Tag Archives: skagit river

Lower Skagit Opening For Springers May 1-31, First Fishery In ‘Nearly 30 Years’

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

For the first time in nearly 30 years, anglers will get the chance to fish for spring chinook salmon in the lower Skagit River next month.

State and tribal co-managers recently agreed to move forward with this year’s fishery, based on the number of wild and hatchery fish projected to return to the river, said Edward Eleazer, regional fish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“We’ve seen a sufficient number of spring chinook returning to the Skagit River in the last several years to allow us to open this section of the river,” Eleazer said. “This is essentially a new opportunity for most anglers. We hope it provides some great fishing this spring.”

The fishery will be open for hatchery spring chinook from May 1 through May 31. Anglers fishing this section will have a daily limit of two hatchery chinook, which are marked with a clipped adipose fin, but must release all other species.

The lower Skagit fishery includes the area from the Highway 536 Bridge (Memorial Highway Bridge) in Mount Vernon to Gilligan Creek.

Eleazer noted that the upper Skagit River, from the Highway 530 Bridge at Rockport to the Cascade River Road, will open June 1 to fishing for spring hatchery chinook, as will the Cascade River, from the mouth to the Rockport-Cascade Road Bridge. More details on those fisheries can be found in the 2018-19 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations.

Rain Could Help Sauk, Skagit Steelheading Pick Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sampler said that four had been hooked on Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential 2019 Washington River Salmon Fisheries Posted For Comment

More details are coming out about Washington’s potential 2019 river salmon fisheries and WDFW is looking for public input on them as North of Falcon comes to a boil over the next two weeks.

Overall, there will be seasons, though in places on salt- and freshwaters they don’t look too hot because of low forecasted returns to some rivers, potential impacts on chronically depressed Chinook stocks, efforts to rebuild three “overfished” Washington and BC coho runs, and providing for orca recovery.

ANGLERS WOULD ONLY HAVE SEPTEMBER TO FISH THE SNOHOMISH FOR COHO, WITH A DAILY LIMIT OF ONE AS MANAGERS TRY TO REBUILD THE “OVERFISHED” STOCK. ANGLER JON PULLING CAUGHT THIS ONE WITH GUIDE JIM STAHL A FEW SEASONS BACK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

On Pugetropolis streams, while WDFW is again proposing bonus limits on coho in the Nooksack system — four a day in the mainstem and North Fork, and up to six on the South Fork — there wouldn’t even be a catch-and-release fishery for pink salmon there.

In fact, there wouldn’t be any humpy fishing in rivers from the British Columbia border all the way down through the Snohomish system, traditionally among the strongest pink populations — at least until The Blob and four big fall 2015 floods hit.

Speaking of the Snoho, WDFW’s proposing just a single month of salmon fishing in it and its two major tribs, September, and only for one coho. That month’s good, but October’s better, harvest wise. The Wallace would only be open for the back half of the month, also for just one silver headed to the hatchery there.

It’s because federal overseers are pushing the state and tribes to improve silver escapement on the key system following several bad years.

But unlike 2016 when none was mentioned, at least this clause is built into WDFW’s fishery proposal: “Extension of season dependent on in-season update.”

Also in the North Sound, the agency would like to open lower Dakota Creek near Blaine for coho, as well as hold a pilot May 1-31 hatchery spring Chinook fishery on the Skagit from the mouth up to Gilligan Creek.

Baker Lake would be open starting July 6 for three sockeye a day, the Samish Aug. 1-Oct. 31 for Chinook and hatchery coho

As for the potential Stillaguamish coho season, that is TBD after comanager discussions, according to WDFW’s literature.

Further south, salmon fishing on the Green-Duwamish could open Aug. 20 below I-405, with Chinook available for harvest starting Sept. 1 from the interstate down to Tukwila International Boulevard.

Fisheries on the Puyallup would open Aug. 15 for hatchery coho and Chinook, but with closures on certain days on the lower river to accommodate tribal openers.

The Nisqually would open July 1 for salmon, with a two-adult daily limit (release wild Chinook).

Things are less cut and dried at Buoy 10 and the rest of the Lower Columbia, where managers are trying to limit Chinook catches but access a good coho run of 900,000-plus fish.

There are multiple options on the table for dealing with August and its fall king runs, but things brighten in September, when the bag could bump to three hatchery silvers a day but no Chinook below Bonneville.

WDFW’s also warning that steelhead fisheries on the big river could see the rolling closures of 2017 and last year’s night closures and one-fish bags.

And things are no less complex in Grays Harbor and its tribs, but at least there are options.

Indeed, it’s better than sitting at home.

