By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald
Forget the Hoh. Hit the North Fork Stilly every chance you get.
That’s a slight exaggeration, steelheaders, but looking at the recently released list of winter steelhead smolt plants due back as adults this season, it may not be far off. State Fish and Wildlife Department steelhead manager Bob Leland in Olympia said IHN disease problems at the Bogachiel Hatchery near Forks in 2011 resulted in no planted winter fish in the Hoh, and a plant only about 60 percent of normal in the Bogachiel.
Elimination of the Snider Creek rearing facility northeast of Forks will further impact the popular north Olympic Peninsula winter fishery, eliminating the last planted stock on the Sol Duc.
Closer to home, the Samish is another stream with no returning hatchery winter adults this season, but for a different reason. In 2010, the state adopted sweeping hatchery steelhead reforms under pressure from the federal Endangered Species Act and certain conservation groups which, among other strictures, prohibit planting of steelhead from outside a river’s own basin. Smolts have been trucked into the Samish in the past, but the state is now prohibited from doing that, Leland said (See the hatchery reform program at www.wdfw.wa.gov).
The North Fork Stillaguamish, by contrast, benefits (this winter at least) from the same new rules.
“Hatchery reform left us with some excess smolts at the Whitehorse Hatchery, which couldn’t then be trucked out of the basin, and we released them all into the North Fork,” Leland said.
So the Stilly, which normally hosts returns from a plant of 75,000 winter smolts or so, got slugged with close to 130,000 fish. Whether or not those additional smolts contribute substantially to this winter’s fishery will perhaps become evident on Dec. 1, at the Fortson Hole, when the North Fork switches over from fly tackle to standard gear.
Leland said that with the always-narrowing winter season window on Puget Sound tributaries, weather becomes the most critical factor, and “it may make all other considerations moot under the current long-range forecast for a wet winter.”
Here’s a quick rundown of the 2011 steelhead smolt plants in selected western Washington rivers, adults from which are due back this winter, showing the plant and whether it was larger, smaller, or about the same as the previous year: Skagit River (most were planted in the Cascade), 240,000 smolts, up 8,500 smolts from 2010; Skykomish, 146,000 smolts, down 22,000; Snoqualmie, 152,000 smolts, down 6,000; Wallace, 20,000 smolts, up 2,000; Sol Duc, 0 smolts, down 54,000; Bogachiel, 80,300 smolts, down 40,000; Calawah, 0 smolts, down 50,000 (that cuts the Quillayute system a whopping 144,000 smolts); Hoh, 0 smolts, down 79,000.
Cowlitz River, 697,000 smolts, down 20,000; Kalama, 112,000 smolts, up 12,000; North Fork Lewis, 160,000 smolts, up 7,000; Humptulips, 132,000 smolts, up 72,000; Wynoochee, 170,000 smolts, same as 2010; and Satsop East Fork, 59,000 smolts, down 5,000 fish.
One plant of note from the eastside, where run timing makes summer-run tributaries more a fall-winter fishery than a summer one: the popular Methow system got a plant in 2012 (which will return next summer/fall/winter) of 262,000 smolts in the mainstem Methow, 92,000 in the Twisp River, and 84,000 smolts in the Chewuch, a total increase in the system of 37,000 fish from last year.
State wildlife biologist Chris Danilson said two assessment flights indicate 55,000 to 65,000 snow geese now using north Puget Sound and the Fraser River delta. That would be fewer birds than last year at this point, but not by much, and the juvenile component is “pretty decent,” he said.
Hunting has been fairly good — at least average or perhaps a little better — but the Skagit snows appear to be more widely dispersed in the general area than normally.
“These birds aren’t concentrated in just a few spots,” Danilson said. “They’re spread out and the challenge is to find where they’re feeding and secure access from the landowner. Right now they’re feeding heavily in corn fields.
Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports in Burlington agreed that hunting has been pretty good, for ducks and geese both, and that the snows are for sure spreading farther throughout the Skagit valley each year.
Possession Bar remains a better bet for winter blackmouth than Saratoga Passage or the rest of marine areas 8-1 and 8-2, according to All Star Charters owner Gary Krein in Everett. “That’s assuming the wind will let you fish it,” Krein said.
Roughly 80 percent of the blackmouth being checked at the Port of Everett ramp have been coming from the bar, where state checks showed 124 anglers on Saturday with 19 fish. The feeder chinook have been running from just legal size to about 12 pounds tops, Krein said, and are nice, fat, chunky fish.
Krein likes an “army truck” Coyote spoon behind a flasher, or a 5-inch Tomic plug, number 602 or 603, mother of pearl. The spoon will probably draw more strikes, he said, but the plugs discourage shakers.
If you entered the recent Bayside Marine Blackmouth Derby and didn’t win anything, you done good anyway. Bayside spokesman Dan Hatch said the derby collected enough money to send 12,000 pounds of food to the local Volunteers of America food drive.
Probably on the downside now for the Hoodsport Salmon Hatchery chum fishery. A check there on Saturday tallied 49 anglers with 30 fish; still not bad.
Steelhead managers would like to keep the current fishery on the Methow River open through November, but aren’t sure incidental mortality on endangered wild fish will allow that. They do think the season will remain open through the Thanksgiving holiday, however, said biologist Bob Jateff in Omak. Fishing has been a little slow, due to high water, but Jateff said improving conditions may make what could be the final week a pretty good one.
Anglers have been averaging about a fish for each 8 to 10 hours of effort, with the lower end and the adjacent Columbia River providing the best results.
For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.