Tag Archives: Skykomish River

Puget Sound Coho Managers Seeing ‘Mixed Signals’ In 2019 Run

Good luck figuring out what’s up with this year’s Puget Sound coho run.

It’s continuing to give off “mixed signals,” but for the moment it appears there won’t be another post-5 p.m.-Friday-afternoon major rule change emailed out, like last week.

CHAD AND LOGAN SMITH SHOW OFF A SILVER THEY CAUGHT DURING LAST WEEKEND’S EVERETT COHO DERBY. WEIGHING IN AT 7.73 POUNDS, IT WAS THE 75TH LARGEST OF THE 930 ENTERED. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

WDFW’s Mark Baltzell apologized to sportfisher advisors for that during a conference call late this morning, saying the decision to drop saltwater limits from two to one had been made “pretty quick.”

He also detailed how the region’s returns are performing so far, and while nowhere can be said to be looking great, only one system appears to be eliciting real concern, the Duwamish-Green.

It’s a bit on the early side to parse much from returns to its Soos Creek Hatchery, but Baltzell said that Muckleshoot catches have been 20 percent or less than what the tribe had expected given the forecast, with half their fishermen apparently not bothering to burn gas to set nets in the lower river or bay, he added.

Some sport anglers are reporting catching silvers in the river, but others are also struggling to get a bite.

Many of the jumpers in the DGR also appear to be on the smaller side, and that’s definitely the case over on the Quilcene, where adult returns to the national fish hatchery are not very far ahead of jacks, 6,413 to 5,984, the highest ratio in recent memory. Whether that’s good news for next year is a good question.

Granted that it was cancelled in 2016 and 2017, but while last weekend’s Everett Coho Derby did see the largest overall catch since 2012, 930, the average size fish weighed in was also the second smallest to 2015’s notoriously little coho, 5.4 pounds to 4.54 pounds.

Smaller, hungry fish can be snappier than larger ones, driving up catch rates, but also have fewer eggs to lay, reducing a run’s overall productivity.

As for other weirdness, Sekiu anglers were having to weed through “20 to 30” wild coho for every clipped one, a sportfishing advisor reported during today’s call. That had the effect of diminishing interest in making the long haul into the western Straits.

If this year’s run is late, like some believe, it would seem to be overwhelmingly wild, which would not be a bad thing either.

During the call Baltzell said that a regression correlation model developed by the late Steve Thiesfeld to gauge Puget Sound returns from Sekiu catches fell apart in 2015, the Blob year, and he’s been “reluctant” to bring it out again.

On Pugetropolis rivers, Baltzell said Nooksack coho “seem to be doing OK” and putting out “decent catches,” though tribal results have been below expectations.

On the Skagit, the hatchery return to Marblemount is “doing OK,” with the Cascade “full of fish,” he reported.

Creel samplers and game wardens working the Stillaguamish are finding “some effort” but “not a lot caught,” he said.

On the Snohomish system, numbers at the Wallace Hatchery are “doing OK,” with 3,000 or 4,000 coho that “had to be chased” out of the holding pens to collect summer kings for spawning, he reported.

Baltzell added that down at the mouth Tulalip fishermen were seeing relatively low catches in their nets. Further up anglers are doing OK with Dick Nites and other lures.

Snohomish coho were federally listed as an overfished stock and state and tribal managers are trying to rebuild the run, setting a higher escapement goal this year. Salmon angling on the system only only runs through Monday, Sept. 30.

Ballard Locks counts for Lake Washington coho haven’t been updated for about a week, but are comparable to the 10-year average.

And the Puyallup appears to have a split personality, with the White River’s return “gangbusters” — Bill Dowell at the Army Corps of Engineers says that through this morning, 10,198 have been passed over Mud Mountain Dam* —  but not so much for the mainstem, Baltzell indicated.

“Puget Sound wide, it looks like we overforecasted, but that is yet to be determined,” he summarized to sportfishing advisors.

One trolled the idea of returning the limit on Puget Sound to two, arguing that if eggtake goals are met at Soos Creek, concerns on the Duwamish would thus be addressed. Baltzell didn’t have an immediate answer, but essentially said it might raise issues with the comanagers.

Besides most of the abovementioned rivers, Marine Areas 8-1, 10, 12 and 13 will remain open for coho retention in October. Some are still being caught in the salt.

*IN OTHER PUGETROPOLIS SALMON NEWS, it appears that at the very minimum, this year’s Puyallup pink run was waaaaaaaay underforecast.

State and tribal managers predicted 47,905 back, but as of this morning, 445,615 had been counted below Mud Mountain Dam on the river’s tributary, the White, with more still arriving every day.

The Corps of Engineers’ Bill Dowell said Aug. 27’s 22,642 was the largest single-day haul of humpies on record.

He also said that this year’s 8,696 Chinook collected there was the third most since 1941, with the past four years all being the best since the flood-control facility came online.

A new $116 million fish passage facility is being built on the river.

Catch And Fun Both Up At Kids Steelhead Days II On The Sky

A trout pond added to the fun as young anglers also hooked and fought more summer-runs at the second Kids Steelhead Days on the Skykomish this past weekend.

Saturday’s event on the Reiter Ponds side of the famed North Sound river saw just under three dozen girls and boys attend, with Ava Kinder once again landing a chromer, just as she did during the inaugural event on June 1, the only one then.

