Steelhead catch success rate sinks

  • Wayne Kruse / Outdoor Writer
  • Wednesday, December 31, 2003 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The positive part of this scenario is that you don’t have to strain already-bent family finances by buying new fishing/hunting licenses to hit field or stream this weekend. Remember that the license year now runs through March 31, giving at least brief relief from Christmas bills.

The negative part is that it really doesn’t make too much difference right now whether or not you’re properly equipped to chase ‘em down in the tall and uncut. There are a few exceptions, but the local outdoor scene is, generally speaking, looking a little scratchy.

Most westside steelhead rivers have dropped from “too high and dirty” down to the “little-bit-too-low” mode, making for difficult fishing. Besides that, there are indications that perhaps the pretty decent, early, hatchery steelhead run, may be starting to fade. It’s about that time of year, and catch success rates seem to have dropped over the last week or so on most rivers.

Cold temperatures have kept at least some salmon anglers home, despite the fact that Area 10, just across the Edmonds-Kingston line, is holding feeder chinook. Cold has also held down the number of family groups willing to bundle up and head out for a little traditional holiday smelt jigging. There are bits and pieces of things to do out there but, unfortunately, none of them are particularly productive right now.

Steelhead: This winter’s return of hatchery steelhead on the Snohomish system was not predicted to be a particularly strong one, and we may well have wrung most of the juice from it. Catches above the Sultan and on up to Reiter Ponds have dropped recently, and while a fish or two continues to be taken both in that stretch and in the now-fishable water below the Sultan, there’s nothing really exciting to report.

“We had a pretty good shot at it on the Sky, through about Dec. 22 or 23,” said Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center (425-743-9505) in north Lynnwood, “but it has definitely slowed the last few days.”

Chamberlain said there are a few fish being taken on the westside Whidbey Island beaches, but again, nothing great.

Jim Brauch, president of the Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club, fished the upper Snohomish with a friend on Tuesday and saw a fair number of steelhead landed by plunkers on Douglas and Mohican bars. That, however, came on the heels of reports that action had been slow on the upper Sno earlier in the week.

Club reports from the North Fork Stillaguamish also indicated less than hot fishing recently, Brauch said.

Bob Ferber at Holiday Market Sports Center in Burlington (360-757-4361) said the Skagit is now clear enough below the Sauk (two to three feet visibility) to fish in its entirety. Top fishing is still, however, above Rockport, he said, both for steelhead and for some very good Dolly Varden fishing. There seems to be a bunch of dollies in the 4- to 6-pound range in that stretch of the river, along with some still-decent coho, and the mixed-bag fishery can be a lot of fun, Ferber said.

The Cowlitz remains an enigma. Poor fishing has been the rule on the big southwest river, pretty much even when Tacoma Power has dropped dam releases. The Kalama and Lewis picked up the slack in that area earlier in the season, but they’re slipping now, too.

Best steelheading in Western Washington continues to be on the Olympic Peninsula rivers – Humptulips, Bogachiel, Calawah, Sol Duc – even though they’re now too low and cold for top action.

Local blackmouth: Marine Area 10 is the only salmon area currently open and available to local boaters, and fishing has been at least fair just south of the area 9-10 line at Edmonds.

“It’s not limits every day, but there are fair numbers of fish around,” said All Star Charters skipper/owner Gary Krein of Everett.

Krein said the mainland side of the fishery, the Edmonds oil docks and the Richmond Beach area, has pretty much died. That leaves the Kingston side, which fishes best on an outgoing tide, as the top opportunity for fish from just legal to about 8 pounds or so.

Krein says the Coyote spoon has become less productive the past few days, leaving a flasher/green squid as the best tackle choice. He uses 38 to 40 inches of leader between the two and fishes just off bottom in 90 to 150 feet of water.

Area 10 remains open through the end of February; areas 8-1 and 9 open February 1, and local Area 8-2 opens Feb. 14.

Smelt: This winter’s run of smelt (eulachon) on the lower Columbia and its tributaries has yet to develop, although state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver said schools and bird activity continue to be seen on the river’s lower end.

The Oak Harbor Marina, for the past several years one of the top surf-smelt jigging spots in north Puget Sound, seems to be barren this winter. A spokeswoman at the marina said there are neither smelt nor jiggers to be seen, and “we don’t know whether the fish by-passed us this winter or aren’t in the area at all,” she said.

Cornet Bay, a part of Deception Pass State Park, has been fair at times, according to Milt Woods at Deception Pass Marina, but cold weather the past week cut participation substantially.

The north marina at La Conner is also a possibility. Reports indicate fair jigging from time to time, mostly on an incoming and high tide situation.

Actually, the Everett waterfront along Marine View Drive, just north of Marina Village, is probably one of the better spots for a little smelt jigging currently, and it’s at least close to home. Regulars there will be glad to share tips on how to do it.

Squid: Nighttime squid jigging on the Edmonds fishing pier is perhaps not as productive now as it was earlier in the season, but still offers a chance at the tasty critters. If you’ve never done it, or even seen it done, it can be an enjoyable, and certainly educational, experience on a cold, brisk, winter evening.

Waterfowl: Cold weather and snow in northern Skagit Valley has forced near-record flocks of ducks to move off the big water of Skagit, Samish and Padilla bays and to feed more aggressively. Hunters have had excellent shooting over the past couple of weeks, according to Bob Ferber (above) at Holiday Market Sports.

Additional elk opportunity: An extension to the boundary of an elk hunting area in Lewis and Thurston counties will open an additional 4,000 acres of land for senior and disabled hunting, according to WDFW spokesperson Kelly McAllister. Elk Area 6069 has a late season damage hunt from today through Jan. 10, for senior hunters 65 and older, and another late damage hunt, open to disabled hunters, from Jan. 15 to 20.

The new boundary description, along with more information on the hunts, is available at the agency’s Web site, http://wdfw.wa.gov.

Ice fishing: One of the better and more popular ice fishing venues around here is Fish Lake, near Lake Wenatchee, but it’s a little early yet to break out the augers and short rods. Veteran angler and Fish Lake property owner Jim Leo of Everett said ice has formed, but in his opinion it’s not thick enough for safe fishing.

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