Tag Archives: Skykomish River

Snohomish System Coho Fishing Closing Or Under Hatchery-only Restrictions

Updated 11:32 a.m., Sept. 27, 2018

State fishery managers are closing a large portion of traditionally one of the strongest coho systems in Western Washington due to a low return of wild fish.

THIS ONE KINDA HURTS — THE SNOHOMISH RIVER, WHERE JON PULLING CAUGHT THIS COHO WITH GUIDE JIM STAHL (LEFT) A FEW SEASONS BACK, WILL CLOSE FOR SALMON FISHING AS OF SEPT. 29 DUE TO A LOW RETURN OF WILD SILVERS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Snohomish River, Snoqualmie River and Skykomish River above the mouth of the Wallace River will close to salmon fishing effective this Saturday, Sept. 29, according to an emergency rule-change notice out from WDFW this morning.

“In-season run size updates indicate that the Snohomish wild coho run is lower than the pre-season forecast. These measures are needed to protect future runs of coho by increasing chances wild spawner escapement goals are met,” the agency stated.

The Skykomish from its mouth to the Wallace and the Wallace, where hatchery coho are headed, will remain open but only for adipose-fin-clipped silvers.

If fish numbers improve, there’s a chance the rivers could reopen, according to WDFW. On Facebook, anglers were reporting good numbers in the system, and state catch stats showed strong saltwater catches in early September.

In the background is a move earlier this year by the National Marine Fisheries Service that listed Snohomish coho as an “overfished” stock.

That’s a determination that means “the stock is depressed and signals conservation concern.  Under these conditions, a rebuilding plan must be developed to improve the escapement, generally rebuilding the stock within 10 years,” according to NMFS.

Escapements during a recent three-year period fell short of goals, triggering a recommendation that harvests be reduced. Federal, tribal and state biologists are working to understand the reasons why the run has been weaker, the agency says.

In the meanwhile, last Sunday marked the last day to fish for coho off the mouth of the Snohomish, Marine Area 8-2, and Sunday is the final day for waters further out, Areas 5, 6, 8-1 and 9.

This year has seen a number of lower than expected returns due to recent years’ ocean conditions and drought, including Columbia River Chinook and steelhead, Willapa Bay kings, and Cowlitz and Washougal Rivers fall Chinook, leading to closures or reduced limits.

WDFW also today announced that the limit on adult salmon in Drano Lake was being reduced to one a day.

At least one closure, however, was in part to try and collect more fall king eggs to benefit orcas in future years, Samish Chinook.

In 2016, when the Snohomish system was closed from the outset of the season, managers were able to open fisheries in mid-October when it became apparent there were enough returning.

With Feds And ESA Pushing, Major Change To Popular Sky Summer Steelhead Program Mulled

Washington steelhead managers hope to save the popular Skykomish River summer-run fishery by switching to a local broodstock, a move that feels like a hail Mary but is also described as just about their only realistic path forward.

SKYKOMISH RIVER SKAMANIA-STRAIN HATCHERY 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 HAVE HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelies in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes have come up with a plan to replace the strain in the Sky with Tolt River 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.

“We’re looking for a way to preserve that fishery,” says WDFW’s Jim Scott, a special assistant to the director. “We know its importance.”

He says that switching to the in-basin steelhead will also help meet conservation and Endangered Species Act goals for the listed stock.

The good news is that at this point, side-drifting and spoon fishing for hot summers on the Sky seems unlikely to suddenly come to a screeching halt.

“There’s no expectation to eliminate the existing program until we build up the Tolt,” Scott says, “and there will be a period of overlap of the programs” before releases of the steelhead strain originally from Southwest Washington ends.

THE SKYKOMISH ABOVE PROCTOR CREEK, BELOW REITER PONDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Several things are driving the move, Scott says, including last year’s new Mitchell Act biological opinion for hatchery operations in the Columbia Basin.

“NOAA informed us they would no longer permit out-of-DPS (distinct population segment) steelhead stocks in the Lower Columbia,” says Scott.

That effectively killed off use of Chambers Creek steelhead there.

Scott says that now-retired National Marine Fisheries Service manager Rob Jones dropped another strong hint afterwards about what was coming down the line — that managers should “just say no to stocks outside DPS.”

“Given the tremendous value of the Skykomish summer-run fishery, that created a great deal of concern in my mind,” Scott says.

Like the state, the feds are just as vulnerable to ESA lawsuits for incomplete or poorly permitted hatchery operations.

A July 21, 2017 letter (page 55 of this PDF) from NMFS West Coast regional administrator Barry Thom noted WDFW had yet to submit an updated hatchery genetic management plan for the summer steelhead program at Reiter Ponds on the Sky as well as Whitehorse on the North Fork Stilly, that those be reviewed with stakeholders and that the review result in the “timely development of alternatives to using segregated Skamania broodstock in the Snohomish and Stillaguamish basins.”

So WDFW along with the Tulalips and the ad hoc Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group have been casting around for potential solutions.

