Who's number 1? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Who's number 1?

01-28-2005, 09:40 AM
"Top 20 steelhead rankings change
For as long as recreational steelhead catch data has been compiled, the Skagit River has been on the state's top-20 list. Up until the 1960s, the Skagit was the No. 1 river, with an annual sports catch of more than 20,000 steelhead. Today, the Cascade River occupies the No. 20 position and the Skagit is unranked.

Why has the Skagit fallen on such hard times?

For an answer to that question, I contacted WDFW fisheries biologist Curt Kraemer. Kraemer said the effects of logging from l960 through 1980 are still coming home to roost along with flow issues and modifications in the mainstem of the river.

All these factors have decreased its carrying capacity and productivity.

Kraemer also said that smolt to adult survival in Puget Sound and Georgia Strait is only one-tenth of what it was 20 years ago.

While the ocean conditions for salmon have generally been good during the last few spawning cycles, the same has not been true for steelhead.

But the adult steelhead returns were up slightly in 2004 and Kraemer believes the marine conditions may be on the mend.

As far as the Skagit's former No. 1 ranking, Kraemer said wild steelhead made up a large percentage of the annual catch. Today, wild steelhead are protected, so the total annual catch would be lower.

On a different topic, Kraemer said a prediction on the size of the 2005 pink salmon run in Puget Sound and the Skagit River won't be made until the North of Falcon meetings get underway."

The above was cut out of the below article which appeared in the Skagit Valley Herald yesterday 1-27-2005.

Am I missing something here? We used to harvest 20,000 steelhead from the Skagit annually. 20,000! Apparently the fact we took 20,000 steelhead out of the river each year, 3 times the minimum escapement for the Skagit today, had nothing to do with the decline of steelhead in the Skagit River. It is the fault of logging and the ocean. And the logging didnít start until the 1960s. What? The largest logging operations in the Skagit watershed took place long before the 60s. Try the late 1800s and the early 1900s through the mid 1900s was when the majority of the logging took place. For some reason I get the idea that WDFW doesnít want to admit they may have allowed a bit of over harvest or are they saying that if we would have continued to harvest 20,000 steelhead each year the Skagit would still be #1?

01-28-2005, 11:30 AM
Kerry why would they admit to something they don't believe. They stand by their belief that harvest has had no impact on river systems. Nothing they control has had a negative impact (harvest and Hatcheries). These are all good things for a river. Only things that the WDFW can't control is to blame. How scary is that.

Can't even pass the straight face test.


wet fly
01-28-2005, 12:21 PM
Kerry, During the 60s the Game Dept. thought the fish runs would never end. There were so many steelhead they open the upper spawning sections of the river. Pilchuck Creek above hwy 9 and North Fork of the Stilly above the Swede Heaven bridge just to name a couple. I would also like to know why the hatchery return was so plentyful at that time. I remember the Skagit and Stilly had either the left ventral or the right ventral fin clipped. At least half the fish we caught here in the Stilly were from the Skagit. The good ol days they did not last forever. Jerry

01-28-2005, 04:49 PM

The sad part is the number of fishermen who still think the fish are abundant and that preventing them from bonking wild fish is taking away their right to fish.

02-01-2005, 03:08 PM
The Skagit River sustained steelhead harvests of about 20,000 fish annually only during the relatively short period of ~ 1962 - 1972, when both hatchery and wild fish were abundant. Prior to that time, neither hatchery nor wild steelhead were abundant enough to support that large a harvest at a sustained level.

Since that time some significant changes have occurred. Ocean survival of steelhead has decreased, so both hatchery and wild steelhead are less abundant. For some reason, Chambers Creek hatchery steelhead don't do too well in the Skagit system. I don't know how well they ever did, but it appeared as though they contributed quite well to harvests in the 1960s and early 1970s. Many hatchery programs are characterized by especially high survival and success during their first years of operation, and then they decline to some lower, but stable level. Lastly, the productivity and capacity of the Skagit system to rear steelhead has decreased due to habitat degradation. No matter how many spawners there are, habitat capacity and productivity will limit the number of wild smolts produced, which multiplied by the ocean survival rate determines the adult steelhead yield.

Overharvest of wild steelhead probably had its most severe effect during the period 1968 to 1974, in my estimation. The reason is that the indicators of population decline were not obvious (I know, they should have been, but that's a different story), and no harvest restrictions were imposed during that time. The river closed earlier beginning in 1976, and wild steelhead escapements and production began creeping back up, from about 2,000 or 3,000 to 8,000 in 1982 and 16,000 in 1986. While there have been wild steelhead harvests during the 1980s and 1990s, and 2,000s, it's extremely unlikely that the numbers harvested were high enough to limit subsequent production in any significant way.

I doubt that the Skagit will ever again be the number one producer of harvested steelhead in the state. The reason is that even with improved ocean survival and somewhat recovered habitat (don't ever expect pristine habitat productivity) there won't be enough wild steelhead to sustain those peak harvest levels of 1968-1972. Further, unless a modification of the hatchery program greatly increases yields on the Skagit, there won't be enough hatchery steelhead to contribute to repeat those peak harvest years.

It's not correct to assert that WDFW doesn't admit overharvest hasn't contributed to the decline of fish populations. But context is critical to describing and explaining which harvests were overharvests. The relatively low harvests of wild Skagit steelhead since 1977 have more likely than not, had little to no effect on subsequent run sizes. The overwhelming limitations on run size for the last 14 years have been the Skagit system's own productivity and capacity and ocean survival.


Salmo g.