmon Derby at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho; Brewster Salmon Derby; South King County PSA Derby; Gig Harbor PSA Derby; and Vancouver, B.C. Canada Chinook Classic.

SOME LUCKY ANGLER IS GOING TO WIN THIS BOAT THIS MONTH! (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Now it’s time to rev up the trolling motors for the PSA Edmonds Coho Derby on Sept. 8, and the biggest derby on West Coast – the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 22-23.

We’ll be drawing the lucky name at Everett on Sept. 23 to win a grand-prize $65,000 KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat powered with Honda 150hp and 9.9hp motors on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. It is fully rigged with Scotty downriggers, Raymarine electronics, a WhoDat Tower and a Dual Electronic Stereo. Details: www.NorthwestSalmonDerbySeries.com.

I’m just as stoked about the weeks ahead filling the cooler with silvers like I was back in June for kings in Area 11 off Tacoma. I’ll see you on the water with a few cut-plug herring spinning fast off the stern of my boat!

 

Baker Sockeye Anglers Renew Call To Manage Fishery With Runsize Buffer

With a lower than expected salmon run leaving them again feeling shorted, some anglers are renewing calls for a Columbia River springer-style fisheries buffer on sockeye headed to a North Cascades reservoir.

Baker Lake reds were supposed to provide sport and tribal fishermen 12,400 fish each, but while members of the latter fleet were able to harvest 12,176, the former’s haul could ultimately come in around just 56 percent of the quota.

FRANK URABECK AND GRANDSON ALEC SCHANTZ SHOW OFF FIVE SOCKEYE FROM BAKER LAKE. URABECK REPORTS THIS YEAR’S FISH ARE TOUGH FIGHTERS. (FRANK URABECK)

Frank Urabeck, a longtime advocate of recreational fisheries, estimates that when it’s all said and done, it’s “likely” that Skagit River plunkers and Baker Lake trollers will have put somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 sockeye on their barbecues, 5,400 fewer than the preseason agreement allowed, and nearly 5,200 fewer than Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle fishermen took.

It’s also in part due to our less efficient methods and that it gets tougher to catch the fish as they near spawning, but the harvest disparity “could have been avoided had (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) adopted in-season harvest management improvement proposals put forth by CCA and others,” a press release from Urabeck states.

This year’s seasons were set on the expectation 35,002 sockeye would come back, but after tribal fishermen hit Skagit Bay and the lower river it begin to become apparent that fewer of the salmon were actually returning, somewhere around 30,000. Over 14,450 have been tallied at the Baker River fish trap and nearly 6,850 have been transported up to the lake.

It’s led Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner to renew the call to use something like the 30-percent set aside on the Columbia in case the ESA-listed spring Chinook run doesn’t come in as predicted.

That effectively reduces how many kings are available in the early portion of the season until managers are comfortable that preseason predictions will be met, or exceeded, and can reopen angling if enough fish are available.

“Under today’s complex salmon fisheries layout there are many problems in dividing fish as each area presents its own set of problems of how to secure equity,” said Garner in a press release. “Baker Lake sockeye is one fishery where we have the ability to do that using the Puget Sound Energy Baker River fish trap at Concrete, where Skagit Basin tribes can secure make-up sockeye, if needed, beyond what is achieved from net fishing.”

He says in years when the run comes in low, inequities can be avoided or minimized using the buffer.

Last fall, when the sockeye issue came before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers appeared hesitant to institute a buffer because of perceived tribal pushback over the potential for not being able to harvest their share. They wanted to try improved forecasting and opening more of the Skagit to fishing to achieve a closer balance.

“Unfortunately, while advocated by sport fishing groups, the department chose not to pursue a buffer, resulting in a significant disparity again. A buffer has to be part of harvest management next year,” Garner said.

Others expressing frustration over the issue include Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Nello Picinich of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington, and Roger Goodan of CCA Washington’s North Sound Chapter.

Urabeck says that this year’s imbalance means the tribes will have caught 24,000 more sockeye than sports since 2013.

But WDFW appears to be taking the long view. While Urabeck calls the 2010 and ’11 seasons “outliers,” state managers point out that between 2010 and 2017, the score was actually pretty close, 98,390 treaty fishermen, 94,737 recreational anglers.

And they say it’s likely to even out over time and even sway in our way if we see more big years like 2012, ’13 and ’14.

As for dipping into the fish trap, that’s likely a nonstarter with tribal fishermen. I hear over and over they want to fish the way they want to fish, and that means with a net, not lining up for a salmon handout.

Ultimately it’s in everybody’s best interest to get the forecast right the first time, though that is easier said than done.

Skagit-Sauk Catch Estimates Show A Hot Day, And Mostly Good Fishing

If you were lucky enough to be steelheading in Washington’s North Cascades on April 18, you most likely had a very, very good day.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

One-fifth of all the wild winter-runs caught during the recently concluded 12-day catch-and-release fishery on the Skagit and Sauk Rivers were landed that Wednesday, according to preliminary estimates from state monitors.

