Do your duty: catch a steelhead

  • By Wayne Kruse, Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2007 11:28pm
  • Sports

Now this here, friend, is tough duty.

Your no-nonsense Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist is asking you to do your part to restore wild-stock summer steelhead to the Wenatchee River. That involves some nasty stuff. You’re called upon to drive to the river, fling a float-and-jig rig out into a fishy-looking run, hook a steelhead, play a steelhead, land a steelhead and, if it’s a fin-clipped hatchery fish, bonk a steelhead. Then clean the fish, put it in your cooler, and head for the coast, whistling a tune.

That’s hard-core, I know, but somebody has to do it. Somebody has to help keep as many hatchery-stock steelhead off the spawning redds as possible, thus guaranteeing optimum conditions for the wild fish.

“You could look at this as actually more a conservation fishery than a straight, recreational harvest event,” said state biologist Art Viola in Leavenworth. “We have a surplus of hatchery fish returning, so we’re asking fishermen to keep their fin-clipped steelhead.”

Viola said the agency is in fact having trouble convincing fly fishermen, in particular, to kill and keep a hatchery fish. The Wenatchee, like the Methow, is a good steelhead fly fishing river, and the long-rodders have traditionally been more inclined to catch and release. But not here, and not with fin-clipped steelhead, please, even if it means quitting the water before you really want to.

So can you help?

A lot of anglers have been trying their very hardest, in the name of conservation, since the Wenatchee opened to steelhead on Oct. 22, the first such fishery in 10 years.

“There were a whole lot of people on the river for the opener,” Viola said. “The morning count, from the mouth up to the deadline at the Icicle Road Bridge in Leavenworth, was 117 bank fishermen and seven boats. The evening count showed 49 bank anglers still at it, and six boats.”

Viola said fishing that day was excellent, with an estimated 65 to 70 steelhead taken. About 40 percent were clipped hatchery fish, plus a small percentage of unclipped hatchery fish.

“The second day,” Viola said, “the pressure dropped to about 30 or 35 fishermen, and the catch dropped to about a third of what it was on the opener. For the rest of the week, we counted 25 to 40 fishermen on the river each day.”

This past Saturday, he said, there were about 50 anglers counted, and they caught 20 to 25 steelhead, again about 40 percent fin-clipped. The river was low and clear for opening day, came up substantially during the week, but had fallen and was in good shape again by early this week.

“The bulk of the steelhead have been taken from Cashmere down,” Viola said, “but of course they’ll be moving upsteam with time.”

He said that although there have been good numbers of fly fishermen on the river, the most effective setup has probably been a float and small jig, or bottom-bounced Corky and yarn, in black or orange. Krocodile, Little Cleo and Steelie spoons have also been popular. Viola said he’s seen fish landed from 4 pounds up to 7 or 8 pounds, and that they seem to be in good shape.

Hoodsport chums: Adult chum salmon are already stacking in numbers off the hatchery creek at the Hoodsport Hatchery (360-877-5222) on Hood Canal and, if you’re interested in catching and keeping a couple of nice fish, it’s best to get ‘em early in the season. Drew Burkhard, state hatchery specialist said that although the run is just getting started, there were probably 80 fishermen along the creek channel and shoreline at the hatchery on Saturday, along with several boats, and that they probably caught 200 chums or so that day.

Female chums will average 7 pounds, he said, and males 11 or 12 pounds. Corkies and yarn in pink and chartreuse seem to be the standard setup, he said, cast and retrieved slowly.

Parking at the hatchery is limited to 13 spaces, and then it’s a matter of finding a spot across Highway 101 without blocking a driveway or mailbox. Also, property owners on the waterfront either side of the hatchery property are starchy, so Burkhard said to try to stay within the three red buoys.

Formal state creel checks at Hoodsport tallied 37 anglers on Saturday with 25 chums.

