Little change seen in steelhead success rate

  • Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:48pm
  • Sports

Winter steelhead fishing in Western Washington has been changing rapidly — many would say not necessarily for the better — for a number of years now, particularly since adoption of a sweeping new management plan by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2010. So it’s difficult to predict success rates for this upcoming season based on comparisons with past years or on a long-term average.

With that said, it’s still fun to toss the numbers around.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife steelhead manager Bob Leland in Olympia said the 2011-12 winter season looks to be very similar to last year’s fishery in the number of adult fish returning from smolts planted in 2010, health of the young fish, and general survival outlook.

“The catch should be about the same,” he said, “and early closures will probably be at about the same point in the season. One thing you will continue to notice is that if there’s no hatchery on a river, there will be no smolt plants.”

Sure enough a glance at the department’s list of winter steelhead plants for 2010 show, for instance, fish stocked in some rivers in the Snohomish system but not the Sultan or the Pilchuck. On the Stillaguamish system, the North Fork has a hatchery and gets fish, but not the South Fork or Canyon Creek.

This is a result, Leland said, of the relatively new management plan which dictates that only genes “adapted” at least partially to a specific river are put back into that river. If an adult steelhead returns to spawn in a certain stream, I guess it’s considered adapated to that stream.

Following is a selection of steelhead rivers and their smolt plants for 2010, the adults from which will be returning this winter, and whether the plant is up or down from that in 2009: Cascade River (tributary to the Skagit), 201,500 smolts, up 56,000 from last year; North Fork Stillaguamish, 76,600 smolts, down 39,000 from last year; Skykomish, 153,900 smolts, up 6,000; Snoqualmie, 167,600 smolts, up 13,000; Wallace, 18,000 smolts, down 2,000; Sol Duc, 54,000 smolts from the Snider Creek hatchery; Bogachiel, 120,300 smolts, up 20,000; Calawah, 50,000 smolts, same as last year; Hoh, 79,200 smolts, down 20,000; Humptulips, 62,000 smolts, down 70,000; Wynoochee, 175,000 smolts, up 34,000; Satsop East Fork, 64,100 smolts, up 17,000; Elochoman, 96,000 smolts, down 34,000; Cowlitz, 719,000 smolts, down 87,000; Kalama, 99,600 smolts, down 15,000; and North Fork Lewis, 141,000 smolts, up 47,000.

Big summer-run winners, adults from which will return in summer of 2012, were the Wenatchee system, with a 2010 plant of 474,500 smolts, and the Methow system, with a plant of 293,400 smolts.

Total winter catch results from last season haven’t been fully tabulated, Leland said, but following is a tentative list of rough-draft results: Snohomish, 2,656 hatchery steelhead caught; Skykomish, 1,358 hatchery fish; Skagit, 640 hatchery fish; Cascade, 544 hatchery fish; Cowlitz, 6,200 hatchery fish; and these, from the Peninsula, where it’s legal to keep a restricted number of wild-stock winter steelhead, Bogachiel, 2,900 wild and hatchery fish; Hoh, 410 fish; and Sol Duc, 1,200 fish.

Psa derby

Very good results from last Saturday’s Puget Sound Anglers members-only salmon derby lend weight to the opinion that this is perhaps a better ongoing winter blackmouth season than some anglers anticipated. Sno-King Chapter Vice President Tim Stumpf said 46 fishermen participated in the derby, weighing 22 chinook, and those are pretty good numbers for the winter season.

Stumpf said Most of the fish were caught in Marine Area 9, although fish were weighed in from 8-1, 8-2 and 10 as well.

First place went to Woody Woods, for a blackmouth of 10 pounds, 2 ounces (cleaned weight for all fish), caught on the south end of Possession Bar; second place to Gordon Ruh at 8 pounds, 1 ounce, caught off Onomac Point in area 8-1, and third to Joe Pa at 8 pounds even, also from Possession.

Stumpf said club member Jay Murphy also caught and released a 50-pound halibut on Possession Bar, and took home a bonus Dungeness crab measuring 9 inches.

No native cats

State biologist Jon Anderson diplomatically corrected a statement in this column a while back concerning catfish. The statement came up concerning a huge “brown bullhead” of 28 pounds, caught down by Vancouver, which if accepted would have been by far a new state record for the species. The state checked it out, and decided the fish was a channel catfish, and not a state record anything.

I said in the column, “Brown bullheads are Western Washington’s only native ‘catfish,’ but 28-pounders they ain’t”, thus proving you’re never too old to make stupid mistakes.

“Just wanted to point out that there are NO ‘native’ catfish (or bass, crappie, sunfish, perch, walleye, or pike) in Washington,” Anderson said. “These species were all introduced into the state at various times, many of the bass and sunfish by the U.S. Fish Commission.”

Anderson said brown bullheads were first planted in Silver Lake, Cowlitz County, in the early 1880s, thus fueling a catfish population explosion in the nearby Columbia and Willamette rivers. Anderson, quoting Ben Hur Lampman’s “Coming of the Pond Fishes,” 1946, said that during the 1890s and up until Oregon declared the catfish a game species, about 1913, there was a thriving commercial fishery for them, mostly in the shallow lakes of Sauvie Island, 10 miles downstream from Portland. This fishery produced over 100,000 pounds of dressed catfish annually at its peak, according to Lampman.

Catch record data

State biologist Joe Hymer, in the agency’s Vancouver office, has a suggestion on what to do when it’s too stormy, rainy or windy outside to go fishing. Spend a little time with the Sport Catch Record Card Reports, published online from 2007 onward, getting a leg up on best times and places to go fishing or shellfishing in Washington, he says.

The link is a long one, but take a deep breath and go to:

Sturgeon petition

The state is considering a change to sportfishing regulations which would close Puget Sound and all its tributaries to the retention of white sturgeon, and our local Coastal Conservation Association chapter has decided to oppose the move. If you agree that Puget Sound sturgeon should be managed as a catch-and-keep resource, look for the CCA’s petition and information pages at most tackle shops, marinas and other fishing-oriented locations

OR attend the next North Snohomish County CCA meeing Dec. 13, 7 p.m., at Bayside Marine in Everett, next to the Port of Everett boat launch. OR comment via e-mail to and/or, or by mail to Fishing Rule Change, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia 98501.

Comment deadline is Dec. 30.

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