Scott suggests that there are still other though lesser possibilities, but one participant in PSSAG’s “gritty discussions” says this is it to save the fishery.

“WDFW has only one alternative, and that is to mine the Tolt River native stocks,” says member Mark Spada, who is also president of the venerable Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club and a longtime local angler.

The Tolt is a tributary of the Snoqualmie River which joins the Sky below Monroe to form the Snohomish.

“Without the Tolt fish, the summer-run program is done, despite being arguably one of the most successful hatchery programs ever designed,” Spada says. “This decision makes no sense, but the Sky smolt plant has already been reduced from 160,000, to 116,000, at the direction of NMFS.”

Two years ago, it actually looked even more grim than that. Rumors flew that Reiter Ponds summer steelhead output might be cut by around half — or the program killed off entirely.

THE SKYKOMISH IS THE ONLY RIVER NORTH OF THE COWLITZ AND EAST OF FORKS WHERE WESTERN WASHINGTON ANGLERS STAND A GOOD CHANCE OF CATCHING HARVESTABLE SUMMER STEELHEAD AND CHINOOK ON THE SAME FLOAT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A PSSAG meeting handout from early last month explains the Skamanias-for-Tolts plan more fully.

It involves pumping redds in the Tolt to collect eggs that would then be hatched at Tokul Creek Hatchery. Fish would be reared there, then released from there and back in the Tolt.

Fertilized eggs from first-generation adults returning to Tokul would be transferred to Reiter for rearing and release there and upstream at Sunset Falls.

Release of unmarked steelhead above Sunset Falls would cease and Skamania production at Reiter would be phased out as Tolts took over.

Skamanias, known for their fight, are a 1950s mix of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead and come from the hatchery on the Washougal.

They were once planted in numerous Puget Sound rivers, including 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 have a propensity for interbreeding with native fish — steelhead in the North Fork Sky are “almost all Skamanias,” according to Scott — and so have been largely discontinued, leading to shrinking fishing opportunities over the years.

One big question is, if local wild summers are already Skamanias in part, why even bother and put the fishery at risk?

When WDFW was mulling Puget Sound wild gene banks in 2015, a presentation showed that native steelhead in the Tolt had been genetically influenced by the strain.

But according to Scott, new work shows that that percentage is “dropping” and that there may be different genes even between early and late spawners.

“Through careful selection, we hope to select for mostly Tolt summers,” he says.

Relatively speaking, not many summer steelhead spawn in the trib — a WDFW chart shows the escapement goal has rarely been met the past 15 years — and 2015’s drought probably didn’t do us any favors either, but a side benefit of the plan is that it could help rebuild Tolt stocks.

While it all seems like a long reach, Spada’s actually optimistic.

“With the science now available, the Tolt project has a good chance of succeeding, and should be the long-term answer,” he says.

And Scott too is bullish.

“We want to be careful how we do it, but we have real experience restoring runs that are very small,” he says.

He points to restoration work on Hamma Hamma steelhead, Nooksack spring Chinook and Stillaguamish fall Chinook that is “opening up paths we didn’t have before.”

Scott credits PSSAG members for their work on the issue, calling them “a great group of folks” with a wide diversity of perspectives.

Indeed, he cautions that not everybody’s on board with the general consensus to move forward with this plan, but “to the extent we can, we’ll address their issues.”

Yet more questions remain.

How long will it take for WDFW and the Tulalips to write a solid HGMP?

Without a local ally like former state Sen. Kirk Pearson to chivvy them, with NMFS’s workload how long will it take for the feds to review the document, get clarifications and ultimately — hopefully — approve it?

Scott doesn’t want to hazard a guess how many years it may be.

And in the meanwhile, will the Wild Fish Conservancy or other similar-minded groups use the lack of an ESA-required HGMP to sue WDFW over Skamanias, like they did with Chambers winters?

That’s all TBD, but Spada’s crossing his fingers WDFW’s gamble pays off because of the importance of the Skykomish River fishery to Puget Sound steelheaders.

“It’s the only viable summer-run program left,” he says.

THE  SKYKOMISH RIVER SUMMER-RUN PROGRAM PRODUCES FISH FOR BANK ANGLERS WHO FLOCK TO REITER AND CABLE, AND SIDE-DRIFTERS WHO WORK LOWER IN THE RIVER SYSTEM. A QUARTET SHOWS OFF FIVE PLUS A SUMMER CHINOOK CAUGHT EARLY LAST JUNE WITH GUIDE SHEA FISHER. (THEFISHERE.COM)

Some Puget Sound Pink Salmon Runs In Trouble

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

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

By Andy Walgamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, pinks were bucking it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snohomish Basin Rivers Closing For Humpy Retention

Pink salmon retention is closing after today on Snohomish system rivers due to a very low return so far.

“‘Whoa, where’s all the pinks?'” WDFW district fisheries biologist Jenni Whitney says she’s hearing from stream surveyors.

