Skagit goes wild [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Skagit goes wild

10-21-2003, 09:33 AM
River Levels as of 5:32 AM 10/21/03:
Skagit at Concrete: 41.72 ft Flood stage at Concrete is 28 feet, expected to crest at 42 ft at 8:00 AM 10/21/03
Skagit at Mount Vernon: 28.99 ft Flood stage in Mount Vernon is 28 feet, expected to crest at 38 ft at 8:00 PM 10/21/03
(Sunrise 7:38 a.m. Sunset 6:09 p.m. )

Date: October 21, 2003
Time: 5:30 A.M.
From: Skagit County Public Works


Public schools in the Burlington-Edison, La Conner, Mount Vernon, and Sedro-Woolley are closed today as a safety precaution. Anacortes Schools are open. All out of district activities and transportation will also be cancelled in La Conner.

This flood is equaling or exceeding the flood events of 1990 and 1995.

The Skagit County Department of Emergency Management is recommending that local elementary and secondary schools close today as a safety precaution.

People living in the flood plain are encouraged to move their records to a safe area.

Plans are underway to move farm animals to high ground.

The National Guard is staged at Marblemount and Hamilton to help with evacuation. Also 15 Search and Rescue personnel are stationed at Hamilton.

The National Weather Service is continuing to forecast serious flooding for the Skagit River system. The Skagit and its tributaries have been rising rapidly in the eastern, upriver portion of Skagit County. The prediction is that the river will reach 42.5 feet at Concrete at 8:00 AM Tuesday morning. At 5:30 AM Tuesday morning, the gauge at Concrete read 41.72 feet.

The 5:30 AM gauge reading for Mount Vernon is 28.99 feet. The National Weather Service has revised its forecast for the Skagit crest in Mount Vernon to 38 feet at 8:00 PM Tuesday evening. Flood stage in Mount Vernon is 28 feet. City officials are planning to begin sandbagging of the downtown revetment, a paved parking facility adjacent to the river in downtown Mount Vernon, at 8:00 AM Tuesday morning.

Volunteers to sandbag are asked to report to the Mount Vernon Fire Hall on South 2nd Street in Downtown Mount Vernon at 8:00 AM Tuesday. Volunteers are also asked to report to the Conway Fire Station at 8:00 AM. Dike District 17 needs volunteers for sandbagging at their headquarters on Stewart Road in Mount Vernon, near the Cottontree Inn at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Sandbagging will also take place at the Skagit County Courthouse. No volunteers are requested.

Shelters are open at the following locations:

Marblemount Community Hall, 60055 SR 20; phone 360-873-4432.
Shelters were opened yesterday at the following locations:
Grassmere Fire Hall, 4288 Hwy 20, Concrete; phone 360-853-8361 and
Hamilton 1st Baptist Church, 797 Hamilton Cemetery Rd.; ph. 360-826-3307.

Personnel from the Whidbey Naval Air Station have sandbagged around the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant. The Riverbend Road is closed.

County officials and work crews continue to monitor the situation closely and take appropriate actions as necessary. Additional news releases will be issued as new information warrants.

10-21-2003, 11:46 AM
Hope everyone in the valley and upriver rides it out with minimal damage. Doesn't look good for the king redds, or the pinks either. Looks like the Sauk peaked at over 100,000 cfs last night- major changes to that river I'm sure.

10-21-2003, 12:01 PM
I second the best wishes for one and all living near our Puget Sound Rivers. I am sure the upper Sauk will change dramatically and would expect the mouth might have moved (again) as well. I am also curious to see what the lower Sky is like once the waters recede.

10-21-2003, 01:05 PM
Maybe some of the famous runs of the 70's and 80's on the lower Sky will show their lovely faces again. The few runs that still existed were tired and not holding fish like they did not all that many years ago.

