Oregon & Washington Steelhead Returns [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Oregon & Washington Steelhead Returns

North Island
05-06-2004, 10:43 AM
As you probably know the winter steelhead returns on the Island and in the southern province were absolutely dismal this year.

What I am interested in is . . . How were you're returns?
What kind of numbers did the various rivers in your states report?
Are they up or down? and to what degree?

the reason I am interested is I am fortunate enough to take part in meetings with government representatives and biologists. In the last one a rep said that our returns were down the same amount as rivers in Washington and Oregon. Specifically the Deschuttes was mentioned.

I seem to remember someone here reporting 11000 fish in the Deschuttes. So I am just hoping for some information to compare the two areas.

Cheers N I:)

P.S. I think our southern neighbors do a much better job protecting thier fish and fisheries than we do here in BC

Sharp Steelie
05-06-2004, 11:20 AM

For the last 3 years the summer runs have been
doing well for the Columbia river tribs (not all of
them). The winter runs have been more sporadic
and not nearly as fruitfull for SW Washington. I'm
sure someone must have the excact numbers -
Checked the Kalama 3 times in 2004 and did not
see a single Steelhead caught or in the river.
Completely different story on a couple other rivers,
found fish in a river to the North and another
river to the South for winter runs. For me personally,
the summer run fishing has been exceptional for
Columbia river tribs. Nice to see some good runs
showing up again.


05-06-2004, 11:42 AM
streams that flow into it) have had very large runs of summer/winter steelhead. Ditto the Spring and fall king runs.

Don't recall the numbers for the fall run of Kings and Steelhead, but the winter runs into the top 30 miles of river this year topped 21,000. As there's only one counting station on the entire Rogue River (just north of Medford) the total count for the drainage system had to be much higher.

Last years spring king run was about 38,000 fish by count. Runs on the Rogue have actually been growing over the past few years.

05-06-2004, 11:54 AM

I have yet to see any hard data on the winter returns for the Puget Sound rivers but it was not stellar. (Don't think this will even be available until mid-summer.) The Skagit/Sauk did get a late push so they might make escapement but the rest of the North Sound rivers are not expected too. There were some good reports of smaller fish (2 salt) in the Snohomish system in February and as I understand it, that is a good sign. Hard to say if it was a trend though.

I don't have any data on the OP although the anecdotal reports I received were both hot and cold. I have heard rumors the Hoh was in danger of not meeting escapement again but can't speak to the validity of it.

Overall, Washington summer runs are faring better than winter-run fish but even that is not rosy. Very poor returns of hatchery summer fish on the Snohomish and Stillaguamish last year. As you head south towards Oregon, the results seem to be better. Columbia tribs are doing fine (mostly hatchery fish) and the returns to Idaho have been near record levels.

Something bad is happening though in the Straight of Georgia and I don't think anybody knows what it is. Interesting that you feel we do a better job of management than our friends to the north. With the exception of the Thompson debacle, I doubt you would get that dog to hunt down here. Of course that is simply the perception and the reality may differ.

My hopes are with you though as unless it turns around quick, the data I have seen from Bob Hooton looks pretty damn bleak.

Hopefully Smalma will see your post and weigh in.


North Island
05-06-2004, 12:34 PM
Sinktip and all,

Hard data would be nice but not necessary. You know where there's smoke there's fire. Even when some will say that bad data has the habit of being accepted over years, or can haunt you.

As far as my statement about protecting fish and fisheries. I was referring to the angler population being willing to speak out or take action as necessary. In comparing managememt stratagies between the two nations I would not be qualified for that. I wouldn't want to give anyone the wrong impression.

" Something bad is happening " Oh Yeah! Two subjects which our government seems to be very quiet on are fish farms, and the population increase of sea lions in the Georgia basin.

Hunting dogs. The last swim report for the Puntledge R., if I recall correctly, was 4 fish in 7.5 km's of prime river. This in the year we were expecting our largest hatchery return to date. This is only one example among many.

Thanks N I

05-06-2004, 12:37 PM
I was in a meeting last night with a WLAP Biologist (BC Ministry of Water Land and Air) and the topic was the plight of the Georgia Basin Steelhead. While he accepts that there are habitat issues that are impacting the spawning/rearing streams he pointed out that the real question mark is out in the ocean.

He indicated that smolt returns in the range of 4% are the minimum for "good" returns. In the 1980's when we had exceptionally good steelhead returns they were in the neighbourhood of 18-20%. The early return info we have this year (the same ones Sinktip refers to - from the Keogh) indicate a return of .25% - that is 1/4 of one percent!

As to what the causes may be, he was not sure. He did say that they have noted that the problem seems acute for those streams that directly enter into Georgia Strait - like the East Coast Vancouver Island streams. While others like the Chehalis, for example which enters the Harrison and then the Fraser seem to be doing much better.

Other possible causes he mentioned included slightly warmer ocean conditions, which contribute to less productive feeding grounds as well as an increase the numbers of warm water predators feeding on smolts. Fish farms are included as a possible problem, but I think he was severely limited in what he could say due to political/job security issues. He was concerned in that whatever is going on, it seems to be spreading as indicated by the dismal returns on the previously unaffected West Coast Van Isle streams.