AVA KINDER, DYILEN KENNEDY AND WESLEY CANNON SHOW OFF THEIR SUMMER-RUNS, CAUGHT AT JULY 6’S KID STEELHEAD DAY AT REITER PONDS ON THE SKYKOMISH. (MATTHEW KENNEDY, SKY VALLEY ANGLERS)

“We finished the day with about 10 fish hooked, three landed and a few of the lost fish were lost right at the bank just moments from the net,” reported Matthew Kennedy of Sky Valley Anglers.

Dyilen Kennedy and Wesley Cannon were the other two lucky steelheaders, while the trout pond proved to be a hit the whole way around.

“Nothing but happy kids and parents and lots of smiles and good memories for the kids,” Kennedy said.

ADDING A TROUT POND AT THE EVENT MADE FOR LOTS OF SMILES, ORGANIZERS REPORTED. (MATTHEW KENNEDY, SKY VALLEY ANGLERS)

His group along with the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club organized the series of events, with the final one for the summer set for the morning of Saturday, Aug. 3.

This second one combined angling with a fishing seminar for parents in hopes of inspiring the next generation of anglers.

“One the coolest parts of the day, besides the kids catching a few more and the hookups, was that with a little bit smaller of a crowd we were able to work more one on one with the kids and actually spend time teaching them and engaging in conversation with them while teaching,” said Kennedy.

MATTHEW KENNEDY (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND OTHER STEELHEAD SHARPIES VOLUNTEERED THEIR TIME AND SKILLS TO TEACH THE NEXT GENERATION. (MATTHEW KENNEDY, SKY VALLEY ANGLERS)

He said he’s looking forward to making next month’s finale the biggest and best yet.

“So far we are extremely happy with the way the event is going and our missions have been successful,” Kennedy stated.

For more, contact him at (206) 876-0224 or Elementmasonry@gmail.com.

AT A TIME WHEN THE FISH RUNS AREN’T AS BIG AS WE’D LIKE, IT’S GREAT TO SEE EVENTS LIKE THIS. (MATTHEW KENNEDY, SKY VALLEY ANGLERS)

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Yuasa: Dungeness, Chinook, Coho, Derby Dollars To Score In July

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

Summertime has arrived! The sun is shining bright and early! The weather is sweet! And nothing else is more satisfying than a fresh batch of steamed Dungeness crab!

A CRABBER HOLDS A COUPLE NICE DUNGENESS. MUCH OF PUGET SOUND AND THE STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA OPEN ON JULY 4 FOR THURSDAY-MONDAY SHELLFISHING, THOUGH MARINE AREAS 11 AND 13 AND THE SOUTHERN HALF OF AREA 12 ARE CLOSED DUE TO LOW NUMBERS. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Beginning on the Fourth of July ahead of the fireworks show, anglers will get their first crack at soaking pots for Dungeness crab east of Bonilla-Tatoosh Island boundary line (Marine Catch Area 4), Sekiu (5), Port Angeles (6), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) and northern Puget Sound (9). The season is open through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

A reduction in the number of days open this summer in central Puget Sound (10) is due to an overage in last year’s catch quota. Crabbing is open July 4 through Aug. 3 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

Hood Canal (12) north of a line projected due east of Ayock Point opens July 4 through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). Areas south of Ayock Point are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

In the San Juan Islands (7 South) opens July 11 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). San Juan Islands (7 North) opens Aug. 15 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).

South-central Puget Sound (11) and southern Puget Sound (13) are closed this summer to help rebuild crab populations.

The big question is what anglers should expect once their pots hit bottom?

“Dungeness crab populations in the southern reaches of Puget Sound and southern Hood Canal have experienced stress in recent years,” said Bob Sizemore, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) shellfish policy manager. “Crabbing in the northern portions of Puget Sound has been very good and should be good again this year.”

A WDFW study from 2018 showed a sharp decline in south-central Puget Sound of 87.4 percent during a three-year period, and in southern Puget Sound it was 96.7 percent over a six-year timeframe.

Test fishing in 2018 showed no presence of Dungeness crab in the size range of 3.5 to 5.7 inches, indicating several year classes are missing. In general, test fishing in 2019 did show a slight improvement although nowhere near the levels to even consider opening the two southern-most reaches of Puget Sound and southern Hood Canal.

“Nobody harvested crab last year (in south central and southern Puget Sound) and the test fishery catch of legal-size crab per pot didn’t improve significantly (in 2019) so Mother Nature has the faucet still turned off at the other end,” said Don Velasquez, the WDFW head Puget Sound shellfish manager. “It takes about four years for crab to get to their legal-size and were still paying the price for what happened well before this year.”

In sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial fisheries during 2018 there was 9,225,000 pounds landed, which is down from 9,285,512 in 2017; 10,645,000 in 2016. The record catch occurred in 2015 when 11.8 million pounds was landed.

General rules are crab pots may not set or pulled from a vessel from one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise. All shellfish gear must be removed from the water on closed days.

Crabbers in Puget Sound must immediately write down their catch on record cards immediately after retaining Dungeness crab. Separate catch record cards are issued for the summer and winter seasons.

The daily limit in Puget Sound is five male Dungeness crab in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. For details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/crab.

Summer salmon fisheries in full bloom this month

Salmon fishing options expand this month but be sure to carefully look at the regulation pamphlet since there’s a myriad of areas that are either open or closed to protect weak wild stocks of salmon.

Look for a short, but sweet hatchery chinook fishery in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is open July 1-31. The preseason prediction of legal-size chinook encounters in Area 7 during July is 3,622 and is managed by WDFW as a season from beginning to end.