Next up in the North of Falcon process is an April 2 meeting in Ridgefield to talk about the Columbia and ocean, and an April 3 meeting in Lynnwood to discuss Puget Sound.

 

Shutdown Affecting Steelhead Season Planning, Sea Lion Management — Even A Clam Dig

Add Northwest steelheading, sea lion management and a three-day razor clam dig at a national park to the list of things being impacted by the partial US government shutdown, now in its record 26th day.

A NOAA technical consultation on Washington’s Skagit-Sauk spring season and the federal agency’s work approving Idaho’s fisheries permit are on pause, while any new pinnipeds showing up at Willamette Falls get a free pass to chow down, and the Jan. 19-21 Kalaloch Beach clam opener has been rescinded.

Let’s break things down by state.

OREGON

While ODFW can still remove previously identified California sea lions that gather at the falls and in the lower Clackamas to eat increasingly imperiled wild steelhead, new ones must first be reported to a federal administrator who has been furloughed since before Christmas due to the shutdown, according to a Courthouse News Service story.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION THROWS A SALMONID IN SPRING 2016 AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

And as native returns begin to build, a newly arrived CSL there won’t face the consequences — at least until the shutdown over the border wall is ended.

“If it carries on it will be a bigger impact on the spring Chinook run,” ODFW’s Shaun Clements told Courthouse News. “Relative to the winter steelhead, they’re in a much better place, but extinction risk for spring Chinook is still pretty high.”

So far four CSLs have been taken out since the state agency got the go-ahead in November to remove up to 93 a year. ODFW had anticipated killing 40 in the first four months of 2019.

IDAHO

Over in Idaho, what seemed like plenty of time early last month for NOAA to (finally) review and approve the Gem State’s steelhead fishing plan before mid-March is shrinking.

STEELHEAD ANGLERS FISH IDAHO’S CLEARWATER RIVER AT LEWISTON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

“There is about a month of cushion between the expiration of the agreement and when we first expected the permit (to be completed),” IDFG’s Ed Schriever told Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune. “We know the longer (the shutdown) goes on, the narrower the window becomes on the cushion that existed prior to the shutdown. We can only hope resolution comes quickly and those folks get back to work on our permit.”

The work was made necessary by environmental groups’ lawsuit threat that resulted in an agreement between the state, a community-angler group and the litigants that provided cover to continue fishing season through either when NOAA finished processing the plan or March 15.

Schriever told Barker that if the shutdown continues, he would probably ask the parties to the agreement for an extension.

WASHINGTON

And in Washington, there’s now an agonizing amount of uncertainty for what seemed like would be a slam-dunk steelhead fishery.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S FIRST-IN-NINE-SPRINGS FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last month, WDFW along with tribal comanagers sent a plan for a three-month-long catch-and-release season for wild winter-runs on the North Sound’s Skagit and Sauk Rivers under the same constraints as last April’s NOAA-approved 12-day fishery.

Before the shutdown, NOAA had some “relatively minor matters” to clear up, so a meeting was scheduled for last week “to resolve the technical questions,” according to a Doug Huddle column for our February issue.

“We have approval to conduct the fishery. We have a set of conditions we have to fulfill as part of that approval. We think we have provided everything asked,” said district biologist Brett Barkdull.

But with NOAA out of the office it will come down to an upcoming policy call “one way or the other” by higher-ups at WDFW based on a risk assessment.

Out on Washington’s outer coast, WDFW is scrubbing three days of razor clam digging at Kalaloch Beach over the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

With federal techs and park rangers furloughed, WDFW had planned on having its staff on the beach to monitor clammers as well as station game wardens on Highway 101, where they do have enforcement authority, if need be.

“We are closing Kalaloch beach to razor clam digging in response to a request by Olympic National Park,” said Dan Ayres, agency coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “Olympic National Park staff are not available to help ensure a safe and orderly opening in the area.”

Digs will go on as planned this Thursday-Monday during the various openers at Twin Harbors, Mocrocks and Copalis Beaches.

Ayres said that WFDW and the park will consider other openers at Kalaloch to make up for the lost harvest opportunity.

Elsewhere, while Pacific Fishery Management Council staffers are in their offices, that’s not the case for federal participants in the 2019 North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

US contributions to an international report on commercial West Coast hake fishing as well as other work handled by researchers at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle is on hold.

A meeting on highly migratory species and another with members of a statistical review committee have been cancelled, though at the moment a third reviewing 2018 salmon fisheries and which is part of the annual North of Falcon season-setting process is still a go.

And NOAA survey ships have reportedly also been tied up to the dock.