That didn’t surprise Brett Barkdull, the district fisheries biologist, who’d dropped some not-so-subtle hints that it might be a good one to call in sick.

BOBBER AND SPOON RODS AWAIT EMPLOYMENT ALONG THE SAUK THIS SPRING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I thought the total catch on that first Wednesday when the Sauk was first in shape might have been higher actually,” he said.

The Sauk, which shot up to 9,500 cubic feet per second as rains swept in on the eve of opening weekend, had dropped back to 6,000 cfs by that morning, and the river’s fish had yet to feel the hidden sting of fishermen’s pink worms, plugs and spoons.

GLACIAL FLOUR FROM THE SUIATTLE RIVER CLOUDS THE SAUK BELOW GOVERNMENT BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Barkdull cautioned that data his team of creel samplers collected haven’t been finalized yet, but the early estimates show that anglers caught 118 steelhead on April 18, or one for every 8.86 hours of effort that day, a figure that may be a high mark for some time to come.

“I don’t expect there will be a day like that again unless we get a year with a huge return,” noted Barkdull.

WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN RISES OVER THE FLATS NEAR DARRINGTON. AT ONE TIME SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS AGO, THE SAUK ACTUALLY DRAINED WEST THROUGH THE NORTH FORK STILLAGUAMISH RIVER VALLEY, BUT NOW MEETS THE SKAGIT AT ROCKPORT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Over the dozen days of fishing, 565 steelhead were caught in 11,504 total hours of fishing, or one every 20.36 hours.

A rate of 20 hours a fish is considered to be “off the charts good,” Barkdull said.

“Three hundred hours for a fish is more the norm for Puget Sound,” he said.

The slowest day was the final Saturday, April 28, when it zipped up to 85 hours a fish as several consecutive days of hot weather wilted mountain snowpack, sending both rivers back up.

While the National Marine Fisheries Service holds WDFW to a 10 percent mortality rate in C&R steelhead fisheries, Barkdull personally feels it’s likely far lower. He pointed to a study from the Vedder showing a 2.5 percent rate as a good surrogate, but acknowledged the feds’ 10 percent as the management standard.

Barkdull said there wasn’t anything unexpected in the preliminary figures, which he said are probably within 10 percent of where final ones will be.

“We put people right on top of a bunch of naïve fish late in the season when they were all upriver staging to spawn,” he said.

THIS DOUBLE-STACK SPOON HAS BEEN SLUMBERING IN THE EDITOR’S TACKLE BOX FOR NINE YEARS IN HOPES OF ONE DAY AGAIN SPLASHING DOWN IN THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He doubts that this year’s 20-hours-a-fish rate will hold up in the coming four federally permitted winter-spring fisheries, what with their likely earlier start dates and longer seasons.

“The fish will trickle in, get caught, some will get smart, some will move out of the fishing area, and effort will even out and be less,” Barkdull forecasted.

It took what felt like forever to get this year’s fishery approved. The last season here was in 2009, and following a number of poor returns, the rivers were closed.

But in 2013, the group Occupy Skagit began rallying to reopen the rivers. A management plan that WDFW and three area tribes sent to NMFS in 2016 was finally approved early last month.

TILL NEXT SEASON! (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It requires strict monitoring of catches, and Barkdull’s estimates show that steelheaders also kept three hatchery steelhead, released 219 bull trout, 12 rainbow trout, six cutthroat and three spring Chinook, rounding up and down.

“We saw no illegal kept fish of any sort,” he added.

He said there are plans in the works to break out catches for bank, jet, drift, conventional, fly, and guided and unguided anglers.

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.

Skagit, Sauk Opening For Steelhead

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

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK EARLIER THIS YEAR BEFORE FISHING CLOSED AFTER JAN. 31. (CHASE GUNNELL)

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

THE FOLLOWING IS THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE BREAKDOWN OF 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.

CENTRAL PUGET SOUND SUMMER CHINOOK ANGLERS CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A QUOTA OF OVER 10,000 HATCHERY KINGS LIKE THIS ONE SHERRYL CHRISTIE CAUGHT AT BUSH POINT IN 2016. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

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.

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

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.

THE FOLLOWING IS A JOINT PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE AND THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION

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.”

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST WEEK ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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.

ANGLERS WORK SOME OF THE SAUK’S “LUMBERYARDS” FOR BIG NATIVE STEELHEAD AS WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“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.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“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.

A SCREENSHOT FROM THE FISHVIEWS TOUR DOWN THE SKAGIT RIVER. (FISHVIEWS)

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.

ANOTHER FISHVIEWS SCREENSHOT FROM THE UPPER SKAGIT. (FISHVIEWS)

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.

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK EARLIER THIS MONTH. (CHASE GUNNELL)

THE VOW

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.

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH DURING THE DEC. 9, 2017 FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION, TELEVISED ON TVW, WHERE THIS SCREEN GRAB CAME FROM. (TVW)

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 DISAPPOINTMENT AND THE BUDGET

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.)

So … JUST TWO WEEKS?!?!

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.

THE FEDERAL REALITY

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.