CHINOOK RETENTION OPPORTUNITIES ARE ONGOING ON THE WASHINGTON COAST NOW, BEGIN IN THE STRAITS AND SOUND THIS MONTH, AND TRANSITION TO THE LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER NEXT MONTH. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Time on the water has dwindled dramatically in northern Puget Sound (Area 9) where hatchery chinook fishing opens briefly from July 25-28. The hatchery chinook quota of 3,501 is well below the 5,400 in 2018. WDFW will assess catches after July 28 to see if more chinook fishing is possible. Area 9 remains open July 25 through Sept. 30 for pink and hatchery coho.

Central Puget Sound (Area 10) is also open for hatchery chinook from July 25 – later than 2018’s July 16 opener – and closes Aug. 31 or until a quota of 3,057 (4,473 in 2018) is achieved. Area 10 then reverts to a coho and pink directed season from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know if you’re planning on targeting Area 10 summer kings is to go right when it opens to get in as much fishing time as possible. Those who want to get out into Area 10 right now should find some very good resident coho action, which has been off the charts since it opened last month for coho only.

Salmon fishing communities along the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles to Sekiu should see some glory moments for summer chinook.

Port Angeles (Area 6) is open July 1 to Aug. 15 for hatchery-marked chinook west of a true north/south line through Number 2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook (release chum and wild coho and chinook). A chinook release area from July 1 through Aug. 15 is east of a true north/south line through the Number 2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook (release all chinook, chum and wild coho). Area 6 is open for hatchery coho and pinks from Aug. 16 through Sept. 30 (release all chinook, chum and wild coho). Freshwater Bay is closed for salmon from July 1 through Oct. 31; and Port Angeles Harbor, Sequim Bay and Discovery Bay are closed for salmon from July 1 through Aug. 15.

Hatchery chinook fishing at Sekiu (Area 5) is open July 1 through Aug. 15 except closed in a section at Kydaka Point.

South-central Puget Sound (Area 11) opens July 1 (closed Thursdays and Fridays of each week). Early summer king fishing was decent last summer and hopefully anglers have a similar scenario despite a reduced quota of 2,805 hatchery chinook (5,030 in 2018). Be sure to go sooner than later to the Clay Banks and other nearby hotspots to ensure more time on the water. Once the chinook quota is achieved in Area 11 the fishery reverts to being open daily through Sept. 30 for coho and pinks only.

Hood Canal (Area 12) south of Ayock Point opens for hatchery chinook from July 1 through Sept. 30 and is one of the most underfished areas in our region.

Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) is open year-round for salmon and has a revamped minimum size limit on hatchery chinook of 20 inches through Sept. 30.

An expected 1,009,600 coho (349,000 was the forecast in 2018) – the largest return since 2014 – arrives off the Columbia River mouth and should be the bread winner for all coastal anglers. A mediocre chinook run will also provide some excitement at times.

All four coastal ports – Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Ilwaco – are open daily through Sept. 30 and closes once each area’s catch quota is achieved. The daily limit at Ilwaco and Westport is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook. The daily limit at La Push and Neah Bay is two salmon.

Like I said earlier check the regulation pamphlet for any changes to seasons or dates and also look at the WDFW eRegs at
https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations. I also post updates regularly on my Facebook page “Pacific Northwest Fishing and Outdoors.”

Kids Steelhead Day is July 6 at Reiter Ponds

The Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club and the Sky Valley Anglers are hosting a Kids Steelhead Fishing Event on July 6 at Reiter Ponds on the Skykomish River.

The event will also be held Aug. 3 and are open to all anglers age 14-and-under from 5 a.m. until noon with all the fishing gear – rod and reel – provided. A license isn’t required but each participant will need a salmon/steelhead catch card.

WDFW will block off the bank area from the pond outlet downstream 500 feet to the rapids between Reiter and the Cable Hole.

Sponsors also include Ted’s Sports Center in Lynnwood, Gibbs Delta, John’s Jigs, Pure Fishing, Element Outdoors, Dead Lead, Conti’s Custom Rods and Seaguar.

Reiter Ponds at 45300 Reiter Road is located off Highway 2 east of Gold Bar. Take Reiter Road for 2.5 miles and turn right onto a road that leads to the parking lot.

There will also be some activities along the shoreline for kids to participate in and WDFW employees will also be on hand. For details, call 206-876-0224 or email Elementmasonry@gmail.com.

NW Salmon Derby Series ramps up in July

The next route in the series offering diverse opportunities to catch fish along with some impressive picturesque scenery and maybe even winning some great prizes are the Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 12-14; and Lake Coeur d’ Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston will be making the rounds to each derby. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer.

The boat is rigged with Burnewiin accessories; Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. It is trailered with a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.
Derbies on the near horizon are Brewster Salmon Derby, Aug. 1-4 (could be cancelled due to low chinook returns so stay tuned); South King County PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 3; Gig Harbor PSA Salmon Derby, Aug. 10; Vancouver, B.C. Chinook Classic, Aug. 17-18; and Columbia River Fall Salmon Derby, Aug. 31.

There is a total of 14 derbies in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia and drawing for the grand prize boat takes place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22.

In other related news, anglers can start looking at 2020 with dates finalized for Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2; Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

Now it’s time for me to head out the door to wet a line. I’ll see you on the water!

2nd Kids Steelhead Day Coming Up At Reiter Over Long Holiday Weekend

The second of three Kids Steelhead Days on the Skykomish is coming up Saturday, July 6, and this one will feature a trout pond.

