Although the Thanksgiving weekend is usually considered the start of the winter steelhead season, early indicators so far have been mixed — at best. Most Western Washington rivers had been high and dirty for a long time, but several dropped and cleared enough by last weekend to hold a few fish, if there were any coming in.
Anglers hope that steelhead numbers this winter might correlate with the fall coho runs, which in most parts of Western Washington were gangbusters.
Lot of silvers, lot of steelhead? Maybe. Maybe not.
“That’s often the way it works over here,” said Bob Gooding at Olympic Sporting Goods in Forks (360-374-6330). “We had a ton of silvers this year, so we’re looking for good winter steelheading as well, and the early fish have shown up in fairly strong numbers. The rivers are dropping, but still on the high side, and fishing could be pretty good by this weekend.”
The Bogachiel and lower Calawah are almost always the best early water, Gooding said.
Last winter’s steelhead season was not a good one, generally, and biologist Joe Hymer at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Vancouver office said southwest Washington anglers are hoping for better this year.
“If there is any correlation with earlier runs, we could be in better shape,” Hymer said. “Our other salmonid runs did well this year, most notably coho, but even better was the upriver A-run of summer steelhead. Research tends to show better correlation between the A-run summer fish and winter steelhead on the lower Columbia tributaries. The A-run goes to the upper Columbia and the Snake, and it was a near record this fall.”
Hymer said southwest rivers showed a fair number of winter steelhead early, but action has slowed to so-so in recent days. A weekend check at the Cowlitz barrier dam, for instance, showed 47 bank fishermen with one coho and one steelhead. The Lewis fished a little better, as 39 bank anglers at the salmon hatchery had eight steelhead and six coho.
Hymer said an updated list of smolt releases due back this winter should be posted soon on the agency’s Web site, www.wdfw.wa.gov.
Locally, winter steelhead reports vary. The North Fork Stillaguamish opened to all-gear fishermen Tuesday morning, and the usual group was camped at the Fortson Hole at midnight.
“We heard of a handful of fish caught,” said Darrel Kron at Hook, Line &Sinker in Smokey Point (360-651-7304). “Maybe seven to 10 at Fortson, and a couple more wild fish down by Seapost released.”
Those were all caught on glow Corkies or Spin N Glos, Kron said, since they were taken in the dark.
Actually, that’s probably a little better opener than North Fork steelheaders had last winter, which proved to be a below average season.
“Hope springs eternal, and our fishermen are excited about the start of winter steelheading,” said Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood (425-743-9505). “One of our guys went up to the Skykomish on Friday and landed two fish of about nine pounds, and lost a couple of others. Another fished Reiter on Sunday and banked a fish, and we heard of a few more in the box.”
Snohomish River plunkers hit a few steelhead early, but action since has dropped into the dismal category, according to Jim Strege at Triangle Bait and Tackle in Snohomish (360-568-4276). “You can’t call it a great start to the season,” he said.
The Skagit has been too high and dirty for good fishing, but the Cascade has been producing a few early steelhead. Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports in Burlington (360-757-4361) said most of the Cascade’s hatchery fish are going 6 or 7 pounds.
Still some chums available on the mid- and lower Skykomish, according to guide and Snohomish resident John Thomas (425-280-5494). Thomas pulls sardine-wrapped K-14 and K-15 Kwikfish in the Monroe area for nice-sized salmon in the 8- to 16-pound range, and suggests shore fishermen toss a 3/8-ounce cerise John’s Jig under a float, a foot or two off the bottom. Tip the jig with prawn meat for best results. Look for slower water or wherever you see rolling fish, Thomas says, but stay away from the spawning beds.
The San Juan Islands opened to blackmouth fishing Tuesday and put out some nice resident chinook for those willing to fight a strong, cold, northeast wind. Jay Field, owner/skipper of Dash One Charters in Anacortes (360-941-4500) hit a beautiful 17-pound blackmouth just minutes after putting down his ’riggers Tuesday morning in Thatcher Pass. He used a needlefish hoochie, and ended the day with a couple more fish, in the 6-pound range.
“All on hardware,” he said. “It was blowing too hard to fish bait, and we didn’t see too many other boats out there. I heard that the WDFW checker at the Washington Park ramp counted six fish for nine boats, but I don’t know that for a fact.”
Marine Area 9 (Possession Bar, Admiralty Inlet) closed Tuesday, leaving Marine Areas 10, 8-1 and 8-2 open to local fishermen. Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood (425-743-9505) said this winter blackmouth season has been the best in several years, particularly for nice fish in the 14- to 15-pound range. He said the Kingston area is still holding fish for Area 10 anglers, plus a fair amount of bait and a lot of smaller chinook.
Gary Krein, owner of All Star Charters in Everett (425-252-4188), said anglers should be able to find blackmouth along both sides of Saratoga Passage — in the Langley area along the Whidbey Island shoreline, and around Elger Bay on the Camano Island side.
“I don’t know if there are as many fish up that way as there has been on Possession,” Krein said, “but there are some there.”
State checkers Sunday counted 20 anglers at the Camano State Park ramp with four blackmouth, while the count at the Port of Everett ramp was 74 with 19 fish (when Area 10 was still open).
The Dec. 1 blackmouth opener in Marine Area 7 offers the first crack at midwinter blackmouth in the San Juans in six or seven years, and it should be a good opportunity. Knowledgeable anglers expect the inside waters to be best early: Fidalgo Head, Guemes Channel, Lopez Flats, Thatcher Pass and Tide Point. The limit is two hatchery fish per day through April 30.
This weekend should be a good time to try beach casting for steelhead along the west side of Whidbey Island: Keystone, Lagoon Point, Bush Point. Standard rig is a Spin N Glo with a hoochie trailer, and an incoming or high slack tide is considered best. Don’t wade out too far, as the fish tend to hug the beach.
Smelt jigging has picked up again — after freshwater from a high Skagit River knocked it down a little — off the Deception Pass State Park docks at Cornet Bay. State checks there over the weekend showed 80-plus smelt for four jiggers.
The Bremerton waterfront has been excellent for squid jiggers, producing many limits recently of nice, 12- or 13-inch squid. The Des Moines and Seattle piers are a step down from this, and the Edmonds pier has been slow.
Fair to good fishing now for cutthroat to 17 or 18 inches in the southeast corner of Lake Washington. Launch at Coulon Park in Renton and troll small, plug-cut herring or Needlefish spoons.
Weeds are down on Lone Lake on Whidbey Island, making for easier trout fishing, and some good reports are coming from Pass Lake.
Rod Hammons of R&R Guide Service in Brewster (509-733-1343) said fishing for triploid rainbow in Rufus Wood pool on the upper Columbia is starting to produce a few fish, but that anglers should not expect as many rainbows as were being taken two seasons ago. That was a special situation, Hammons said, and likely not to be duplicated any time soon.
Guide Anton Jones in Chelan (firstname.lastname@example.org) said to troll bead-head wooly buggers behind an Action Disk by Wiggle Fin, or cast quarter-ounce black Roostertails at shoreline points and structures.