State and tribal comanagers have agreed to a Skagit-Sauk wild winter steelhead forecast of 5,215 fish, an almost carbon-copy of last season’s prediction for the big North Cascades rivers.
Next, WDFW, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, and federal overseers will work through the processes of 2023’s 10-year resource management plan for the Endangered Species Act-listed stock before fishery regs are finalized, which could wrap up as early as next week.
From a strictly historical perspective, last year saw five-day-a-week fishing, Saturday through Wednesdays. However, angling didn’t open until late March, when the National Marine Fisheries Service finally approved that new management plan, which replaced a shorter-term one that essentially grew out of calls from anglers casting hookless lures into the Skagit at Howard Miller Steelhead Park as far back as 2009 to reopen the system to angling in late winter and early spring.
Under both the new and old management plans, state catch-and-release and tribal harvest opportunities have been governed under stepped thresholds and preseason runsize expectations. Besides last year, seasons have been held in 2018, 2019 and 2021, but 2020’s and 2022’s forecasts fell below the 4,001-fish mark needed to hold even a very conservative fishery.
Steelheaders will be eager to know what 2024 may hold, but in the near term it’s like that time between when Columbia spring Chinook and Puget Sound salmon forecasts come out and agreements are eventually reached with fellow management authorities.