“We hope to see an equal turn out if not a bit greater than the 67 kids last event,” says Matthew Kennedy of Sky Valley Anglers about June’s inaugural kids day.

RIVER WALGAMOTT WATCHES HIS BOBBER CAREFULLY DURING THE FIRST KIDS STEELHEAD DAYS AT REITER PONDS IN EARLY JUNE. TWO MORE EVENTS WILL BE HELD THIS SUMMER ON JULY 6 AND AUGUST 3. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The bank on the north side of the river from the Reiter Ponds outlet downstream several hundred feet will again be set aside for anglers from 5 to 14 years old from 6 a.m. to noon to try their hand at hooking summer-runs.

Kids do need a license and catch card, but those are available at dealers for free.

While there should be more steelhead around than earlier this month, when Ava Kinder landed the sole catch of the day, adding the trout pond should increase the success and fun for everyone.

It’s being provided by Sky Valley Trout Unlimited.

Kennedy’s organization will also hold a salmon and steelhead seminar, and he says that one of the goals is to “educate parents who are not active fisherman to not be afraid to take the kids fishing more often by teaching them rigging techniques and appropriate setups, etc.”

YOUNG ANGLERS FISH BELOW THE REITER PONDS OUTFALL IN HOPES OF HOOKING RETURNING HATCHERY SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Reiter Ponds (45300 Reiter Road) is located off Highway 2 east of Gold Bar. Take Reiter Road for 2.5 miles and turn right onto a narrow paved road that leads to a long parking area, then walk down past the ponds to the river.

This season’s three kids days (Aug. 3 is the final one) are cohosted by the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club.

They are sponsored in part by tackle shops such as Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville, Ted’s Sports in Lynnwood and Triangle Bait in Snohomish, as well as Beau Mac, Gibbs Delta, Ray’s Baits, John’s Jigs, Pure Fishing, Element Outdoors, Dead Lead, Conti’s Custom Rods, Seaguar and Holy Moly Outdoors.

“Our goal is if even one kid takes a interest and becomes a fisherman or a biologist and makes a career out of it, our mission was a success,” says Kennedy. “After all, they are the future and we depend on them to carry on our legacy and keep fish in our rivers for future generations.”

AVA KINDER SHOWS OFF HER SUMMER-RUN CAUGHT DURING JUNE 2019’S INAUGURAL KIDS STEELHEAD DAYS AT REITER PONDS ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER. (JADE KANZLER)

To register contact him at (206) 876-0224 and elementmasonry@gmail.com.

Not So Fast That Fishing’s The Reason For Sultan Wild Steelhead Woes

The head of a longtime fishing organization is expressing disappointment with his local utility after it claimed summer angling is the reason wild winter-run steelhead aren’t recovering in part of a popular Western Washington watershed.

Mark Spada says that his Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club has “always had a good working relationship” with the county public utility district and has tried to work to improve fishing opportunities with them, but “(P)lacing blame on the recreational steelhead fisherman for a poor return is short sighted and unjustified.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER BETWEEN THE MOUTH OF THE SULTAN AND MONROE PRODUCES HATCHERY SUMMER STEELHEAD AND CHINOOK LIKE THESE CAUGHT ABOARD GUIDE SHEA FISHER’S BOAT DURING 2017’S OPENER, BUT A LOCAL UTILITY SAYS THE ANGLING RULES ARE ALSO IMPACTING NATIVE WINTER-RUNS. (THEFISHERE.COM)

Spada, who recently helped put on a kids fishing day a bit higher up in the Skykomish River, was reacting to stories in The Herald of Everett and on Q13.

Both pieces mostly shared the viewpoint of the utility, which operates a dam on a tributary of the Sky, the Sultan River.

While one reporter talked to a random angler on the water and the other to a regional fisheries manager, Spada felt PUD could have done a better job beforehand.

“I hope in the future you’ll look to work with the recreational community to find answers to difficult fish management questions, and not take the low road to incite public perception,” he wrote to Larry Lowe, a Snohomish County PUD fisheries biologist, yesterday morning.

A WDFW SALMONSCAPE MAP SHOWS THE COURSE OF THE SULTAN RIVER, WHICH DRAINS OUT OF SPADA LAKE AT THE SNOHOMISH COUNTY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT’S CULMBACK DAM, POUNDS THROUGH A 13-MILE-LONG GORGE BEFORE HITTING FLATTER TERRAIN AND ENTERING THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT THE TOWN OF SULTAN. (WDFW)

SPARKING THE SITUATION ARE DECLINING STEELHEAD RUNS and a recent statewide rule change that moved the opening day of fishing on the Skykomish from June 1 to the Saturday of the long Memorial Day Weekend as part of a WDFW regulations simplification drive.

In an email to Northwest Sportsman, Spada says he has fought for an earlier opener for years.

“The recreational fishing industry is in dire straits right now, and we need every single day of angling opportunity we can get,” he said. “(It) just makes good business sense to be open on a holiday weekend.”

With the scenic Skykomish the only summer salmon and steelhead bank and boat fishery of consequence in all of Western Washington this season, hundreds of anglers took advantage of the long weekend to get afield too, packing into the river’s accesses.

WDFW catch stats show that 338 were interviewed by creel samplers on May 25 and 26, including 259 at the Sultan River, Ben Howard and Lewis Street put-ins and take-outs, and another 79 up at Reiter Ponds.

Overall they kept 16 hatchery kings and 28 hatchery steelhead, releasing one wild king and 18 wild steelhead.

Not the world’s best fishing by any stretch, but those few wild steelhead are at the crux of PUD’s beef.