Are the problems a question of poor management? Tough to answer. If the culprit is the fish farms - which I personally lean toward - they can be managed - albeit the political will at present in BC is lacking for that. If it is part of a bigger oceanic regime issue - then it is even more difficult to impact. So what do we do? Short of taking up golf, I guess we continue to push for reforms in the areas we can impact, like water quality issues, logging practices, habitat improvement, stream fertilization, catch and release, stream closures, etc, etc. We keep at it until the smolt returns reach 4%+ or the sea lice kill all the fish a la Scotland...

05-06-2004, 05:01 PM

05-06-2004, 06:14 PM
One biologyst that I talked to on the Deschutes this year said that probably at least 65,000 fish did not enter the Deschutes.He said they felt they just swam on past. The White River had it blown out most of the year and maybe it was a scent problem, also the river was very warm until very late in the year.

05-06-2004, 06:55 PM

Re the article referring to the collapse of the BC Salmon industry. There is a lot of politics going on right now. This so-called collapse has nothing to do with fish stocks. In fact salmon returns (unlike steelhead) are at a real high, the smolt return rate is 20+%. The inferred collapse is that of the commercial industry - not the fish stock.

The Federal and Provincial governments want to put the industry on a quota system. The commercial fishermen have theirs, the natives have theirs and the sportfisherman have theirs. On the surface this sounds like it might be positive - but not really. The real reason behind this is to use the quotas for bargaining in upcoming native land claim settlements.

First, you in effect privatize an industry that has been in the public domain since the birth of the country. Next you piecemeal buy back the commercial licenses, then you give them to the natives as settlements. It still doesn't necessarily sound bad, except that the sport fishing sector which only takes about 8% of the stock, yet in terms of economic value "blows the other sectors out of the water" gets the short end of the stick.

The red herring so to speak is that once the sport quota is reached - and that could be (pick a date) - say July 15th the entire sport fishery would be shut down. Then the natives and commercials could do their thing. Any increase in the sport quota would have to be "bought" by surcharges on fishing licenses.

This is a very bad thing. A public resource is being stolen.

North Island
05-07-2004, 12:21 PM
Currently I see 2 procedural cracks in Canadian steelhead mangement

The first being the Provincial and Federal lack of a unified plan. To me it seems very odd that responsibility of anadromous fish be split between 2 agencies. Federal DFO manage salmon stocks and the Provincial Ministry WLAP managing steelhead stocks.

The second, given the nature of BC politics in the last 25 years you have good people having to worry more about protecting their job than the results they produce. Although I am compassionate for these good people and understand the constraints they work under, as a citizen I am really getting tired of bad news. They have been promising the fruit of the Keogh R. project for ten years! I remember bob Jones writing about it in 1995. I think the time of cautous politics is over.

Kush, I echo probably the same biologist you speak of,[if not his associate] What if steelhead are only an indicator species? Are the Coho next? then the Chinook? The" Species At Risk Act " is right around the corner. I hope it doesn't get that far.


05-07-2004, 12:56 PM
For those interested in information on salmon farms and their effects check this web-site out. If you are interested I know they are willing to send out hard copies of the very excellent report and includes all the research - it is very impressive.


05-07-2004, 01:14 PM
`nursery water' i call it,,,hardly any fishing is allowed in feeder creeks ,or streams on the Rogue,,and the water tables are impacted by all the wells,,flows ARE down from historical levels.,,Kush,i remember you mentioning this before in reference to the Thompson,,the feeder streams ,and their degradation,,anyone do any hardcore analisys on these nurseries?,my first response is always what's being cought offshore?,,,legally or otherwise,,:confused: i just got an e-mail from whoever stating `fishing Alberta's hatches',,,the water looked like `nursery water' to me,is ALL water open for fishing in BC?,,even the small ck.s

North Island
05-07-2004, 01:21 PM
I think the regs do a pretty good job protecting sensetive water. However on the Island enforcement is almost nonexistant. Abuse and poaching is rampant.


05-07-2004, 08:58 PM
North Island -
As sinktip pointed out our North Puget Sound winter fish spawn well into the summer so final numbers will not be available until July.

However the early counties for most Puget Streams seemed to be up from the previous 4 or 5 years. There was some concern that the spawning may have been early however counts the last 10 days or so indicate the spawning is normal timed. For the North Sound "S" rivers it looks like for the first time in 4 years or so more fish are returning than the parent escapement - definitely an encouraging sign. Looks like a strong 2 salt component so maybe things will continue to improve. The last 4 years have been so poor on many streams that inspite of the upturn some may still be below goals. Hearing the coastal returns are also looking good.

However the summer returns are not as rosy. The adult returns - both hatchery and wild were down substantially in 2003. For example counts over Sunset Falls were 1/3 to 1/2 of the counts the last 5 or 6 years. In those areas where summer spawning surveys are being done the redd counts are way down as well. Numbers not likely to be available until June.

