The first really fishable batch of fresh winter steelhead reached the Reiter Ponds stretch of the upper Skykomish on last week’s high water, and the river had dropped enough by the weekend that anglers were able to nail a reported 14 to 16 fish there Sunday morning.
That was just in time to once again verify the old rule of thumb that the Thanksgiving weekend is the unofficial start of the winter steelhead season.
Kent Alger at Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville said plunkers have been hitting a few fish on the Snohomish, and that “there’s definitely a small push of early fish in the system.
“That’s a good sign,” he said. “It looks hopeful.”
Three Rivers holds its annual free winter steelhead seminar Saturday, with doors opening at 9 a.m. and speakers starting at noon. Experts on hand include Bob Ball, a guide in Forks and Alaska, and G. Loomis rep Mike Perusse. Address is 24300 Woodinville-Snohomish Road, Woodinville; call 425-415-1575 for more information.
Down south, Tacoma Power announced they had 30 winter steelhead in the trap at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, even though steelhead managers on the big southwest river are discouraging the early run of hatchery fish in favor of the historically more accurate January-through-April time slot. Marshall Borsum at Fish Country Sports in Ethel (360-985-2090) said on Tuesday the Cowlitz was high but of good color and that while it was far from peak fishing, a few steelhead were being caught.
“The boats are hitting maybe 1 to 3 fish per day now, working for ‘em, but nice fish to 17 or 18 pounds already,” he said. “Most boaters are side-drifting eggs or Corkie and yarn, while bank fishermen are working a float/jig rig with a piece of sand shrimp.”
The Cowlitz was running at 14,100 cubic feet per second on Wednesday morning, which is at the high range of fishability — 10,000 cfs is the mean flow for this time of year, and many fishermen like the Cowlitz at 8,000 to 10,000 cfs. Call Tacoma Power at 1-888-502-8690 for current river flow, or Google Tacoma Power and click on “Cowlitz Fish Report” for trap numbers, flow and visibility. That report is updated each Monday.
Over in Forks, Bob Gooding at Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) said fishing has been “okay, but nothing hot.”
Early runs the past four or five winter seasons have spoiled Forks-area fishermen, he said.
“This year, it’s back to what it has more traditionally been,” he said, “and guys are telling me how slow it is. It’s not slow, it’s normal, and it will continue to build through Christmas.”
Plants in the Bogachiel were only about 60 percent of normal a year ago (adults coming back this winter) because of disease problems at the Forks rearing ponds, and the smolts came from the Hoko Hatchery, a different strain and perhaps different timing.
The stretch of the Bogy from the mouth of the Calawah up to the rearing ponds will again be the hot spot, Gooding said, and the standard boat drift from the ponds down to Wilson’s.
Up in the Skagit Valley, steelheading has started on the Cascade at Marblemount, but has offered only fair numbers of fish so far, according to Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington (360-757-4361).
“It’s been crowded there on weekends already,” John said, “and so most of the fish have been coming at first light.”
He said the standard setup would be a float and small jig, in pink, with a small bait.
“The Skagit above the Sauk has been fishable, but not much action reported so far between Rockport and Marblemount,” he said.
The annual midnight circus at the Fortson Hole on the North Fork Stillaguamish, Nov. 30/Dec. 1 will be particularly interesting this year. Way back in the day, the changeover from flies-only regulations to all tackle at the mouth of the Whitehorse Hatchery stream would draw 20 or 30 midnight fishermen, complete with strobe lights and glow balls, to harvest hatchery steelhead the fly fishermen had missed.
Then steelheading on the North Fork faded and so did the changeover fishery at Fortson, “to only a handful of guys,” said Darrell Kron at Hook Line &Sinker in Smokey Point (360-651-7304).
This Saturday might pull a few more, however, on the strength of adult winters due back from a smolt plant almost double the usual, even though the bulk of the midnight catch has always been leftover summer fish.
And there’s really no way to tell whether a substantially higher number of winter fish will be available or not, making it a complete crap shoot.
The question could be moot if we get too much rain late this week, since the North Fork goes out of shape on a thick fog. But Kron said Tuesday that, barring heavy rain, the upper river could stay at least marginally fishable.
New steelhead gear
Kent Alger at Woodinville’s Three Rivers Marine said there are a couple of items of interest to the 2012 steelheader. One is Daiwa’s new DXS series rods, 8 feet, 6 inches to 10 feet, six inches, and still designed to be area-specific to the Pacific Northwest.
“That specificity is unusual these days, since we have become small potatoes compared to the Great Lakes market,” Alger said. “Their 91/2-footer, I think, will be very popular — long enough to work on a boat float, and sensitive enough for drift fishing.”
Shimano’s new Calcutta series reels will be another hot item, according to Alger.
“Shimano completely re-worked the model,” he said. “Good stuff.”
A little better weather over the weekend allowed more winter blackmouth fishermen to leave the beach, and they found surprisingly good fishing. Success rates had been fairly good on Possession Bar since the winter opener, so that wasn’t totally unexpected, but areas 8-1 and 8-2 also came to life, offering a wide choice of water.
State checks Sunday at the Camano State Park ramp showed 30 anglers in 15 boats with 12 chinook. On Saturday at the Port of Everett ramp, it was 85 fishermen in 37 boats with 29 fish.
San Juan blackmouth
When the summer salmon season in the San Juans closed at the end of October, there were very good numbers of feeder chinook around the area, according to Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. That bodes well for Saturday’s winter blackmouth opener, he said.
“Most of the usual places should be good bets,” John said. “Rosario Strait, Guemes Channel, Fidalgo Head, along with traditionally productive winter spots such as Thatcher Pass, Tide Point and Eagle Bluff. If the weather allows, Salmon and Hein banks should produce, and probably with more elbow room.”
Late trout trip? Pass Lake is still putting out fish for fly fishermen working small leeches and woolly buggers in white and green. Strip slowly in the colder water, and go deeper with heavy line for the larger fish — browns 16 inches and better.