“We believe (angling rules) are impeding the recovery of these fish and they’re controllable, and we have to do all we can do,” utility natural resources manager Keith Binkley told The Herald‘s Julia-Grace Sanders.

PUD says it has spent $21 million of its ratepayers’ money to promote fish recovery in the Sultan River and that their monitoring shows 11 percent of the trib’s wild winter-runs are “still en route up the Skykomish” as of the old June 1 opener, and 26 percent as of this year’s late May opener, per the paper.

(The 2020 start of season would fall on May 30 because of how the calendar changes from year to year.)

THOSE SPAWNER FIGURES WILL RAISE EYEBROWS.

According to WDFW, greater than 95 percent of all wild winter steelhead in the Skykomish-Snoqualmie-Snohomish have already finished spawning by June 1.

Now, the Sultan is not the Sauk-Suiattle, home to large ice fields in the Glacier Peak Wilderness that keep those rivers colder longer and have led their steelhead to spawn later than any other stock in the state, but WDFW does allow that its fish do make redds later than others in the Snohomish watershed.

However, it’s unclear whether that timing has also been unnaturally skewed by cold water coming out of PUD’s Culmback Dam, which has been on the upper Sultan since 1965 and was raised 60-plus feet in 1984.

Up until recently, water was released “from the base of the reservoir, which is naturally colder than water near the top,” per the utility, but a modification now draws off and mixes in warmer surface water, making the river below the impassable dam more fish friendly.

COLD AND WARM WATER MIXES BELOW CULMBACK DAM ON THE SULTAN RIVER. (IMCO/SNOHOMISH COUNTY P.U.D.)

It follows on 2016’s removal of a PUD diversion dam that had blocked salmon and steelhead passage at river mile 9.7 since 1929.

Good on them for checking off federal dam-relicensing requirements and doing more for fish, but if WDFW stats are any indication, fisheries are likely coming in well below allowable impact rates.

NMFS allows the agency and the Tulalip Tribes to kill up to 4.2 percent of returning Endangered Species Act-listed wild steelhead during their hatchery-directed winter and summer seasons through this October.

This year’s native winter steelhead run came in well below forecast and it won’t be known for some time how many were impacted during the December-January-February season, but all of 1.9 adults died during the first two weekends of the summer fishery.

That’s based on the 19 caught and released, as required, and a standard 10 percent mortality rate on steelhead put back in the water.

According to WDFW, those nates were also mostly kelts — winter fish that had already spawned and were returning to saltwater.

(Scott Weedman of Three Rivers Marine in nearby Woodinville fished the opener and believes those wild fish were actually mostly summer-runs, probably headed to the forks of the Skykomish.)

With an estimated 1,000 back this year, the loss of those 1.9 fish amounts to a 00.19 percent impact rate out of the maximum of 4.2 percent.

A U.S.G.S. SATELLITE TOPO MAP SHOWS LOGGING INCHING TOWARDS THE STEEP CANYON OF THE SULTAN RIVER BELOW CULMBACK DAM. THE AREA WAS LAST CUT NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO, WITH DEBRIS FLOWS SEVERAL YEARS LATER DURING A LARGE STORM. (USGS)

NOW, I’M NOT SAYING THE SULTAN FISH AREN’T IMPORTANT, not for one second.

Having put in some pretty good growing-up years along its banks and in the hills above the paved end of Trout Farm Road, I’m more than a little partial to the system and I want to see its steelhead and coho returns blow up like the river’s pink runs did.

I’m also realistic.

Fishing seasons that have been going on for decades are not the reason wild steelhead are suddenly struggling in the watershed, nor keeping them depressed.

That’s primarily due to massive, long-term habitat alterations — logging, diking, developing — that have reduced spawning and rearing water for fish.

I know it’s not PUD’s land, but I sure hope they’re paying close attention to any proposed clearcutting above either side of the rain-prone gorge of the Sultan below their dam.

But then again, maybe it’s easier to take on minnows like fishermen and miners than the state’s massive 2×4 industry.

Then there’s increasing pinniped predation on outmigrating smolts and returning adults.

And let’s not forget 2015, The Blob year, which shriveled streams in the Skykomish system and probably is playing no small part in recent years’ low steelhead returns.

THE SULTAN FLOWS INTO THE SKYKOMISH. THE TRIB MAY PROVIDE A THERMAL REFUGE FOR FISH IN THE MAINSTEM LATER IN SUMMER DURING LOW-WATER YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

EVEN SO, P.U.D. IS MAKING A BID TO TWEAK the fishing regs, asking WDFW to push its summer opener back to June 15, restrict the use of bait and limit angling at the mouth of the Sultan, per The Herald.

“We need to now, more than ever, be protecting these fish,” another PUD staffer told the paper.

WDFW’s ear is bent and they are mulling options.

Who knows what might come out of this, perhaps keeping the early opener above the Sultan or Mann Road Bridge, where hatchery steelhead predominate, and later below the mouth of the Sultan?

But that would also impact the summer king fishery, which is almost entirely between there and Monroe’s Lewis Street Bridge.

“That’s going to be the part that’s the biggest struggle — to protect steelhead and provide Chinook opportunity,” acknowledges Edward Eleazer, WDFW’s regional fisheries manager.

I don’t know how this one is going to end, but with how hugely important of a fishery the Skykomish has become in this day and age of shrinking opportunities, stay tuned.