On all our local rivers it will be fun to float this winter for the first time and to see what is around the next bend in the river. It is always so much fun fishing a newly found run on a river one has fished for many years. That being said it is also fun to make sure that the oarsman is paying attention to the job at hand, right Sinktip, Sparky and of course myself included in that short list.

With global warming or what ever we have we are not getting snow pack down to the elevations we used to get. Expect much more two and three day flooding thoughout the year than we got in the early 80's and before.

10-21-2003, 01:15 PM

The beautiful house that almost went in the Sauk has most likely made it to the Skagit in pieces by now. Some of the large log jams, on the Skagit have probably made it down river too.

I also wonder how much sand and gravel have been moved downstream of Oso or from Deer Creek into the river. This rain has sure shot the hell out of silver fishing though, and closed the pass to the Methow's fine steelheading possibly for the year.

10-21-2003, 02:01 PM
So, in three years,are you saying the pink, silver and king runs will be deminished because of this flooding? Really can't wait to see how all the rivers shape up after this. Of course, all those pictures I took of the rivers when they were low, so I could keep track of underwater structure, are worthless and I can delete them? I'll miss the smell of rotting fish. I really do hope people in those valleys get through this OK.


10-21-2003, 02:22 PM

I was thinking about that house. It is long gone without a doubt. My guess is there may be some holding water in the lower half of that float now though. At the very least, the upper braids will change.


2 years for pinks

10-21-2003, 02:33 PM
A quick update. Evacuations now underway in parts of Mt. Vernon, Burlington, and Fir Island. Hiway 20 closed between Burlington and Sedro Woolley.

The river is raging with tons of debris coming down. This is getting pretty bad. I have standing water around the house and water starting to seep into the garage. We still have about 7 hours until the river crests.

10-21-2003, 03:15 PM
Good God! And we're still sitting in 82 degree sunny weather here in Medford/Ashland, OR. Or about 450 miles south.

Any web sites showing the river(s)?

10-21-2003, 03:57 PM
For USGS flood tracking see the links below.

Skagit at Mt. Vernon

Sauk at Sauk

Skykomish at Goldbar

10-21-2003, 04:23 PM
Well, there were a number of changes from the first high water late last week, and this new water is even more fierce. Most of the glacial sand that had come out of the Suiattle and deposited below was scoured away clean by Sunday. The Cascade River now runs straight below the bridge, almost bypassing the hatchery entirely (it just might when the water recedes), the large logjam at the bend above the hatchery is gone. Deer Creek was running like cement on Sunday AM. I would suspect this will hurt the spawning dollies as well. And any parr that don't get lucky will be washed away.

From what I've heard Hwy 20 over the pass is close for the season, marking the earliest date ever.

Nooksack Mac
10-21-2003, 04:58 PM
If I understood the news reports, Highway 20 is presently closed by landslides between Marblemount and Ross Lake, not by snow. So perhaps after the floods recede and the hwy. crews do their work, it may be open again. I'd check before heading up that way.

10-21-2003, 05:28 PM
It is closed due to rock slides, erosion and water over the road- but not snow ;)

North Cascade Hwy SR20 5477 ft F Forecast
Restrictions Eastbound: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
Restrictions Westbound: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON
Conditions & Weather: Closed between milepost 120 to milepost 170,
Last Update: 4:37 PM, Oct 20, 2003
Next Expected Update: 8:00 AM,Feb 28, 2003

10-21-2003, 07:16 PM
Here again,

They have started to evacuate the other side of the road I live on. Things are getting real bad.

Took a short drive south on 9. Water is really wild at the bridge. Hiway 9 should be closed by the time I write this. Saw a creek south of Clearlake running the wrong way. The creek is now draining the Skagit instead of feeding it. Mud lake in Clearlake is now connected to the Skagit. This is the worst I have ever seen.

Took my digital camera to shoot some pics and it had a dead battery. Took some with my regular camera so should have some pics in a few days.