More Details On Controversial Skagit Coho Limit Increase

A state fisheries biologist is defending his coho limit increase on the Skagit earlier this week, a decision that was strongly panned by some in the angling community.

When an inseason update showed 90,000 of the fall salmon would return to the big North Sound river, up from 73,000 predicted last winter, Brett Barkdull was able to double the bag from two to four.

BRAD JOHNSON CAUGHT THIS SKAGIT RIVER COHO A COUPLE SEASONS BACK ON A LOCALLY MADE SPINNER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s the “normal” limit on these waters when runs are up, a good sign for fish and fisheries.

The change effectively means that fishermen can now keep as many as four hatchery coho, though the limit on wild fish still remains two.

But coming so relatively late in the run, anglers believe that most of the clipped coho are already well upstream on the way to Marblemount Hatchery, so to some it felt like too little, too late — a token offering that will push everyone into the few holes above Rockport for riper fish

Barkdull maintains that the coho are still in “great shape” in the Skagit, though a little darker in the Cascade.

Looking at last year’s escapement report, just 218 had entered the facility as of this week, with the count jumping to 2,200 by the end of October and 5,561 by Thanksgiving. Hatchery managers ended up surplussing 4,869 of those.

Run timing does vary year to year, but so far this fall 1,260 coho have made it to Marblemount, and Barkdull expects a lot more.

“We do not need 15,000 at the hatchery. Huge waste. People should go catch them,” he says.

Fifteen thousand is his own back-of-the-donut-napkin estimate based on downstream test catches.

For Barkdull, who was surprised by outcry, it is a damned-whatever-you-do proposition. He says he is pushed to increase hatchery limits, but when he can do so through inseason testing and management agreements, he gets second guessed.

“Can’t win.”

Yet for others it all felt like just a way for the tribes to get more netting days in, on wild fish.

Barkdull says it wasn’t a trade with the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattles.

“We are simply following the comprehensive coho management agreement we signed with the tribes. The four, no more than two wilds, is our ‘normal’ limit on the Skagit, so that’s what we went to when coho numbers were updated to the normal range,” he says.

That “normal” limit was in effect during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, per the printed regs.

While coho fishing that third year had to be closed when it became clear the fish weren’t coming back, in 2016, when a season wasn’t even in the pamphlet, WDFW was able to open the Skagit via e-reg when joint tribal-state testing found they were abundant enough to allow harvest at the normal level.

That was the year that inseason management was under a white-hot spotlight, with anglers rallying to get WDFW to open rivers via the tool.

On the one hand, it is great that people like us are watching out for salmon runs, as The Blob and its hangover have dealt serious harm to multiple year-classes of fish.

We learned a lesson: If ever there was a time for caution, recent years have shown the importance of banking spawners, and I don’t mean hauling them ashore.

But on the other, the banks that are our rivers are different than financial institutions, as the fishy kind are limited by how much spawning gravel there is to deposit on.

On the Skagit system, there is room for 40,000 adult coho, given habitat capacity and typical egg and fry survival rates, Barkdull says.

His best guess is that 55,000 will try to spawn this fall.

“Plenty,” he says.

Even as anglers like you and I want as many fish back as possible and will limit our trips and take-home to that end, “Realistically, we don’t need 70,000 on the spawning grounds,” Barkdull says.

He says the maximum sustained yield set for the Skagit is 25,000.

With Increased Forecast, Skagit Coho Limit Bumped Up

Editor’s note: Twenty-four hours after sending out the original e-reg for Skagit coho, WDFW issued another correcting two elements: the upper boundary of the affected area (the Cascade River Bridge instead of Rockport) and revised run estimate (73,000 instead of 63,000).

THE FOLLOWING IS A WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE

Skagit River coho salmon limit to increase

Action:  Increase the daily salmon limit to 4 fish, including up to 2 wild coho. Release chinook and chum.

BRAD JOHNSON CAUGHT THIS SKAGIT RIVER COHO A COUPLE SEASONS BACK ON A LOCALLY MADE SPINNER IN PEARL BUBBLE GUM. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Effective date: Oct. 10, 2018.

Species affected: Coho salmon.

Location: Skagit River (Skagit County) from the mouth to the Cascade River Road (Marblemount Bridge).

Reason for action: On Oct. 9, WDFW and co-managers revised the projection for returning Skagit River coho to 90,000 fish, up from 73,000. The increased run size allows Skagit River coho daily limits to be raised.

Additional information: The Skagit River from the mouth to 200 feet upstream of the Baker River remains closed to all fishing on Oct. 10 and 11. More information on that closure can be found online at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/erule.jsp?id=2226.

All other rules remain unchanged. Please refer to https://wdfw.wa.gov for further information on seasons.

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.