Kids Turn Out In Good Numbers For 1st Of 3 Skykomish Steelhead Days

Saturday saw a great turnout at the first of this summer’s three Kids Steelhead Days on the Skykomish, an event highlighted by hot dogs, lots of helpers and a heckuva nice summer-run for Ava Kinder.

AVA KINDER SHOWS OFF HER SUMMER-RUN CAUGHT DURING THIS PAST SATURDAY’S KIDS STEELHEAD DAYS AT REITER PONDS ON THE SKYKOMISH. (JADE KANZLER)

Her 6.5-pounder might have been the only one landed by the 67 young participants, but everyone had a chance to try their luck at catching one of the Northwest’s premier sport fish in a top spot.

Organizer Mark Spada of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club reported there were a couple other missed opportunities too.

“Despite the lack of fish, all the kids seemed to have a good time, and we had lots of great help from parents and volunteers,” he said.

Spada’s club along with Matt Alexander and Sky Valley Anglers cohosted the event.

KINDER BATTLES HER FISH. (MARK SPADA, SNOHOMISH SPORTSMEN’S CLUB)

Through a WDFW e-reg, the north bank of the Sky from the Reiter Ponds outfall downstream a couple hundred feet was set aside for kids 14 and younger to fish from dawn till noon.

As their folks offered encouragement or helped, kids cast from the shore and from atop the boulders that dot this stretch, one that’s perfect for float fishing.

YOUNG ANGLERS FISH BELOW THE REITER PONDS OUTFALL IN HOPES OF HOOKING RETURNING HATCHERY SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For those who didn’t have or bring their own gear, organizers had a number of rods set up for young anglers to borrow, along with replacement jigs, plus baits to try out too.

And expert anglers dudded up in waders stood by to free snags or offer replacement jigs.

AS KIRAN WALGAMOTT WATCHES HIS BOBBER, A VOLUNTEER UNTANGLES ANOTHER KID’S RIG FROM A SNAG. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Not far away, hot dogs and cold drinks were on offer too, and over by the rearing ponds proper where kids and parents signed in, freebie fish tape measures and Fish Washington stickers were available.

Back on the river, flows were below average, providing more room against the backdrop of invasive knotweed, and the weather was pretty much ideal, with the marine layer burning off by around 10 a.m.

Spada says that for the next kids day, slated for the first Saturday in July, the 6th, a trout pond might be added if more steelies don’t show.

The third is scheduled for Aug. 3. Kids need a free fishing license and catch card to participate.

“WE CAUGHT SEVEN FISH,” THE BROTHERS WALGAMOTT WOULD PROCLAIM BACK AT THE TRUCK, A TALLY THAT MIGHT NOT HAVE INCLUDED ANY FISH, BUT FOR SURE TWO HOT DOGS, TWO GATORADES, TWO PLATES AND A LEAF THEY REELED IN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Kids Steelhead Days Coming Up On The Skykomish At Reiter Ponds

Got a young’n who’s interested in steelheading and might like to tangle with a hot hatchery summer-run?

The Reiter Ponds side of the Skykomish River will host the first of three Kids Steelhead Days on June 1.

YOUTH STEELHEADERS WILL HAVE A GREAT CHANCE TO FISH PRIME WATER AT THE FIRST OF THREE KIDS STEELHEAD DAYS COMING UP THIS SEASON AT REITER PONDS ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

All equipment will be provided and the event is open to anglers 14 and under from daybreak to noon.

“This could turn into a pretty cool kids event,” says Mark Spada of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club, which along with Sky Valley Anglers is putting them on.

The others will be held on the first Saturdays of July and August, the 6th and 3rd, respectively.

Where in past years Reiter and the Sky opened June 1 for steelhead, it’s now a Saturday-before-Memorial Day opener (May 25 this year).

WDFW will reserve the bank from the ponds outlet downstream 500 feet to the set of rapids between Reiter and Cable Hole for kids during the events.

While it may be tough for Reiter rats to yield that water during some of the season’s best steelheading, there’s still a lot of fishable bank on the other side of the river as well as above and below there, plus it’s for a good cause.

“I had this idea to try and foster a new generation of steelhead fishermen. I never see any kids fishing steelhead any more, and not really any good places to take a kid to catch his first steelhead,” explained Spada. “I’m hoping this program will encourage young anglers to engage in this iconic fishery.”

Though kids 14 and under don’t need a fishing license, they do need a catch card whenever fishing for salmon and steelhead.

Matt Kennedy of Sky Valley Anglers says the events are meant to be as hands-on as possible.

“We want the kids fishing, the kids learning, we want them casting,” he says.

For kiddos who limit out or get bored with fishing, Kennedy says he’s also considering bringing a table for tying up jigs and building spoons and spinners.

WDFW officers will also be on hand.

“This is a great opportunity for the next generation of Washington state’s steelhead fishermen and fisherwomen to learn from experienced anglers,” said Jenni Whitney, the state district fisheries biologist.

A flier Kennedy and Spada put together announcing the kids days asks that folks register for the events (call 206-876-0224; email Elementmasonry@gmail.com), which will help determine how many adult volunteers need to be on hand.

Where Spada’s Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club has been around for 87 years, many with the legendary Bob Heirman close to the helm, for Kennedy, getting involved is about focusing his efforts on his home system, whether that be volunteerism, cleaning up the river’s banks and, in the future, guiding. He says he’d also like to hold kids days during the winter run.

Reiter Ponds (45300 Reiter Road) is located off Highway 2 east of Gold Bar. Take Reiter Road for 2.5 miles and turn right onto a narrow paved road that leads to a long parking area, then walk down past the ponds to the river.