My house is becoming pet central for evacuated relatives and friends. I now have 5 dogs and 3 cats. Started the day with 1 of each.

Youngest son has been sand bagging since 7:00 am. Volunteered for it. Hell of a good kid.

wet fly
10-21-2003, 07:21 PM
I live on the banks of the Stilly. Today I have been watching all the salmon moving along the "easy" water. I have seen old humpies, some silvers and some big dogs showing there dorsel as they move along. Many of these fish will end up in the fields and side channels as the river drops. October floods was the only time I ever saw my grandfather fish with a hook and line. He would use fresh silver eggs and fish with a cane pole. At flood stage the Stilly still had a foot or two of visibility. He would catch trout. They were probally cutthroat and silver and king jacks. The stilly had a good run of fall kings in those days. Nowadays there is no visibility during the flood. I would say this flood of this height would be about a 10 year event. It creasted about 7:30 this morning and held till noon or so and is now on the way down. Jerry

10-21-2003, 07:57 PM
Those graphs are beyond the pale. At least the arrows are all pointing 'down.'

10-21-2003, 10:39 PM
Kerry, hope your feet are still dry and all is well!

A river on a rampage is a frighting thing - Hope all in harms way have found safety on high ground.

The Skagit at Concrete crested at 166,000 cfs - a flood of record since the dams went in. A review of the historical records at Concrete should give all that live in the Skagit Valley pause. The first of the Skagit dams went in during the 1920s, in the 25 years prior to that time the river reach more than 200,000 cfs several times - a 120 to 150% of day's event. In looking at the gauges for Ross and Baker reservoirs it looks that both are nearly full. Not sure how much more flood waters they could have safely stored. If the storm had continued for another half day or there was significant snow on the ground we may have been looking at an event similar to those of the early 1900s.

The stage high at Concrete today was 42 feet or about 14 feet above flood stage. There are flood scars in the Dalles gorge that equate to a stage high of 63 feet! This has been estimated to have been produced by a flood in excess of 500,000 cfs or 3 times this flood. Based on the ages of the trees that giant flood has been estimated to have ocurred in about 1815. God forbid that we ever see such an event!

The fish impacts of this flood will be felt over several years. The timing of this flood was particularily bad for the pinks and chinook as many of their eggs hadn't "eyed-up" yet so they were vulunerable to any shock (just the shifting of the gravel would kill many of them). For the pinks we'll see the impacts in 2005. In 1995 the Skagit pink escapement was about 850,000 fish - in November there was also a major flood. The run 2 years late was less than 100,000. For chinook the impacts will be felt in 2006, 2007, and 2008. On a non-flood year the egg to smolt survival in the Skagit may be in the 20% range. The survival this year will be less than 2% and perhaps less than 1%. While the chums have not yet spawned they may also be affected by this event. Because of alll the water behind the dams we are likely to see high flows for several weeks as they attempt to lower reservoir levels to be able to store any additional flood water. This means that many of the chums will be spawning higher up on the bars than normal which may make them vulunerable to freezing in January or February if flows return to normal in the late winter. The chums will find the new or refreshed side channels to their likely and will be seeking them out for spawning. While this year's coho will largely escape impacts from this flood those juvenile coho from last year will have experienced higher mortality than normal. Typically over winter survival of small parr is in the 50 to 60% range however will large flood events that can be reduced by 1/2 or more. The amount of reduced survival will be dependent on whether the parr had found over-winter habitats (refugia from high flows) and the quality of that habitat. Similar impacts would be found for juvenile sea-run cutthroat, steelhead, and bull trout. The impacts on coho would be seen in the adult returns in 2005, for the cutts in 2004/2005, for the steelhead in 2005/2006, and the bull trout adults 2006/2007/2008 (about 1/2 of the bull trout have spawned to date so their eggs were hammered as well).

All and all a disaster for both man and fish.

Tight lines

10-21-2003, 11:34 PM
That's tough news Smalma. Thanks for the insights. Here's hoping for the best.

