Skagit system steelhead managers are forecasting enough winter-runs back to provide sport and tribal fisheries and have submitted plans to open portions of the North Cascades system later this winter.
Officials predict that 5,211 of the prized steelhead will swim up the Skagit and Sauk this season, allowing for potentially up to five days a week of catch-and-release recreational fishing from February through April, pending a National Marine Fisheries Service review of WDFW and three tribes’ recently submitted resource management plan for the next 10 years.
It’s good news for the fish and anglers after too few steelhead were predicted to return this past winter-spring season to hold a fishery, 3,833.
Prior to that, there were limited seasons in 2021, 2019 and 2018, but 2020 was a no-go because the forecast was 38 fish shy of the low end threshold of 4,000.
Reopening the Skagit-Sauk to angling was the subject of a long-running campaign stretching back to hookless fish-ins at Howard Miller Steelhead Park that helped direct WDFW and Fish and Wildlife Commission attention to the cause. That led to the eventual writing of a joint five-year state-tribal management plan for the Endangered Species Act-listed stock that allows for progressively higher mortalities the stronger the forecasted return is. Tribal harvest is part of the plan.
The systems are also part of the so-called Quicksilver Portfolio for Puget Sound rivers, and creation of that leveraged funding from the legislature to implement the program, which envisions providing a diversity of angling opportunities while protecting and rebuilding struggling runs.
On a related note, WDFW and coastal anglers are hoping state lawmakers this coming session fund a $5.9 million budget request what would significantly increase monitoring around steelhead rivers from Forks to Naselle.