Kids Steelhead Days sponsors include Ted’s Sports in Lynnwood, Gibbs Delta, John’s Jigs, Pure Fishing, Element Outdoors, Dead Lead, Conti’s Custom Rods and Seaguar.

WDFW-WFC Settle Skykomish Summer Steelhead Lawsuit; State Plans New Broodstock Program

Editor’s note: Updated 2:35 p.m., May 3, 2019 with additional comments from WDFW

The hacking away at Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunities as we’ve known them continues, though there’s also a glimmer of hope to save a popular fishery.

Releases of Skamania-strain summer-runs will be ended in the Skykomish River in the coming years following a lawsuit settlement between a highly litigious environmental group and state managers, who are also making a separate bid to replace the fish with locally adapted broodstock.

SKYKOMISH RIVER STEELHEADERS WILL BE ABLE TO CATCH SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUNS THROUGH AT LEAST THE 2024 SEASON UNDER A LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT, BUT IN A SEPARATE MOVE STATE HATCHERY OPERATORS WANT TO SWITCH TO A NEW LOCALLY ADAPTED BROODSTOCK IN THE COMING YEARS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The deal reached in federal court this week allows WDFW to release 116,000 smolts this spring and next from Reiter Ponds, ensuring fair numbers of returning adults will be available for harvest in the popular river in the coming years, but drops that number to 60,000 and then 40,000 in 2021 and 2022.

Technically, the agreement with the Wild Fish Conservancy would allow the agency to continue to produce Skamanias in the Sky afterwards if the National Marine Fisheries Service provides ESA coverage for the hatchery program.

But in reality, the feds are the ones who have been pushing WDFW to stop releasing the out-of-basin fish in Puget Sound waters.

In a July 21, 2017 letter, NMFS Regional Administrator Barry Thom told then WDFW Director Jim Unsworth he should look for “alternative” stocks to hold fisheries over.

So afterwards the agency considered using steelhead from a tributary elsewhere in the Skykomish-Snoqualmie watershed for a long-shot broodstock replacement bid.

For a blog I did last June, that plan to use Tolt summers was described to me as the best hope to save the fishery.

But the consent decree signed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington in Seattle by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and WFC’s Kurt Beardslee and their attorneys this week, and Judge James L. Robart yesterday, specifically bars using any fish out of the South Fork Tolt for the next eight years.

Yet in a twist, another option has since emerged.

WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes recently submitted a hatchery genetic management plan to use steelhead collected in the South Fork Skykomish instead — “a new path forward,” in the state’s words, and one that would seemingly secure the program from potential budget cuts being eyed coming out of the end of the legislative session.

It still needs NMFS’ buy-in, but those fish are a mix of wild and naturalized hatchery steelhead that since 1958 have returned to a fish trap at the base of the impassable 104-foot-tall Sunset Falls just east of Index and have been trucked upstream.

They have less Skamania heritage than those from the Tolt, according to a WDFW genetic analysis.

Last year, 348 summer-runs showed up at the falls, with the 221 unclipped fish released into the South Fork and the 127 clipped ones not allowed to pass.

Edward Eleazer, the state’s regional fisheries manager, says that that “pretty robust” population will help WDFW reach production goals a lot more quickly than if they had tried to pump redds for Tolt steelhead eggs, rear them at Tokul Creek Hatchery, and then transfer first-generation returning adults to Reiter to build up broodstock there, like was being considered last year.

The proposed HGMP calls for the release of 116,000 smolts reared from natural-origin parents annually, “providing important harvest opportunities primarily for recreational fisheries but also for treaty tribes.”

It’s a lifeline of hope for the last best summer steelhead fishery in Puget Sound.

“Once the South Fork broodstock is established, it should provide stable, reliable, and perhaps enhanced summer-run fishing on the Skykomish for the foreseeable future,” said Mark Spada, president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club.

UNDER A PLAN SUBMITTED BY WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES, STEELHEAD COLLECTED IN THE SOUTH FORK WOULD BE USED TO PRODUCE SMOLTS THAT WOULD BE SCATTERPLANTED NOT ONLY THERE BUT IN THE NORTH FORK AS WELL, EXPANDING ANGLER OPPORTUNITY GREATLY. (JOE MABEL, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CC 4.0)

It could also spread out the fishery so we’re not all focused in the half mile of water at and below Reiter Ponds.

Spada said that under the HGMP, smolts could be scatter-planted into the Sky’s South and North Forks, and that that “could provide a lot of additional angling opportunity.”

Both stems of the Sky and their tribs are paralleled by state, county and logging roads.

“There are a lot more options to expand the fishery,” confirms Eleazer, who sounds pretty excited about it. “Now we can recycle fish. Before we weren’t allowed to … There’s a lot of river miles.”

He acknowledges that it all still does depend on NMFS approval, but says so far the feds haven’t expressed any negative comments or asked for more information on the proposal.

Eleazer says that where in the future fisheries will necessarily become more “surgical” and adaptive because of ESA constraints, that’s not the case in the waters above Sunset Falls.

He says that the program will also provide a “key tool in recovering that wild population” on the North Fork Skykomish.

It’s another testament to WDFW standing by the Sky and its importance to anglers.

“We know that transitioning to a local stock is better for fish, and that the Skykomish is a tremendously popular steelhead river,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in a press release. “People will be able to continue enjoying the experience here much as they have in the past.”

The news is not as good for the river system to the north, however.

The WDFW-WFC court settlement essentially ends releases out of Whitehorse Ponds into the North Fork Stillaguamish with this year’s 90,000 Skamania smolts let go for return in 2021.

