Popular fishery to stay closed

  • By Wayne Kruse, Herald writer
  • Wednesday, January 9, 2008 9:32pm
  • Sports

Bad news for local steelhead fishermen comes with the word that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will not open the popular Skagit/Sauk river catch and release fishery this year. The long-running late season, often noted for producing some of the best steelheading in the area and particularly for large fish, is normally open March 1 to April 30 on the Sauk, and March 16 to April 30 on the Skagit.

Reason for the closure, according to the agency’s District 14 fish biologist Brett Barkdull, in La Conner, is that the wild winter steelhead preseason forecast of about 5,200 fish is below the spawning escapement “floor.”

“We need a minimum of 6,000 returning wild winters on the Skagit system to open a recreational fishery,” Barkdull said.

He said the good news is that he doesn’t expect this closure to represent a trend.

“It’s more likely to be a one-year anomaly,” he said. “Fish managers up and down the coast have experienced poor ocean survival on steelhead and salmon smolts which went to sea in 2005, and it’s showing up in returns of several species on other rivers. Last year was not a great coho year around here, for instance, and those fish were from the same 2005 smolt class.”

Oddly, the upper Skagit has been producing some of the best hatchery steelhead fishing to be found in Western Washington so far this winter season, along with its tributary the Cascade. The Forks-area rivers have been described as “mediocre” so far this winter, and longtime Skykomish steelhead and salmon guide Sam Ingram, in Arlington, said the Sky and the Pilchuck have been very slow. The North Fork Stillaguamish has had some good days, but generally is not putting out the fishing it did last year.

Up north, however, action has been consistent on the Skagit for boaters fishing the stretch from Marblemount down to Rockport. Not hot, said Bob Ferber at Holiday Sports in Burlington, but certainly better than a lot of the alternatives. Ferber said Paul Randal of Skagit River Classics Guide Service has also been doing well below Rockport, usually pulling K-11 Extreme Kwikfish.

Ferber said the Cascade continues to provide steelhead, despite low, cold, clear water conditions, for those using finesse and smaller lures. A long leader and a small shrimp/Corky combo would be a good choice, he said.

The Samish is another possibility, with a larger than usual plant raising hopes for a good run to the small river this winter. Ferber said fishing has been “decent” recently, for a mix of clipped and wild steelhead.

On the westside Whidbey beaches, wind has been a problem for beach steelheaders, but Ferber said Bush Point and the others continue to put out the occasional fish.

Farther south, the Kalama is perhaps the best choice in southwest Washington, offering at least fair results for fishermen at the Beginners Hole, Hatchery Creek, and at the canyon deadline.

BLACKMOUTH: Marine Area 9 opens Jan. 16 for a selective winter fishery allowing two clipped chinook, and it should be well-attended. All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said both Area 10, to the south, and Area 8-2, to the north, have been putting out blackmouth, and he expects good fishing when 9 opens. Feeder chinook should be running from just legal to 8 or 10 pounds.

Any of the three top spots in the “golden triangle” — Possession Bar, Point No Point, or Double Bluff — should produce, but Krein favors the east edge of Possession on a morning outgoing tide. On an incoming tide, he said, Point No Point might be a better choice.

He’ll fish Possession close to the bottom in 90 to 120 feet of water, and he likes to start with a choice of three lures in the water: a Tomic 5-inch number 603 plug (glow white with red eye); a flasher/Coyote spoon combo; or a flasher/squid. The “yellowtail” spoon has been a good choice this winter, he said, along with the glow white/green patterns. His squid choice would be a green spatterback, and he would use a leader length of 34 to 40 inches behind the flasher with both the spoon and the squid.

The east side of Possession is easier to fish than the western, “outer” bar, Krein said. Just follow the break southward from the green buoy.

Midchannel Bank in the Port Townsend area will draw anglers as well, trolling Coyote or Coho Killer spoons, and going with the tidal run. Fishing was excellent when the season closed on Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, fishermen in Area 8-2 continue to score on the “racetrack” between Hat Island and Camano Head, up the Langley shoreline on the west side of Saratoga Passage, at Elger Bay, and other spots. State checks at the Port of Everett ramp on Sunday showed 5 boats, 9 anglers, ans 3 blackmouth.

SMELT: No recreational smelt dipping has been seen yet on the lower Cowlitz, and state personnel report no bird or seal activity in the Columbia near the Cowlitz mouth. Commercial netters, however, have taken a relatively small number of fish near Skamokawa, 35 miles downriver.

SNOW GEESE: Drawings are being held weekly for vacant Fir Island Quality Hunt units in the Stanwood area and on Fir Island, if you missed being drawn originally for the relatively new state snow goose hunting program. Drawings will be held each Saturday through the Jan. 27 close of the season at the convenience store/gas station facility on the edge of Conway, east of the railroad tracks and adjacent to the start of Fir Island Road. The time to be there this Saturday is 6:25 a.m., according to coordinator Doug Huddle, but that time will change with the length of the day. Participants must have a valid license and written authorization to hunt snow geese. Call Huddle for more information at 360-633-5325.

RAZOR CLAMS: Assuming marine toxins at a safe level, razor clam diggers will be able to hit the coastal beaches on a scheduled dig later this month. Twin Harbors will open for late-afternoon digs Jan. 18-21, while Long Beach and Copalis are scheduled to open Jan. 19-20. The opening, which includes two extra days for Twin Harbors and no days for Mocrocks, was based on harvest data from last fall’s digs, according to state shellfish manager Dan Ayres in Montesano. Kalaloch will remain closed throughout the 2008 season.

Tides are as follows: Jan. 18, plus 0.6 feet at 2:56 p.m.; Jan. 19, plus 0.1 feet at 3:58 p.m.; Jan. 20, minus 0.4 feet at 4:53 p.m.; and Jan. 21, minus 0.6 feet at 5:44 p.m.

Ayres said more than 15,000 diggers showed up for the Dec. 21-23 opening, a strong showing even considering the popularity of holiday harvests. The first day was best, he said, because wind and surf worsened as the dig went along. Participants averaged just under 11 clams per person, out of a possible 15 clam limit.

HUNT REPORTS: Reports must be in by midnight, Jan. 31, for all holders of 2007 deer, elk, bear or turkey licenses, regardless of whether or not you were successful. Fail to meet the deadline and it will cost you a $10 assessment the next time you purchase any hunting license or tag. To submit a report, complete a form online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ or call toll-frree, 1-877-945-3492.

BLACK BEAR: Applications for spring hunts are due March 13, and the drawing for 295 permits in Western Washington and 235 on the eastside will be held shortly after that date. To apply, hunters must purchase a special permit application and a 2008 hunting license that includes bear as a species option. Licenses, transport tags and permit applications may be purchased online (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/), by phone (866-246-9453), or at any license vendor statewide. Applications, which must have a correct hunt choice number, may be submitted online (above) or by calling 877-945-3492.

Copalis is hunt 7014, 100 permits, April 15-June 15, in part of GMU 642; Kapowsin is hunt 7015, 100 permits, April 15-June 15, in portions of GMU 653 and 654; Capitol Forest is hunt 7016, 50 permits, April 15-June 15, in a portion of GMU 663; North Skagit is hunt 7017, 20 permits, April 15-May 31, in a portion of GMU 418; and Monroe is hunt 7018, 25 permits, April 15-May 31, in a portion of GMU 448.

For more information on these western Washington hunts and those on the eastside, go to page 56 in the 2007 Big Game Hunting Rules pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/hunter/hunter.htm.

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