Might as well lay it out there: Winter steelhead fishing this season on many Puget Sound tributary rivers looks bleak. Blame “the Blob,” blame global warming, blame pollution, blame over-fishing, blame any number of factors but, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife steelhead manager Bob Leland, anglers will see just 40 to 60 percent of last year’s poor escapement.
Hey, it could be worse. The current Columbia River basin steelhead run could be — when all the numbers are crunched — the lowest in 50 years.
So is there any hope for improvement ahead? Maybe, Leland said, but not for the immediate future.
Ocean conditions in the north Pacific are looking a little better now, but it will take time for the food chain to recover, even if the Blob, a mass of relatively warm water, keeps shrinking. Then the drought of 2016 locally will have a negative effect for a couple of years, and so on, and so on. Makes your skin crawl.
But, to paraphrase a cliché: nothing keeps the dedicated steelheader from his appointed rounds. There will still be fish, and if even there aren’t, the scenery on the Skykomish, Quillayute, Hoh, Satsop and others is worth the price of admission.
Leland said the smolt plants, from which most of this winter’s adult fish come, are down a little because of some “genetic issues,” but mostly average. He said that despite the negative factors, he expects a winter season much like that of 2016-17.
Following is a selected list of smolt plants in 2016 that will provide adults for this winter and next summer’s fisheries:
North Fork Stillaguamish, 122,000 winters, 19,000 summers; Skykomish, 139,000 winters, 182,000 summers; Wallace, 28,000 winters; Tokul Creek, 78,000 winters; Bogachiel, 130,000 winters; Calawah, 55,000 winters; Hoh, 45,000 winters; Elochoman, 66,000 winters, 33,000 summers; Cowlitz, 598,000 winters, 184,000 summers; Kalama, 83,000 winters, 104,000 summers; North Fork Lewis, 164,000 winters, 226,000 summers; Quinault, 415,000 winters, Huptulips, 133,000 winters; Wynoochee, 169,000 winters, 62,000 summers; East Fork Satsop, 81,000 winters.
Walla Walla system, 237,000 summers; Upper Columbia at Ringold, 168,000 summers; Wenatchee System, 199,000 summers; Methow, 229,000 summers; Okanogan River System, 98,400 summers.
Joe Hymer is a state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist at the agency’s Vancouver office. He blogs outdoor information on his own hook as a service to the agency’s user groups. He likes to toss in what he calls a “factoid” from time to time, such as the following:
In the summer of 1961, hundreds of crazed birds attacked the seaside town of Capitola, California. “Crying like babies,” they dove into street lamps, crashed through windows, and attacked people on the street. Most of the birds were Sooty Shearwaters, normally a non-aggressive offshore species.
Movie producer Alfred Hitchcock used the event as the inspiration for “The Birds,” one of his trademark thrillers, two years later.
It’s now thought, the story goes, that the agent responsible for the strange avian behavior was domoic acid — the same marine toxin that can be fatal to humans and closes razor clam digging on our coastal beaches from time to time.
Speaking of which, state coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres in Montesano said the last dig, Nov. 2-5, didn’t pull a crowd but resulted in some pretty good results.
“We had flat water, but the weather was crummy except for the last day, and that probably held down participation,” Ayres said. “But there were about 27,500 folks on the beach and they averaged a pretty good 13 ½ clams per person.”
You don’t need to keep an eye on your parakeet — Ayres allows digging only after marine toxin levels in our coastal razor clams have been thoroughly tested by the state Health Department.
The next dig has been tentatively set for the first weekend in December. After that comes the popular New Year Eve dig, when families traditionally hit the beach, light a fire, barbecue some goodies, and trade lies about 8-inch clams and the relative efficiency of a clam gun versus a clam shovel.
Tickets are on sale for the popular Resurrection Derby, the annual winter event sponsored by the Fidalgo-San Juan Islands chapter of Puget Sound Anglers. It’s a “100 Boat Shootout” based in Anacortes and features cash prizes of $10,000, $2,500 and $1,500 for first through third, respectively.
Proceeds from the event are used by the club for salmon enhancement programs in the San Juan Islands. For more information, including ticket outlets, visit www.resurrectionderby.com.
One of the more interesting subjects aired at the last meeting of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission was an update on the results of a two-year study by the Wild Fish Conservancy on the operation of an experimental fish trap in the lower Columbia, near Cathlamet.
Banned in the state since 1934, fish traps can play an important role in future fisheries, according to Adrian Tuohy, a WFC biologist. Preliminary results show the trap was highly effective in catching fall-run salmon and steelhead and releasing them unharmed.
Commissioners expressed a high degree of interest in the study, but agreed additional feasibility studies are needed before they can consider supporting the return of fish traps to Washington waters.