With an HGMP covering the stock, production could resume, but again, that seems unlikely with NMFS’ directive.

As the two parties moved towards a deal, members of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington were warned they’d need to “really work hard” to save the Stilly program, which produces fish for one of the Westside’s rare fly fishing-only opportunities for hatchery summer-runs.

It wasn’t immediately clear if WDFW has any plans to develop a local broodstock on the Stillaguamish like it does on the Skykomish, but Director Susewind said he wanted to work with tribal comanagers to “explore alternative fishing opportunities.”

“While we never want to lose a fishery like the Stilly summer-runs, saving the Sky was the highest priority,” noted Spada.

CHRIS LAPOINTE FISHES FOR SUMMER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER NEAR REITER PONDS DURING THE 2016 FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Last February, when WFC announced it planned to sue the state within 60 days, the organization claimed that continued releases of Skamanias into Puget Sound streams represented a threat to ESA-listed steelhead, but the real strength of their argument was that WDFW didn’t have an HGMP to operate the programs.

That has been a problem for several years as NMFS’s collective desk has been buried with hatchery and fishery plans to approve, biops to write, sea lion removals on the Willamette to OK, etc.

That WDFW has settled yet again with WFC will deeply piss anglers off, but without that federal permit, the agency is highly vulnerable to the organization’s low-hanging-fruit lawsuit racket.

The settlement also includes a $23,000 check from WDFW to pay WFC’s legal fees and orders the state to perform five years’ worth of snorkel surveys in the North Fork Skykomish and South Fork Tolt to count fish.

That effort is estimated to cost a total of $400,000, a not insignificant amount considering the agency’s $7 million budget shortfall in the coming two years.

A PREVIOUS WILD FISH CONSERVANCY LAWSUIT TARGETED WDFW’S EARLY-TIMED HATCHERY WINTER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH.  (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This is the second time in the past half decade that WFC has targeted WDFW hatchery steelhead operations on the Sky and elsewhere in Puget Sound.

In 2014, it was over early-returning Chambers Creek winter-runs, a Tacoma-area stock that has been used for decades.

That lawsuit resulted in continued releases into the Sky, but a pause elsewhere until WDFW had an HGMP in hand, the end of stocking in the Skagit for 12 years, and a $45,000 settlement check.

Prevented from releasing their fish, hatchery workers at Kendall Creek on the North Fork Nooksack and Whitehorse on the Stilly had to get creative to save the programs until federal ESA coverage came through, rearing their steelhead to adulthood at the facilities and spawning them there, as well as reconditioning kelts at the former.

This latest WFC lawsuit focuses on a 1950s mixture of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from the hatchery on the latter stream and nicknamed Skamanias for the region of their origin.

They were once planted in numerous Puget Sound rivers, providing decades of good fishing on the Dungeness, Green, Skagit, Cascade, South Fork of the Stillaguamish, Canyon Creek, Sultan, North and South Forks of the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Raging and Tolt.

But they also have a propensity for interbreeding with native fish and between that and the 2007 ESA listing of the region’s steelhead, they have been largely discontinued, leading to shrinking fishing opportunities and releases — from 190,000 into the Sky in 2015 to 116,000 in 2017.

That 2017 letter from NMFS’ Thom states that a WDFW researcher concluded “that genetic impacts to the two native summer steelhead populations in the Snohomish Basin have been so large that they are now considered feral populations of Skamania-stock fish.”

Now they may help keep steelheading going on the Skykomish if the feds approve the state and tribes’ plan.

“The potential risks of this hatchery program are minimal compared to the risks of failed steelhead habitat protection and restoration measures or adequately anticipating and addressing the effects of climate change,” the proposed HGMP states.

THE SKYKOMISH NEAR PROCTOR CREEK DURING SUMMER 2015’S EXTREMELY LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Skykomish, Wallace, NF Stilly Closing Due To Low Steelhead Returns

THE FOLLOWING ARE EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICES FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Portions of Skykomish and Wallace rivers to close to fishing

Action: Closes the Skykomish and Wallace rivers to fishing.

DUE TO LOW RETURNS OF HATCHERY STEELHEAD, THE SKYKOMISH (HERE), WALLACE AND NORTH FORK STILLAGUAMISH WILL CLOSE TO FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Effective date: Jan. 7, 2019 through Feb. 15, 2019.

Species affected: All species.

Location: Skykomish River, from the mouth to the forks
Wallace River, from the mouth to 200 feet above the hatchery water intake.

Reason for action: The Wallace River and Reiter Ponds hatcheries currently have less than half of the early winter steelhead broodstock on hand needed to meet egg take goals. The early winter steelhead goals are 140,000 smolt from Reiter Ponds and 27,600 smolt from the Wallace Hatchery.

Additional information: Fishing will reopen when egg take goals have been met. The Snoqualmie, Snohomish rivers and tributaries remain open as described in the fishing rules pamphlet.

North Fork Stillaguamish River to close to fishing

Action: Closes the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to fishing.

Effective date: Jan. 7, 2019 through Feb.15, 2019.

Species affected: All species.

Location: North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, from the mouth upstream to the Swede Heaven Bridge (includes the Fortson Hole area).

Reason for action: The Whitehorse Hatchery does not have enough early winter steelhead broodstock on hand to meet egg take goals. The goal is 130,000 smolt and the hatchery currently has 72,400 eggs on hand.

Additional information: Fishing will reopen when egg take goals have been met.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.