End of Winter [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: End of Winter

02-29-2004, 04:32 PM
O.K. It's the end of February, which to me marks the end of the Winter steelhead season. With the coming of March it will be the beginning of Spring steelheading. I am curious as to what others opinions/experiences are regarding this past Winter's fishing. This, just for the sake of knowing how are runs are faring, but also to get a "feel" for the upcoming Spring season.

This Winter I hooked 16 confirmed steelhead, and landed 14 of them. 7 were hatchery, 7 were wild. The hatcheries were caught prior to mid-January, the wild fish from mid-January to yesterday - a "typical" distribution in my experience. The hatcheries were almost all in the 5 to 6 pound range - also typical. The wild fish were all 7 to 8 pounds, with the exception of one about 15 pounds. This to me is not typical, as I would "normally" expect to see a greater ratio of larger fish. If these are one-salt fish, it could be a good sign for next year's run. If they are poorly fed 2 salt fish, then...

This year was chock full of extenuating circumstances. Number one was the big flood. This exterminated the most consistent piece of Winter fly water on the Skagit (in past years this piece of water accounted for 50% of my steelhead caught before the end of Feb.). It also rendered the majority of holding water on the Sauk into a sand-infested wasteland. Also, we had high average river flow conditions for the first half of the season. The Sky below the Sultan ran very murky much of the time, as did the Skagit below the Baker. This effectively removed from flyfishing, more than 50% of the best Winter fishing water for a good part of the season. Some of my best "traditional spots did not produce any fish this year, even though from outward appearances they still looked quite good. Some spots where I had never caught steelhead before, put out fish this year, even though they did not look that much different from years past.

Considering the above circumstances, I think that the hatchery run this year was quite good. The wild fish run is, I believe, quite a bit better than the last couple of years, though the fish are themselves averaging smaller than usual. I also feel that the wild run is running a bit late - is just now starting to show - as so far this year, the last few days has been the best showing that I have had on wild steelhead, and also I have not yet seen one dark fish (they've all been Chrome-bright, with the exception of one lightly colored male). The last buck that I caught a couple of days ago had absolutely NO color to it whatsoever.

I would appreciate all Puget Sound steelheaders input on what your personal observations and feelings are for this winter season. Thanks.

beau purvis
02-29-2004, 05:16 PM
I have been knocked out for the season with a badly broken leg. but, I heard from a reliable source that 3 fish over 30 were taken on the oly P a little over a week ago. Beau

02-29-2004, 05:46 PM
Like you, I found the October floods very adversely effected my winter fishing on the Skagit. My favorite funs were unfishable until only the last few weeks because of the murk getting dumped into the Skagit by the Baker. I had a banner year on dollies; but, I only hooked one steelhead and that was last Monday. I have not fished the Sauk this winter because of all the sand that was in it earlier.

The hatchery run appeared to me to be late since the Marblemount and Barnaby hatcheries did not get the needed broodstock until mid-February. Like you, I am expecting a better spring return than we had the last 3 years.

02-29-2004, 06:32 PM
I'm several for 'zero' since late November, but the fish usually don't come up into the top (fly friendly) water until late Feb/early March. Several strong storms have kept the river high, but clarity hasn't been that bad.

Spent the weekend in the 'Land tuna' just below Grants Pass chucking a 330 grain head of a 10 wt Sage. (Sweet J., am I tired!!)

Only one 'pluck' to show for it; doubt each 'swing lasted 10 seconds given the flow of the water. Maybe next week?

02-29-2004, 07:13 PM
Originally posted by Riveraddict
7 were hatchery

I need to keep that statisitic in the back of my mind as I am fishing the fly in late November, December and January...that right there is proof that hatchery winter-runs will take a fly although I have yet to see it happen on anything beyond the rare encounter and the non-existant encounter for me.

My winter has been less then glamerous but given a week's vacation to warm waters in January and a Febuary that was filled with shows and other obligations, only now am I finally able to hit the water twice a week, every week until the rivers close at the end of April.

BTW-You are dead on regarding small fish...the past couple years have seen fewer but larger fish (no one-salts)...a poor sign for the current run and the next couple of years' runs BUT if those fish are one-salt fish that you are running into this year (maybe Smalma can verify if they are one-salt or skinny 2-salt fish), the next two years could be the begining of an up swing for our fish! :)

I have also heard of 3 fish over 30 on the OP alas 2 ended up in a fish box.
:( :mad:

And on one more note, I floated the Skagit from Rockport to Concrete a couple weeks ago and given it had been a long while since I had floated that section, I was unsure of what water to fish. Water that looked like prime water (one little slot above Jackman stands out in mind) seemed to have lost its luster (in my mind) once I waded in and realized that eventough that bottom looked to be made up of large rocks, it was nothing more then a few rocks and lots of sand (much more then I ever remember). I am assuming that those that find the cleaner bottoms will find the fish...or maybe the fish do not mind as much as they do on the Skykomish.

02-29-2004, 10:19 PM
Actual the number of “salts” refers to the number of summers the fish had spend in the ocean feeding prior to returning to the river. Thus for our winter fish the common hatchery is a 2 salt. A one salt would be jack typical 15 to 17 inches in length.

For the Skagit wild fish the 2-salts would typically range from 5 to 10 pounds with a 7 or 8 pounder being average. The 3-salts are typically 12 to 18 pounds with a few of the males reaching the low 20s. Do occasional see fish that are 5-salts –those exceptional fish of more than 30 pounds. The early reports of more small wild fish is indeed good news. If marine survival conditions are indeed improving (and I sure hope so) then the returns the first year under the new survival conditions would be dominated by 2-salts. This would the first indications that things may be returning to those conditions of a decade ago.