10-22-2003, 02:01 AM
While I guess I know a few things about fishing, I know practically nothing about floods. I mean, what do they really do?

Needless to say, the human aspect of this, the loss, the heartbreak and the trauma experienced at the hands of such a flood as this must be our first consideration. I can only express my deepest feelings of sympathy for those who have been so adversely affected.

From a fishing perspective, I really don't know what to say. I have read different things down through the years and I wonder if all the information I have thus absorbed has been accurate. Maybe readers can correct me where wrong or add to what might be right.

Floods are not all bad. They tend to push millions of tons of sediment out to sea thus cleaning the river to some extent. They scour the bottom clean of mud and sediment, depositing gravel and stones in many areas, creating new spawning possibilities where none previously existed.

In California one year, we thought all was lost due to the massive flood of 1964, the largest before or since, but we were wrong. Since the fish had spawned in the main channels of the river, none were left high and dry when the rivers receded. It was a banner year.

River detritus is often moved by the floods back into the river when it recedes and provides cover for smolt. Farmlands that lose great quantities of soil enrich the river which without floods would become sterile.

While some fish become lost, others are able to swim easily because the river is like a ditch at the edges and the difficult rapids are covered over. Because the volume has been so increased, fish are able to climb much higher into the watershed and thus new spawning grounds become available for them.

And fishermen quit fishing during a flood thus saving all the fish that would have been otherwise killed.

It's hard to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. I mean to anger no one. In fact, all I have tried to do is to post some information that may or may not be true. All I ask is that if the information is wrong, please correct me.

Bob, the Sometimes Devil's Advocate.:confused:

10-22-2003, 05:01 AM
I got value from both sides of this important discussion -

The devastating power and impact of flooding on the fragile early life phases of anadramous fish, frightening indeed

The repercussions of man's encroachment into every nook and cranny on earth when nature acts as she does once in a while, also devastating

And I agree with Bob as well. How I would put it is this - there is no such thing as a natural catastrophe. After St.Helens, the ash will make premium soil in about 10,000 years. After a burning of the forests by lightning, the forest is renewed despite the losses from the inhabitants population in the process. I have to think that although a flood is indeed devastating to fish and man, there is some redeeming effect as in all natural cyclic events of this nature, and it's in the bigger scheme a positive thing to occur once in a great while.

However I extend my concerns and to all of the good people of Washington state who may have been affected by this out there in God's country.

10-22-2003, 08:56 AM
Again my best wishes for all in the Skagit Valley and my hopes that all are safe.

My previous post was an attempt to answer Mattzoid's question regarding the near future of the Skagit fish runs.

In the larger picture floods are part of the dynamic processes that these fish evolved with and have both negative and positive aspects. The fish over 10,000s of years have developed a variety of behaviors to be successful in their dynamic environments. In fact they are dependent on having this dynamism. In the case of floods historically while the raging waters are causing short term mortalities on the eggs and young fish it was creating and refreshing the fish's habitats. As the river erode various banks and moved across the valley floor new side channels, log jams, oxbows etc were created. This all helped to maintain a high productivity of the various populations over the long term.

The rub of course on many of our rivers in the last century and half we as a society have worked very hard to reduce this dynamism by making the river as static as possible. We want to protect banks from erosion, attempt to lock the river in its current location, isolate all those side channels and sloughs, dike the low lands to make better use of those productive lands. The result from the fish's view is that we have changed the rivers such that we have magnified the short term negative aspects of flooding and reduced the long term benefits.

If there is interest perhaps at another time we could talk about the various strategies that the various salmonid species developed to be successful in a dynamic environment and how the simplification of our rivers have reduced the overall productivity of the salmon and steelhead. I believe that recognition of the fish's need for this dynamism is key to any discussion of salmon recovery and habitat restoration.

