There won’t be a Skagit-Sauk catch-and-release wild winter steelhead fishery as the forecasted return is too low to open the popular season on the North Cascade rivers.
“The forecast of 3,833 steelhead returning to the Skagit/Sauk in 2022 is now final, and given that it is below the 4,000-fish minimum required to hold fisheries by the federally approved Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan, there will not be recreational or tribal commercial steelhead fisheries this winter and spring,” a WDFW statement out this afternoon reads.
That means sport angling on affected portions of both streams will close after January 31, a disappointment following last spring’s four-day-a-week season, 2020’s closure due to three dozen too few fish, 2019’s full three-month opener and 12 days in 2018 – the reopener after a decade-long closure.
It took a lot of work by anglers staging hookless cast-ins and talking to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to back a bid to get fishermen back on the rivers.
Out of that came the joint state-tribal management plan for the Endangered Species Act-listed stock that allows for progressively higher mortalities the stronger the forecasted return is.
Runs below 4,000 have a 4 percent impact rate, which essentially goes toward keeping other fisheries open; those from 4,001 to 6,000 have a 10 percent rate; 6,001 to 8,000 have a 20 percent rate; and above 8,001 is 25 percent.
Last year’s run actually came in at 3,576 steelhead, warranting continued caution, per a state source. The figure reflects spawning escapement, release mortalities and harvest. The forecast was for 4,297 fish to enter the mouth of the Skagit.
Hatchery releases were ended in the system in 2014, a time that corresponded with a bump in wild steelhead returns into the 8,000- to 9,000-fish range, but since then they’ve been half that and now less. 2015’s Blob left streams at record summer lows and ocean conditions have been poor for some Northwest steelhead runs.
The closure leaves Washington’s steelheading cabinet as bare as this reporter can remember it.
While portions of the Quillayute and Willapa Bay systems are open under a second winter of unprecedented restrictions, elsewhere on the coast the Chehalis, Humptulips, Queets/Clearwater and upper Quinault are all shut down due to chronic below-escapement returns.
Tokul Creek is seeing its best run of hatchery fish in years, but on the other end of the Chambers Creek spectrum the North Fork Nooksack was closed last month to try and eke out enough fish to meet broodstock needs.
In Southwest Washington, a mix of early and late steelhead are returning, especially to the Elochoman, but further up the Columbia-Snake system, the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon and Upper Columbia are all closed due to a poor A-run, while the limit was lowered to one on the Snake and Grande Ronde.