You mentioned the reports of several large fish this year. I’m not surprised; in fact kind of expect it. For some reason I have noticed that every 7th year beginning in 1968/69 winter seems to have exceptional numbers of large fish. I can’t think of any reason why that should be but it is what I have seen. The spring of 1983 was absolutely amazing for big fish on the Sauk, my partners and I averaged a 20 + fish to hand for every 2 rod days. Have never seen the like before or since.

Riveraddict –
The information I have is that the hatchery fish were more or less normal timed. The fish were late in entering the Marblemount hatchery due changes at the mouth of Clark and Jordan Creeks. To get to the hatchery the fish had to get up over a “sill” which required a high water. With the fishing pressure the fish were caught before the needed high water. They did get to the hatchery after the closure following high waters.

Tight lines
S malma

02-29-2004, 10:27 PM
Thanks for the clarification...my bad.

So the past few years have seen a larger percentage of 3-salts to 2-salts than normal?

But is not the typical age of Puget Sound wild summer steelhead '1-salt'? If so, then what allows for the summer-runs to be 4-6 pounds and not 15-17 inches besides an extra few months in the ocean?

02-29-2004, 10:38 PM
Well I finished the Winter season today on the middle Sauk. I was saddened to see the results of the early-winter floods on some of my favorite runs. In some the run was gone and in others under 2' of sand.

Prior to that I have spent all my time on the Sky. I went 0 for 5 on confirmed hook-ups. (seems every couple of years I go through a spell of hooking but not landing) I can't speak to hatchery vs. wild not size but none seemed to be of large size. Last Tuesday, a buddy and I floated and he brought two to hand: a 5-6 # wild buck and a 9# hatchery hen.

All in all, an average winter season but nothing to write home about.

02-29-2004, 10:58 PM
Remember that the 1-salt summer fish are returning during the second summer of ocean feeding. They have some of the winter, all of the spring and part of the summer to grow beyond the size of the Jacks. Some also forget that the 1-salt summers and the 2-salt winters both spawn at the same time and at the same age (typical 4 years if a 2 year smolt).

The last several years the ratios of 2-salt and 3 salt wild winters have been about normal. However in the Puget Sound area there just been a lot fewer of both. If the survival conditions improve we’ll see it in the young fish (2-salts) first and then a more normal ratio the following year. I have been waiting to hear anglers commenting on having an unusual number of small wild fish for sometime knowing that will be the sign that things may be improving though a one good year does not a trend make.

Tight lines
S malma

03-01-2004, 09:22 PM
This season seemed a little better than last winter. One nice 14 - 15lb early wild fish on the sky(Jan 17th) a couple of hatchery fish on the sky both 5-6 lbs and a wild fish on the hoh 7-8 lbs. Lost another early wild fish on the Sky (Jan 16th) got a good look at it 6-7 lbs. I hope the larger number of 2 salt wild fish is a continuing trend

03-02-2004, 10:53 AM
I don't know how much significance this has but you all might be interested in hearing that during the last week of december and first week of january, I personally encountered 2 wild winter steelhead, and heard of a fellow surveyor encountering 4, on small tributary creeks of the skykomish and snoqualmie. We were doing coho prespawn mortality surveys, so we weren't even looking for live fish, and this was earlier and more fish than we have seen before. I should also emphasize that these were not creeks that one would tradtionally expect to see large numbers of fish in. I think it can only bode well. The size of these fish ranged from around 8 to 16 pounds.

03-02-2004, 01:00 PM
I had it too - went 0 for 4 on fish I'm 99% sure were steelhead. One for certain on the Cowlitz, which jumped horizontally at me before throwing the hook. Small hatchery fish from the looks of it. Other three were on the upper Skykomish in December and January. All fought classic cold-water steelhead fights and managed to throw the hook at some point in the battle.

Bring on those big spring Nates! :smokin:

Leland Miyawaki
03-02-2004, 01:07 PM
I haven't even had a pull and it's not for lack of time on the waters.

I, for one, cannot wait until June.


03-03-2004, 09:11 AM
Leland - you have to sink those flies....:devil:

03-03-2004, 10:48 AM
In my haste to post before going fishing, I
"generalized" the size of the natives. A couple of them were around that 6 pound range. A couple were around 8. The balance (except the 15) were in the 7 pound range. In my past experience, I have found it to be unusual to encounter native fish under 7 pounds. Typically, I would only see one, maybe two of these per season. I also have found 7 pound native fish to be somewhat of an infrequent occurrence, usually seeing only 2-3 of these per season. My "usual" spectrum of native fish per season consisted mostly of steelhead in the 8 to 14 pound range, with a strong bias towards the 9-10 pounders, and with the 8's actually being less numerous than the 9-10's. I thought that one salters typically were 4 to 6 pounds, and two salters 8 to 12. Because these "7 pounders" fell into that nether region in between, I concluded that they were well-fed one salters. A friend of mine brought up the opposite side of the coin - that they could be poorly fed two salters (I hope not). I would be interested in your take on this. By the way, most people think that I underestimate the size of fish, and that could have a bearing on the situation.

03-15-2004, 06:55 PM

I must say down hear some say it is the end of spring and we are having an early summer :devil:

03-16-2004, 02:35 AM
This was one of my best winters for hatchery fish. I feel it was well deserved because the previous year (both summer and winter) was so rotten. The hatchery fish were mostly 4-6lbs with two 8's in the mix. I only got one wild fish and it was about 7lbs. I was fortunate to fish several days when the river was in prime shape.
One blaring negetive aspect of my winter was that I didn't see much sign of the wild run on the north fork. In each of the last few februaries a buddy and I have each hooked a couple of real tanks, but this winter the only native caught on the north fork between the two of us was my 7lber.