Tag Archives: Snoqualmie River

WDFW Crews Battle Floodwaters At Pugetropolis Salmon, Steelhead Hatcheries

State hatchery crews battled fast-rising floodwaters at three Puget Sound facilities but believe the worst is behind them and initial reports say no eggs or juvenile salmon and steelhead were lost.


“As of this morning we don’t believe we have any mortalities with these events,” Kelly Cunningham, WDFW Fish Program manager, told the Fish and Wildlife Commission this morning at their meeting in Olympia.

Snoqualmie River steelheaders may be the most relieved as Tokul Creek Hatchery — the only to meet eggtake goals in a winter that has seen massive shortfalls — saw “major flooding” but “no losses,” he reported.

High waters on the tributary from the atmospheric river hitting the Cascades were compounded by a landslide and an intake failure, but crews were able to save the day.

The facility rears rainbow trout and steelhead.

“We kept those fish alive,” Cunningham stated.

If Tokul’s steelhead eggs and smolts had been lost, things would have become very grim for a fishery that is struggling regionwide.

At Voights Creek on the Puyallup River’s tributary, the Carbon, there was “lots of water everywhere,” with the main hatchery building essentially “an island,” he reported.

Along with coho, the facility rears White River spring Chinook, and because of the importance of those fish, they were moved elsewhere, Cunningham stated.


Flooding in Issaquah was all over the news yesterday and the state salmon hatchery there lost its intake, but crews worked manually through the night to keep screens clear and install a backup pump, he said.

Coho and fall Chinook are reared at that facility.

As he finished briefing the commission, Cunningham praised the work of hatchery staffers.

“The folks on the ground keep everything running for us. They worked through the night to keep things open. I’m just very proud of the efforts of our staff,” he said.

On the Eastside, it does look like the Tucannon and other Blue Mountains rivers are overflowing their banks, so there may be impacts to facilities there, but for the moment hatcheries look to have weathered the storm on the Westside.

“Fingers crossed, hopefully we’re out of the woods on this one,” Cunningham said.

As for the impact of the floods on wild salmon redds, that won’t be known for some time. It’s possible that pink and chum fry could have already hatched and moved into the estuaries ahead of last week’s and this week’s storms, though it takes longer for young coho, Chinook and sockeye to emerge from the gravel.

Four high-flow events in fall 2015 took a big toll on pinks.

There is evidence suggesting that over the past six decades, Pugetropolis rivers have seen increasing scouring floods in fall and winter, which negatively impacts salmon nests.

‘Worst Ever Return’ Of Puget Sound Steelhead

Welcome to the weird world that is Pugetropolis steelheading circa 2020.

Even as angling reopens on sections of most of them today, state managers are dealing with a significant eggtake shortfall on three of four east Puget Sound river systems due to “the worst ever return” of the popular fish.

According to WDFW’s Edward Eleazer, Kendall Creek on the North Fork Nooksack saw a shortfall of 182,000 fertilized eggs, Whitehorse on the North Fork Stillaguamish 146,000 and Wallace/Reiter on the Skykomish 103,000 — all totaled 431,000 eggs.


Now for a brief mea culpa: The initial headline on the emergency rule change notice I posted yesterday afternoon announcing the reopening of retention of adipose-clipped steelhead on select stretches of three Snohomish and King County river systems mistakenly suggested that broodstock needs had been met because I misread WDFW’s reasoning.

My apologies, as in fact spawning goals were met on only one.

You would think that the rivers should stay shut to try and meet eggtake goals, or to stretch out the run by collecting late-arriving fish to spawn, but under the NOAA-Fisheries permit to operate the Chambers Creek early winter steelhead programs, WDFW can’t use adults that return after Jan. 31 for broodstock purposes, meaning that the fish still in the rivers afterwards are superfluous to spawning needs and thus available for harvest/removal.

The collection cutoff is done to segregate returns of wild and hatchery stocks as much as possible, according to Eleazer.

“We don’t want hatchery broodstock to creep later and later. We have a hard deadline of Jan. 31 as a safety precaution,” he said.

Where other sections of Puget Sound rivers close after the end of January for steelhead, terminal zones on the above rivers and the few others with Chambers fish are typically open through Feb. 15 to allow anglers to try and catch as many clipped ones as possible to prevent them from possibly interbreeding with natives.

As for the 11-day fishing window that began today to try to remove any last returning hatcheries, given the atmospheric hose pointed straight at Pugetropolis, it likely won’t be until very late this weekend if not early next week that anglers will be able to chase the few fish that are still around, though they won’t have seen many lures all season.

Indeed, too much water will bookend a season that began with too little water, as well as very low initial returns that saw WDFW shut down retention in December to try and get as many steelhead back to the hatcheries as possible.

“This is the worst ever return to Puget Sound,” Eleazer said. “It plays into the same thing as the Skagit — poor freshwater and saltwater rearing conditions.”

The Skagit and Sauk’s catch-and-release season for wild winters in February, March and April was cancelled last month after the forecast came in below 4,000, too few steelhead to cast for due to impacts on the stock from other fisheries.

Pointing to The Blob, WDFW said those low returns were “likely the result of severe drought and low river flows in 2015 and 2016, as well as an unprecedented marine heatwave in the Pacific Ocean that negatively affected survival rates.”

Eleazer did note that while Puget Sound programs were seeing anemic runs, those on the Olympic Peninsula had met their broodstock goals and a bit more.

“There’s a Puget Sound element that’s applying extra pressure that we don’t understand,” he stated.

Predation by harbor seals has been eyed as a serious problem for young steelhead migrating out of Deep South Sound and Hood Canal.

If there’s a glimmer of good news, it’s that at least Tokul on the Snoqualmie met its broodstock goal.

Yet still, according to WDFW’s latest hatchery escapement report, as of Jan. 27, a paltry 237 adults had returned to Tokul, Kendall, Whitehorse, Wallace and Reiter, with just 255,027 eggs taken, a far cry from the relatively high abundance of the winter of 2017-18, which saw an overall return of 1,229 adults that produced 801,407 eggs.

With Puget Sound wild steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act and as a result of the federally approved hatchery genetic management plan for the Chambers program, WDFW can only release up to 521,600 winter smolts annually into the Nooksack, Stilly, Sky/Wallace and Snoqualmie.

Meaning the agency and the fishery are now in a very tight spot coming out of this winter.

“We’re working with our comanagers and NOAA to figure out solutions moving forward,” Eleazer said.


Yesterday’s WDFW e-reg opening the North Fork Stillaguamish from French Creek up to the Swede Heaven Bridge conflicted with the fishing pamphlet. The printed regs state that those waters closed as of Jan. 31 for steelhead, though game fish remain open through Feb. 15.

Eleazer believes that is an error and was looking into sending out an updated notice that would reopen that water through the 15th for retention of fin-clipped steelhead.

Watch this space for that change.

(Editor’s note Feb. 6, 2020, 3:30 p.m.: WDFW has tweaked its e-reg to clarify the daily limit, two hatchery steelhead, and dates of the above fishery, Feb. 5-15. Also, the online PDF of the fishing pamphlet has been updated on page 1 with corrected regulations for the North Fork Stillaguamish between French Creek and Swede Heaven Bridge, i.e., hatchery steelhead retention is open in that stretch through Feb. 15, not Jan. 31 as originally printed.

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.


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.

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.


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.