Tight lines

10-22-2003, 10:24 AM
Thanks Smalma,

Very informative. It has always amazed me just how dynamic the entire system really is. Of course, it has always had thousands of years to recover and as humans, we will want this problem solved today. I'd like to see a discussion on why there isn't more uniformity in fisheries management say between Or. and Wa. Needless to say, I'm sure we will all be hitting the rivers in a day or two. Exploring old holes, finding new ones. Floods can be a time for the rebirth of many things.


10-22-2003, 05:40 PM

The Seattle TV stations all have web sites that you can go to to see pictures of the Skagit flooding. Try KING 5, KIRO 7, or KONG TV.

Nooksack Mac,

Hdwy 20 not only has mudslides between Newhalem and Mazama, the road completely washed out in two places during last weeks's deluge, and is probably worse off after Monday's deluge. These will take weeks to repair and the snow season and resultant winter closure is almost upon us; therefore, I would be greatly surprised if it were reopened until spring.


I think you are right about the lower end of that run having some good holding water now. I'm also pretty sure the wicked channel has been turned into the main channel now as well. And since the Sauk was over the Hwy below the Government Bridge, we may have some holding water restored in the middle run.


I've been expecting the Cascade to begin flowing roughly straight at the end of the run below the bridge opposite the log jam for several years. I also have a strong suspicion that the Grandy drift will be moved further towardd the south bank.

Kerry s,

Hope you and yours are safe and dry.

10-22-2003, 06:12 PM

Everyone is ok around my place. We had water in the garage but I get that during a hard rain some times.

Still had the dogs and cats when I went to work this morning and had aquired a nephew that lives off the S. Skagit Hiway sometime during the night.

Thanks for your concern.

wet fly,

I was a little concerned after seeing pics from around Silvana. Called Homer and asked him if he had heard from you but he had no info. So, good to see you post and learn you are ok.

10-22-2003, 06:12 PM
Thanks Smalma,

It's hard being a gut-feel only kind of guy :p Although I have a lot of passion for the species' and a deep appreciation for the beautiful environs where they live, your posts are really valuable in helping me understand better the intracacies of the dynamic world of anadromous salmonids and realize there's more to it than just the fishing!

10-23-2003, 08:58 AM
The Everett Herald this morning (10/23) reports that 10 cabins/house were lost along the Sauk - 7 south of town near Clear Creek and 3 downstream of Darrington.

We can expect that there are substantial channel changes and please everyone be VERY CAREFUL while fishing this year. There could be a number of hidden dangers. The channel will be unsettled for all the winter/spring. Even a minor rise in the river flow could result in channel shifts or new down trees or log jams. If I hear of problem areas I'll try to post a warning.

Even the foot angler should be careful as they are likely to encounter quasi sink sands. The silts tend to collect on downstream ends of bars and small side channels. While i didn't use to worry much about such areas as i get older they have become more of an issue. Now sinking to mid-tigh is not a fun experience and often results in pulled muscles, tweaked back, etc.

Tight lines

10-23-2003, 03:10 PM
John Koenig posted some pics from the Sauk & Skagit at his website.

(msg edited to remove hotlink to non-sponsor)

10-23-2003, 04:23 PM
Just because I need to know. If you are not a contributer to this site you can not have a link posted to some pics on your site?

10-23-2003, 04:34 PM

The link was to a fishing report page from a guide's site. Yes this does violate the posting rules of the forum so the hotlink was removed. Only the hotlink was removed, the message was left intact.

John Koening is a great guy and I visit his site often but the hotlink had to go. If you or anyone else needs the url to see these pictures, pm me and I will pass it on in private.


10-23-2003, 05:06 PM
Nailknot - email the guide and ask him to sponsor on the board with cc to sinktip. If it is a sonsor, the link is OK.

