Don’t give up on steelhead despite up/down season

  • Wayne Kruse / Outdoor Writer
  • Wednesday, December 26, 2001 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There’s an old bit of doggerel which goes, I think, “What an unpredictable thing this miserable weather is. First it snew, and then it blew, and now by golly it’s friz.”

And once you get into the groove, it could lead to all sorts of interesting rhyme. For instance, “Our rivers last week were high and mean, but now they’re so low the rocks can be seen.”

OK, I quit. But at least it’s a thumbnail sketch of the miserable life of a winter steelheader around here. Two weeks of unfishable, near-flood-level rivers, then a brief window of opportunity late last week, and now too low and clear for top fishing and needing a shot of rain badly.

But the fishing was good on Thursday and Friday last week, and up through about Sunday some places.

“Steelheaders got their Christmas present early,” said guide and Marysville resident Tom Nelson (tom@fishskagit.com). “When the Skykomish dropped on Thursday, it was unbelievable! Everyone caught fish. All day you could see someone playing a fish, just like on the Cowlitz.”

The word got around quickly, of course, and by the weekend there was an angler on every rock. The river dropped and so did the success rate, but Nelson says even so it’s still worth a trip.

The Skagit, he says, is now in prime shape, not hit too hard, and is a great choice when the other streams get too low and clear. The Rockport-to-Concrete stretch should be the most productive.

“Now we need another shot of rain,” says Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood (425-743-9505). “The Skykomish system was good through about Sunday, but it’s been tough the last couple of days. Still, I think this is shaping up as a better than average year. We’re weighing a lot of fish, and hearing about high success rates from all over Western Washington.”

The Whidbey Island beaches have started putting out a few fish, Chamberlain says, but still aren’t up to their usual productivity. Anglers are reporting seeing fish moving through, rolling and splashing, but not a whole bunch are hitting the beach.

Darrell Kron at Hook, Line &Sinker in Smokey Point (360-651-2204) said the North Fork Stillaguamish produced good fishing last week, but that anglers there, too, are finding tougher conditions now.

“Overall, though, it’s been a good year so far,” he says. “We’ve been seeing a lot of nice fish in the 10-pound range.”

Ex-guide and Everett resident Mike Greenleaf says the Cowlitz is “on fire.” Even running way too much water, at 13,000 cubic feet per second much of the past three weeks, the catch rate has been excellent. And this week, Greenleaf says, the city of Tacoma finally cut the big river to a prime-time 6,200-7,000 cubic feet per second.

So it’s really steelhead time on the Cowlitz, and anglers are still having fun with a substantial number of late coho, as well.

Greenleaf said the Skagit hasn’t started out particularly well, but his contacts on the river say plunkers in the Hamilton area finally started hitting a bunch of hatchery steelhead the past few days.

Blackmouth: Area 10 has been putting out at least fair fishing for blackmouth in the 7- to 12-pound range, Chamberlain (above) says, mostly at Jefferson Head and President’s Point. The Applecove Point-to-Kingston slot is also producing a few fish, but is probably not as good a bet as the areas farther south.

“There are a lot of shakers around – up to a couple dozen per keeper in some places – and so a lot of fishermen are going to plugs,” Chamberlain says. “You probably won’t hook as many legals as you will with spoons or flasher/squid rigs, but neither will you be bothered as badly by shakers.”

Trout: For a change of pace, try rainbow fishing in Lone Lake on Whidbey Island this time of year. Chamberlain says winter is a good time to fish the lake, managed as a big-trout water by the state Fish and Wildlife Department, because the weed growth is down. The ‘bows are firm and prime this time of year, running 14 to 18 inches and taking leech or bloodworm patterns for fly anglers.

Waterfowl: Private duck clubs and private grain fields seem to be holding the bulk of the north-Sound duck population on Samish and Padilla bays, says John Garrett, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Department’s Skagit Wildlife Area. Shooting has been slow on the Skagit delta and the Skagit bayfront, he says, but a little better on the Samish Unit (the old Welts Property) to the north.

Garrett says a lot of snow geese remain in the area, but the best chance of putting one in front of a shotgun barrel is at the Lervick property near Stanwood.

Smelt: Although state biologists don’t expect a strong smelt run on the lower Columbia River tributaries this winter, a recreational dipping season opens Jan. 2 and runs through March 31, on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only. The limit is 10 pounds, and no fishing license is required.

Razor Clams: The last scheduled winter razor clam opening on the coast is Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks, assuming tests show clams free of marine toxins. The low tide Sunday is a minus 0.8 at 6:40 p.m.; Monday, a minus 1.0 at 7:24 p.m.; and Tuesday, a minus 1.0 at 8:09 p.m.

Biologists are contemplating more winter openings, on into the new year, depending on the results of this last round of digs, and toxin levels.

More birds: Some 38 sharptail grouse, the largest flock seen in 18 years in this state, were spotted last week in birch trees on the state’s Scotch Creek Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. The sharptail is listed as a state threatened species, and is a federal “species of concern.” Only about 1,000 of these native prairie grouse are left in Washington, because much of the sagebrush-grassland habitat needed by the once-popular gamebird has been altered over the past century by agriculture and development.

The Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, 10 miles northwest of Omak, was originally acquired by the state 10 years ago to protect and restore critical sharptail habitat. The area now totals about 16,000 acres.

State biologists have been monitoring many of the small, isolated populations of sharptails left in Douglas, Lincoln and Okanogan counties for many years, and say the strongest remaining group is on the Colville Indian Reservation, near Nespelem, in the southeast corner of Okanogan County.

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