Hope things improve up your way soon.

Tight lines
S malma

05-07-2004, 10:00 PM
Kush , I as you had the same fear that our Georgia basin steelhead stocks were being decimated by the same sea lice from the salmon farms that virtually has wiped out the pink salmon of the broughton archipelego. The boys at the Georgia Basin Steelhead Recovery Program have learned that the smolt migration into the open pacific is very quick indeed. Smolts leaving the Keogh were found to be in the charlottes in as fast as 2 weeks. There is some thought that steelhead from rivers with near proximity to each other migrate to the same part of the open ocean and thus the collapse of east coast van isle steelhead. Just a quick note . Sure is weird how the our pride the Gold did so poorly this year and the Stamp another west coast river did so great.

05-07-2004, 11:59 PM

The Stamp, at least I have been told was not very good early in the season. My thought is how many of those Stamp fish were in fact the progeny of hatchery fish that spawned in the wild? For our southern brothers who may not be aware, these successful programs only use wild-wild brood stock, the resulting fish are anything but hatchery brats.

As for the feeding ground theory, it makes sense that wherever the the steelhead are going it is not as good as it needs to be. However, I still can't shake the feeling that the proliferation of salmon farms has a significant role.

There is an investigation about to occur off the Wakeman River (right near the Broughton Archipelago). Some sportfisherman were in there recently and things were not good. To paraphrase what I was told in a phone call from one of the guys - there were no birds, no seals, no cutthroat off the beaches, no salmon - a far cry from what it was like on their last trip 3 years ago.

The last straw was when they pulled their prawn traps, zero prawns and when they opened their bait pellet cannisters they were horrified. They were jammed with thousands and thousands of what they identified as sea lice - and no bait. They had to pound the cannisters against the side of the boat to empty them. When they pulled their crab pots - it was even worse, no crabs - the salmon head they had in it for bait was stripped to the bone and crawling with the lice- it was like friggin pirahnas had been there. They could see these lice swimming in clouds in the water. They were disgusted and left ASAP.

Biologist friends have since told me that it doesn't really sound like sea lice, maybe more like amphipods. Never-the-less, it is not natural and normal and a team is to be in there next week for a look. As usual, even though this is in the heart of the most densely occupied (should I say infested) salmon farming area on the coast - the Broughton Archipelago- there is no direct evidence that the situation is connected to the farms - therefore it is business as usual.

I am getting real tired of this line of arguement - that there is no direct evidence - so no reason to stop. Do we need to end up where Scotland is - the total collapse of the seatrout population - before the culprit is identified? Of course it will be too late and then it won't matter. Hmmmmn... naw, it couldn't be the plan.

05-08-2004, 09:52 AM
There is no doubt in my mind that salmon farms a a serious threat to our wild salmon. Have they lead to the rapid decline of our steelhead ? Probably not. To find our answer to their rapid decline which is more like falling of a cliff for many east coast van isle streams maybe instead of trying to find out what is wrong with ocean survival now we should be looking what was right with ocean survival in the 80's. The collapse of georgia basin steelhead has also occurred at almost the same time that georgia straight coho switched from residing in geogia staight to the west coast of van isle. Maybe you can help me with some of these questions in paticular survival in the 80's.

North Island
05-08-2004, 10:10 AM
If I remember correctly the Stamp R. winter returns were down this year in the neghborhood of 20%. from low 900 's to hi 600's.I will have the actual # in a day or so.


05-08-2004, 11:46 AM
topped 21,000 fish. The link below gives the numbers for 2002 and 2003.


Haven't found the information on the salmon runs yet.

05-08-2004, 12:07 PM

I agree, the demise of Georgia Basin steelhead runs in general and East Coast VI runs in particular is a very complicated litany of problems. Poor forestry, mine tailings, lack of gravel recruitment (ie Campbell) development of estuaries, urban encroachment, incidental commercial interception, native netting and sport kill fisheries all contributed to the fall. To point at a late coming - no matter how serious - problem like salmon farms is not completely fair. My main issue is the fanatical denial that the government, in concert with the industry, continually throws out.

To add this undeniable threat to the problems and then to categorically deny its impacts is outrageous and completely irresponsible.

As for ocean conditions. This is the billion dollar question. Even the biologists cannot give a definitive answer - other than "something is going on out there". When asked, the biologist I mention in my first post in this thread could only speak in generalities (see that post). Clearly, the biggest factor effecting steelhead returns seems to be ocean survival and as yet we don't know what to do - or even if we can do anything to change those conditions.

However, as I said in that first post, does the fact that we can't do anything - or don't know what to do about ocean survival rates - mean we throw our collective hands up and do nothing? Of course not, we must impact those things that we can impact and rail loud and long at any threat to the survival of the fish we still have.

Who knows, maybe Mother Nature and the great climatological cycles of which we know little or nothing will solve all the problems for us and we will again see 1980's type ocean survival. Damn, I sure hope so (and soon!). But in the meantime, I for one am willing to fight to make sure that if and when that happens there will be some fish still around to take advantage of it.