10-23-2003, 05:34 PM
"Since our life blood is sponsorships, we must keep advertisement meaningful in our community. Avoid spamming by openly promoting non-sponsors in a way that directly advertises their businesses unless you have consulted with a moderator or administrator first. If you want to promote non-sponsors in this manner, you will be asked to email the business to suggest sponsorship of our community (CC: "

I am assuming this is the rule that was violated with the link to John Koenig's site. I am not trying to start anything here but you seem to be enforcing this rule rather strickly. I ddn't see any open promoting of non-sponsers just a link to a reports page of a guides web site. The nearest thing to an advertisement was his name and address on the bottom of the page. Sheesh, I found his web site by visiting another well known fly fishing web site that has a link to a list of most of the guides in Washington right on their home page. I doubt that they receive payment from each one. It's not like a hundred popups opened up or anything. I can think of at least one other site that encourages people to post links to and visit other fishing related web sites. I know they are not receiving money from each one. You can go to far with this sort of stuff and hurt yourself in the long run. I am not impressed with the way you enforce this rule.

10-23-2003, 05:45 PM
It's ok, I just spaced the rule when posting the link to the photos. Sinktip will send the link if you PM, which is a great gesture. I don't want to bother John with a sponsor email, he's doing Skagit SAR (Search and Rescue) and is still recovering from a very busy week I'm sure. I found a few pics of the blown out Whitechuck bridge as well (posted on the site of the Trading Post called Sauk River- just google it ;)

10-24-2003, 10:31 PM
With the exception of the quote, everything that follows is simply an "as I remember it" unfolding of the recent saga of the humpies on the Skagit. If someone more knowledgeable can correct anything I would appreciate it.

To quote from Smalma, "For the pinks we'll see the impacts in 2005. In 1995 the Skagit pink escapement was about 850,000 fish - in November there was also a major flood. The run 2 years late was less than 100,000."

In 1997 the fishing for pinks was open and in fact highly promoted by the WDFW. I saved a flyer they put out that year describing the best fishing methods and predicting a banner run of millions of fish to the Puget Sound rivers. There were fishing derbies everywhere but the fish never showed and fishing derbies have never been popular here since.

In 1997 we also had some devastating high water events. I remember walking out on some newly formed river bars and looking at hundreds of nearly developed alevins lying on and buried in the sand and fine gravel dead. Both WDFW and I the predicted a dire run for 1999 based upon this low escapement and the devastation of the redds. The WDFW, I believe, also recorded low numbers of out migrating smolt.

In 1999 the fishing for pinks was not open. The predicted run was just not sufficient to warrant fishing. That was the year the Swinomish beach seiners took over 5,000 pinks in a single set of their net and they made many, many sets over a period of several weeks. That was also the year that I got laid off from The Austin Co. at the Everett Boeing site near the end of September and planned on catching lots of silvers for the canner after the October 1st opener.

Well, I fished and fished through October and caught literally hundreds of pinks and just one silver at my regular plunking spot. I finally had to fish somewhere else to get a couple of silvers for eating and never got to can any.

The WDFW eventually assessed the run at "near the escapement goal" even after the Tribes took tens of thousands of fish and most of the old timers here on the river said it was one of the biggest runs they could ever remember. And it came from a spawning of 100,000 fish whose redds got washed out twice.

The 2001 run which came from what was assessed as barely enough spawning escapement to perpetuate the stock turned out to be the largest in recorded history. I was obvious to anyone who fished it that the run was huge. There were lots of fish and they just kept coming and coming on into November.

The 2003 run was pretty decent up until the flooding came and while the water has been up I've been noticing that a steady stream of fish have been moving up along the edges. It's hard to identify fish in the muddy water unless they surface but there appears to be a mix of silvers, chum and both upriver and downriver pinks.

I have also been checking the mouths of the tributaries where I've been seeing hundreds of pinks spawning and migrating through. Many of them are quite bright fish with no visible deterioration or spotting on their skin. Hopefully this years run of pinks will be an extended one. We just might be pleasantly surprised in 2005.