By Wayne Kruse Herald Writer
Another lousy winter steelhead season? Probably a little too early to say for sure, but it’s certainly starting to look that way.
Reports from around Western Washington have been almost entirely dismal, except for the occasional productive week or so on some streams.
The Cowlitz, for example, is or was the best winter steelhead fishery in the state, and the two or three weeks around Christmas traditionally were the peak of the run. The river put out a week or so of fairly decent fishing in mid-December, according to Don Glaser, owner of Barrier Dam Campground, but since then “even the guides are working all day to scratch up a fish or two.”
State Fish and Wildlife Department creel checks for the week of Dec. 16-22 showed 233 bank fishermen with 25 steelhead, and 84 boat anglers with 21. The catch has since dropped from that level.
By the way, the campground, a longtime fixture on the Cowlitz, is for sale, and farther downriver, Marshall and Tracey Borsom have closed Fish Country Sports, the tackle shop in Ethel.
On the Kalama, 43 bank anglers had two steelhead, and 11 boaters had zip.
Joe Hymer, state biologist in Vancouver, said winter run returns to hatcheries on the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis were well below those at the same time a year ago: Cowlitz, 349 fish in the trap this year, 634 in 2012; Kalama, 40 vs 177; and Lewis, 29 vs 283.
“Steelheading’s bleak,” said Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood. “Reiter Ponds on the Skykomish had a good Christmas day and for the Thursday and Friday after, but that’s been just about the total highlight for the season. A few fish are showing at Fortson on the North Fork Stillaguamish, and on the Cascade and upper Skagit, but nothing approaching good fishing.”
The Forks-area rivers treated steelheaders to a brief spate of pretty good fishing after the last rain, according to Bob Gooding at Olympic Sports in Forks, but that has slacked off. The Peninsula fish were strikingly small, too, many going just 3 to 5 pounds.
State checks for the prime time weekend before Christmas on the Bogachiel showed 102 anglers, 58 bank and 44 boat, with 31 hatchery steelhead. On the Calawah it was 27 anglers with two fish; on the lower Hoh, 41 with six; and the upper Hoh, eight anglers with two wild steelhead released.
And to top things off, Chamberlain said that as far as he could tell from his contacts on Whidbey Island, there has been only one (that’s right, one) steelhead verified caught on the westside Whidbey beaches so far this winter.
Arlington boat ramp closed
While on the subject of winter steelhead, it turns out anglers on the Stillaguamish have another problem. The City of Arlington has closed the venerable and beat-up boat ramp at Haller Park, just below the junction of the North and South forks. Assistant city administrator Kristin Banfield said an insurance assessment of the park recommended closure of the ramp because of its deteriorated condition.
“Our plans are to search for funding sources to make improvements to the park over the next couple of years,” Banfield said, “including a new ramp. But there is really no time line on that — it depends on finding a grant or other funding.”
Drift boat fishermen putting in at Lime Road on the North Fork will now have to plan on three more miles of river to take out at Blue Stilly.
The winter salmon season has been a bright spot, Chamberlain (above) said. The San Juan Islands have been excellent, producing a lot of limits of nice fish from 7 or 8 pounds up to the mid teens, Chamberlain said. Even local Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2 have been fairly decent at times — at the racetrack, Elger Bay, Columbia Beach — with little fishing pressure. Blackmouth have been smaller here, going from just legal to 7 or 8 pounds. Lots of shakers to sift through as well.
Fishermen launching at Cornet Bay and running out to the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca banks have been doing well when the winds have been manageable. State checks last week at Cornet showed 11 anglers with 10 chinook; 17 with three at Camano State Park ramp; 16 with three chinook and three coho at Ediz Hook public ramp in Port Angeles; 29 with two at the Port of Everett ramp; and 34 with six at Washington Park in Anacortes.
Reader Pat Kendall of Arlington and two fly-fishing friends worked over Flowing Lake thoroughly on a recent trip, with pontoon boats and an arsenal of different lines and flies, and came away with zero action. Not even a strike.
“We saw some other fishermen there, too, but none of them were catching anything either,” Kendall said.
So he was understandably skeptical that Flowing had been planted roughly three weeks ago with 5,000 nice rainbow in a new winter fishing program administered by the state.
Justin Spinelli understood that attitude. The biologist verified the plant in Flowing and said since the timing was new and untested, it might take a while for fishermen to find out how to catch these winter trout.
He also said that a plant of 5,000 fish doesn’t work out to many per surface acre on a lake the size of Flowing, and that a “light” plant of this nature would not necessarily provide outstanding action — simply the opportunity for a winter fishing trip.
These trout came all the way from the Goldendale hatchery, Spinelli said, involving two tank trucks and an overnight trip.
“Fishermen might want to check out a new video called ‘Winter Trolling Tactics for Trout in Washington’” Spinelli said. “Go to www.wdfw.wa.gov, then ‘Fishing,’ then the ‘Fish Washington’ page.”
For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.