WSC June 2nd Meeting Bill McMillan [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: WSC June 2nd Meeting Bill McMillan

05-25-2004, 05:30 PM
June 2 2004 Guest Speaker: Bill McMillan
Presentation: The Situk & Skagit Rivers: A Comparison of Steelhead, Past and Present
Where: Bothel American Legion Hall
19213 Bothell Way NE, Bothell, WA
Time 7-9 PM

For half a century Bill McMillan has fished Northwest steelhead rivers and observed both abundance and depletion. In early May 2003 Bill had his first experience fishing and observing Southeast Alaska's famed Situk River, well known for it's spectacular steelhead fishing. "It was to be my first experience of seeing steelhead abundance rivaling that of Pacific salmon such as chum. But the fact is, I have since found that it was but a reduced level of depletion. Nevertheless, the experience is one that has suggested how far off the target we may be in setting goals for steelhead restoration in the Pacific Northwest of the Lower 48." In this presentation Bill will compare and contrast Alaska's Situk River with our own Skagit River, and how the history of steelhead abundance and depletion has played out in both systems.

Bill McMillan started fishing at age 12, and after some fisheries studies at UW, he decided that he could be more effective with his activism from outside the system. Fish became a primary means for data collection. In 1983 he initiated the first snorkel surveys to document declining wild fish numbers. He managed a research camp on the Kamchatka Peninsula during joint Russian/American research expeditions. Bill is currently very active in many Washington conservation activities. In November 2002 Bill was the WSC's guest speaker on the topic of "Hatchery Impacts on Wild Steelhead Populations".

05-26-2004, 02:14 PM
due to a glacier? No, 'twas another glacier that ran aground in those waters recently. Ah, but another glacier, the Hubbard, does indeed threaten to crash on the beach and put the little (literally) Situk in peril.

The Hubbard is in retreat at the moment, but its trend is not. In time, a year, or ten or perhaps even yet this summer, the Hubbard will dam Russell Fiord and create Russell Lake like it did in 1986 and again 2000. But this time the dam will not break free as it has before because it will be constructed from material that is more of the terminal moraine and less of the ice. And then lake's grey waters, fed by the icy Hubbard, will spill over the Yakutat forelands and increase the flow of the Situk from a stream whose discharge is measured in hundreds of cfs to tens of thousands cfs of cold dark grey water.

The effects of this future event on the Situk's fish population will not be a pretty picture. The future Russell River will be a cold dark icy place compared to the clear and relatively warm waters of the Situk which were as high as 12C while I was there last week.

Discussion and debates among the locals, state and federal land and resource managers are occurring about the management of the Situk. The debate focuses on whether to allow nature to take its course and spill the lake's waters over into the forelands and thus the Situk, or to intervene with engineering measures to guide the new Russell River to the south away from the Situk.

Even in Yakutat, where the Situk fuels the economy through commercial, sport and subsistence fishing more than anything else (as much as 65-75% of the town's economy by some estimates), some would choose to let the Russell River choose its course. Of course many want action taken to keep the glacial waters from overwhelming the Situk and detrimentally impacting their livelihoods.

I see an interesting contrast between the management problems faced for the Situk with those of the much larger Skagit. The latter stream's threats can be viewed as more human in nature, e.g. dams, recreational use, hatcheries, and development, etc. while the former's greatest threat appears to be Nature herself.


Brian Simonseth
06-03-2004, 02:50 AM
Bill talk about Situk and the Skagit was interesting. How can a little river do that? and the Skagit can't?