She says that in places like the Skykomish-Snoqualmie confluence, where in past years massive “crescents” of pinks gathered, this year they’re counting individual fish.

“They’re seeing 10s and 20s, not in the hundreds or thousands,” she says.

At another gauge for the run, Sunset Falls, just 904 have been passed upstream into the South Fork Sky.

At roughly this same time in 2011, 21,000 had.

In 2013, 46,000.

Whitney says this week and next is the typical peak of the run.

Perhaps they’ve been holding off from entering the river due to the lack of rain until this past Sunday, but a limited Tulalip directed coho fishery near the mouth turned up only a “handful” of pinks as well.

A minimal number were likely intercepted by recreational anglers in Puget Sound, judging by all the goose eggs in the pink salmon column, though closures of Areas 8 and 9 also affected that.

Whitney can’t say for certain how many are in the system, but says “it’s looking a lot less” than the escapement goal of 120,000.

So as of Friday, the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers will close for the wild stock to try and get as many back on the gravel as possible.

ERIC BELL PREPARES TO RELEASE A PINK SALMON BUCK. (GREG OLENIK)

The closure follows on a similar one in the Nooksack Basin announced earlier this month.

Coho retention will remain open.

The Snohomish is historically one of Puget Sound’s strongest systems, but this year’s forecast of 171,000 pinks was the fewest expected to return since 1997.

You can trace this year’s poor showing back to 2015, when the odd-year salmon’s parents came in to spawn.

A reconstruction of that year’s run shows that the escapement of 91,000 was the lowest in nearly two decades. What’s more, those fish were undersized and less fecund.

As eggs, this year’s fish were hit by four large floods in fall 2015, starting with one on Halloween that flooded Sultan.

And then they entered the saltwater with the ocean still “hungover” from the Blob.

“Single events can knock them down hard when combined with marine conditions,” notes WDFW salmon policy analyst Aaron Dufault in Olympia.

To the north, Canadian salmon managers now expect half the forecasted Fraser pinks to return. Dufault says that pessimistic estimates for how well the run would survive at sea may not have been pessimistic enough.

Skagit system fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull has been out surveying his system and finding bad signs as well.

“We are past the peak now of spawning in the major tributaries like the Cascade River, Illabot Creek, Bacon Creek, etc., and the counts are the lowest I’ve seen — and I’ve seen the two record low escapements on the Skagit of 60,000,” he says. “The mainstem Skagit from Concrete to Gorge Dam had a live count of 17,000 total today. Just the fact that we could count live fish means that we don’t have very many. Usually on a year with even, say, 300,000, we don’t even try to live count. I don’t know, at this point if we don’t end up with a new record low escapement estimate on the Skagit I’ll be surprised.”

In King County, biologist Aaron Bosworth is waiting for fall survey data to come in to say anything definitive.

“The forecast for Green River was 100,000 to 150,000, a low pink return relative to previous pink years. Seems like the run may have been below this forecast, though. We’ll count them on the spawning grounds over the next month or two and get a better sense for what came back,” he says. “Seems like anglers had a hard time catching them and folks think there may have not been very many around.”

Back on the Snohomish, Whitney says fishermen are asking the same questions as her stream surveyors: “‘Where are the pinks? We’re not catching pinks.'”

But everyone knows that closing humpy retention is in the best interest of conserving the stock in hopes of an eventual return to those “happy days,” as Whitney calls them, when the river’s banks are lined with anglers “hooping and hollering” and fighting pinks on little pink fishing rods.

It took Skagit pinks six years, or three runs, to recover from October 20, 2003’s whopper flood.

Bob Heirman Memorial Coho Derby Set For Early October

The legacy of a lifelong Snohomish County angler-conservationist will live on in a just-announced salmon fishing derby.

The Bob Heirman Memorial Coho Derby is set for Saturday, Oct. 7, on some of the late fisherman’s favorite rivers and features hefty prizes for one of his most coveted species.

“Bob single-handedly was responsible for more coho enhancement than every other program combined,” says Mark Spada, president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club, of which Heirman was the secretary for six decades. “He was tireless in his coho smolt planting in dozens of Snohomish County creeks.”

Heirman passed away in early May at the age of 84. He not only stocked streams but alpine lakes, and fished for salmon, steelhead and trout everywhere in the county from tidewater to foothills ponds to mountain tarns, compiling his stories and poetry in Snohomish My Beloved County: An Angler’s Anthology.

The derby will be held on the Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie Rivers, typically Puget Sound’s most productive waters for coho, and October’s a good month to hit them.

Presented by 3 Rivers Marine & Tackle, it has a grand prize of $2,000, second-place prize of $1,000 and third-place prize of $500

Tickets are $25, and they’re available at 3 Rivers, as well as Ted’s Sports Center, Greg’s Custom Rods, Triangle Bait & Tackle and John’s Sporting Goods.

Cash prize sponsors include 3 Rivers, Triangle, Ted’s, Greg’s and John’s, as well as Bickford Ford and Dick Nite Spoons.

The derby benefits the club, among others.