Other chums: Nice fish to 16 or 18 pounds are being hooked, mostly incidentally, in saltwater areas open to coho and/or chinook, and the south-Sound fishery at the mouths of several small streams is in full swing. Checks at Kennedy Creek on Sunday, northwest of Olympia, showed 32 anglers with 11 chums.

Blackmouth: The winter blackmouth season in local waters opened this morning, with a limit of one chinook, either hatchery or wild, in Marine Area 9, and two chinook, fin-clipped only, in Areas 8-1 and 8-2. Gary Krein, owner of All Star Charters in Everett (425-252-4188) said Wednesday that the opener in Area 9 should be a good one, judged by recent success in the north part of Area 10. That area opened to chinook on Oct. 16, and has been productive for blackmouth at Jefferson Head and at Kingston, for fish from just legal to 8 or 9 pounds.

Krein said the incidental catch of blackmouth in Area 9, which has been open to C&R fishing for coho and chum, also indicates a good population of feeder chinook on Possession Bar. He recommends fishing the bar this weekend, on bottom in 90 to 150 feet of water, with a 4-inch Coyote spoon in green, white, cop car or funky chicken color patterns.

Prospects for blackmouth anglers in Areas 8-1 and 8-2 are less clear, since no other season was ongoing there.

“The state has been test fishing, however,” Krein said, “and just this past week started to hit some blackmouth. Area 8-2 up north has been the best, apparently, in places such as Baby Island and Onomac Point — nice fish to 12 or 15 pounds already, with a number in the 10-pound range.”

He said local Area 8-1 has not shown as many fish, nor fish as large.

Coho: Still a few silvers moving past the in-Sound beaches, where checks over the weekend showed two anglers at Marrowstone with two coho; six anglers at Point Wilson with two coho; and six anglers at Point No Point with three coho.

Peak river fishing for silvers as well. The southwest streams have been excellent, averaging a fish per rod at times on the Cowlitz and North Lewis, and the Snohomish system locally, the mainstem Stillaguamish, the Skagit and Cascade, have all been good for silvers and the occasional early chum.

Bob Ferber at Holiday Market Sports in Burlington (360-757-4361) reported the Rockport area of the Skagit, just above the mouth of the Sauk, hot for coho on both spoons and trolled plugs. He said backtrollers on the section of the river from Concrete to Lyman were also hitting a lot of fish — coho and chums — on K-13 and K-14 Kwikfish.

The Cascade remains hot at times, for coho still in good condition.

And the Stilly, although high and dirty much of the time, has shown a lot of coho surface activity, and fish being caught under the I-5 bridge on Dick Nite spoons, Ferber said.

Hunting: What has been a surprisingly good westside blacktail season ended yesterday, amid anecdotal reports of lots of deer seen and harvested, and animals in very good condition.

Windy, wet days have produced good early duck hunting along Skagit and Padilla bays, and snow geese are everywhere on Fir Island, according to Anthon Steen at Holiday Market Sports.

Derby results: Remember the wildly successful, first ever, Anacortes Salmon Derby last March? Organizers from the sponsoring Fidalgo Island Chapter, Puget Sound Anglers, expected maybe 300 or 400 entrants and got, instead, 752. A lot of the heavy turnout, sponsors believe, was because of the advertised theme of the event — youth, education, and outdoor activity.

“Our vision was to benefit students of college age who are interested in pursuing a career in fisheries and related science,” said Steve Stout, club member and state salmon hatchery manager at Marblemount.

Honoring its commitment, the club has awarded $10,000 to Kyle Pieti of Anacortes, enrolled in a fisheries masters program at Western Washington University; $10,000 to Erin Lowery of Seattle, attending the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science at the Unversity of Washington; $2,000 to Ian Reeves of Anacortes, scheduled to attend Western Washington this fall; and $2,000 to Brion Leber of Sedro-Woolley, attending the UW this fall.

The family friendly, community event will be held once again at the Cap Sante Boat Haven, in Anacortes, on March 29-30, 2008.

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