In our lifetime... [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: In our lifetime...

08-01-2006, 08:47 AM
Folks, this river is a very special river for me and I am sure I am not alone.

In 2009 the removal of the illegally built dams will free this once great river and it's epic runs of salmon, steelhead and trout to reproduce over 70 miles of river lost when the dams were built. They have been surviving in a little over 4 miles of river since then, mostly through hatchery supplementing and certainly only a shadow of their former 100 pound salmon race exists today.

The red is what's still available for spawning, the blue is what was lost for almost a century. It will be restored as spawning habitat again soon. The race of salmon and steelhead that was lost will never be fully replaced, the chinook race was the only 100 pound strain south of the Kenai. Native steelhead were plentiful.

If/when you ever hear of the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and there's a way to help keep the promise to remove these dams, please step up and get involved. Perhaps we can fish it together someday - it's one of my very favorites.

beau purvis
08-01-2006, 09:48 PM
I hope to fish it with you!I grew up an hr away.Caught my first Steelhead on the Dungeness[1/2 hr away] in my first season when 12yrs old.I am tired of them stretching out the timetable.A few yrs ago[5-6],I was looking for a place to practice casting to prepare for B.C. trips while spending the summer at our Hood Canal place.Found a nice run about 1/2 mile from salt on Elwha.I used a coveted Ed Ward Intruder that Ed had given me that prior winter to use as a sample to tie from.To my suprize I hooked some fabulous sea liced Chinook. Cleaner,fresher,brighter than Chinook I had taken in June at Skagway and Spike Rock at Neah Bay in my mooching and Kelper days.I ended up practicing a ton that month!!!I hope my kids can fish over some great runs there someday!!Beau

08-05-2006, 10:59 AM
Juro -
It is indeed great news that the dams are finally coming down. It will be interesting to see how quickly that the various fish stocks colonize the newly accessible habitat. I kind of wish that the managers would allow that to occur naturally however my understanding is that they will be relying on hatchery programs for much of that effort.

The loss of those exceptional size Elwha summer hogs had very little to do with the dams on the river. Fish as large as 100 pounds still returned to the river more than 50 years after the dams were built. The Elwha chinook are what are called north migrators. During the mid-1990s roughly 75% of the harvest of these fish occurred in northern waters (16% Alaska and 59% in B.C.). It is the fishing on these feeding grounds that doomed those larger/older fish. Those exceptional Elwha fish were as much as 10 to 12 years old. While those fish were on their feeding growns those ocean fisheries would be catching them ove 6 to 10 years. With that long exposure to harvest even relatively low rates select heavily for early (smaller) maturing fish dooming the life strategies selecting for larger size.

Until fishing on those feeding grounds (all ocean fishing?) is ended we'll never see the return of those exceptional and older fish. It has become clear that the selective of those fisheries has trumped that of the habitat.

BTW - There were other stocks of monster fish of more than 100 pounds - I have seen old pictures (pre-1900) from the Columbia of some of its summer hogs that easily exceed 100#, I seem to remember fish as large as 125. I suspect that the Skagit also produced fish of that size - as recently as 25 years ago there was the rare fish of 80 or more pounds there. I found a spawned out carcass in 1980 that exceeded 60 inches in length. Interestly all 3 stocks (Columbia, Skagit and Elwha) were/are summer chinook and north migrating stocks making them vulunerable to SE Alaska and BC fisheries (sport and troll).

Tight lines

08-05-2006, 11:01 AM
The Elwha is closed to all fishing this year below the Lower Dam (Lake Aldwell). I have been keeping my eye on things, its only a couple of miles from my house. Glad to report that there are more than a few wild summer runs holding in the Pool below the Dam. I don't snorkel but it would be a great place to start.:smokin:

08-06-2006, 01:07 PM
It will be interesting to see how quickly the various fish stocks colonize the newly accessible habitat. I kind of wish that the managers would allow that to occur naturally however my understanding is that they will be relying on hatchery programs for much of that effort.

the National Park managers would prefer passive restoration without hatcheries. However, the Klallam tribe has been a strong supporter and partner in dam removal, so their wish to jumpstart the process with hatcheries and helicoptering fish high into the drainage hasn't been opposed. A compromise position.

How well will all this work? Tough to say. Money for scientific research was pulled from overall project funding some years ago, so scientists like myself are scrambling to get funds for baseline studies before the dams come out. We really need a well-defined starting point to document the recovery process once the dams are pulled. I think it would be great if the runs were allowed to recolonize naturally, to see just how that process works, but we people have a habit of tinkering until the bitter end. Kind of like opportunies lost in Toutle in the wake of St Helens.

I suppose the good thing is that the dams will come out, and I'm hopeful the fish will come back. I am interested to see how rainbows currently trapped above the dams will resume a lifestyle of anadromy. The thinking is that those genes are still up there, waiting to escape.

08-06-2006, 02:24 PM
SSpey in my wanderings in the Valley I am constatntly running into young folks that are doing baseline research projects on just about everything that there is to be base lined about. Several years ago as I recall Washington Trout did a baseline on the Tribs all the way to the "Snow Finger above Camp Wilder. I agree with you on the strategy of letting time heal the wounds but I am certain the Tribe wants to get the jobs from running a Hatchery and they are pretty well convinced as are most folks around here that Salmon come from Hatcherys.
I am not getting my hopes up for any start up date as I have seen this thing pushed back evry time they have made a date so far. Iam like a few fellows a generation older than me wondering if I will just see removal in my lifetime let alone the rebuilding of the runs.
I remain optimistic but the main part of being optimistic is "Mystic":smokin:
The Park or somebody in the meantime is generating alot of Electricity and a whole lot of Money too I can't help but think that things would be progressing more if the power was shut off.

08-06-2006, 04:35 PM
Moonlight, good observation. The young folks you mention are probably Peninsula College undergraduates whose funding comes from a National Science Foundation grant to the college. That funding is there because a few good people took the time and effort to compete in an arena with a 5-15% success rate.

The research dollars originally slated as part of the Elwha Congressional allocation package were eliminated. The research occurring now is limited to projects funded from separate entities. They are largely individual, piecemeal studies. There are efforts to coordinate the ongoing science, but frankly when money comes from separate sources, so do the carrots and sticks.

I am not a Park employee, but they aren't the ones holding back demolition, it is Congress (with)holding the purse strings.

07-20-2008, 06:41 PM
The dam removal / river restoration effort on the Elwha is underway. Once this is completed the dams will come down. Bruce Babbitt is definitely my hero.

The Elwha was once one of the greatest sea-run rivers in America with one of the most productive runs of large chinook salmon south of the Kenai and ten anadramous species sharing it's waters. The canyon-like gorges must have provided a uniquely safe environment for young fry and smolt and the upper reaches pristine gravel beds for spawning. For whatever reason, the Elwha was natural success story and deserved better than it's fate from illegally built dams.

It's these same canyons that were exploited for dams with the lowest being barely 5 miles from the sea. Before long the crippled runs vanished except for what hatchery activity sustains, a poor substitute at best. It's believed that the distant relatives of the original steelhead strains survive above the dams in the upper reaches of the canyon, but since separated from sea they have undoubtedly evolved into something other than the treasure these runs once were (as shown in the archive photo of Miss Chittendon).

Anyway, here are some pics of what's going on now:
Looking down from the west side
Looking south - note the gorgeous blue glacial water in the diverted channel
Serious construction
No fishing today
The old parking area
Wildlife nearby
Rivers that flow wild to the sea
Straits of Juan De Fuca

07-20-2008, 10:26 PM

07-21-2008, 12:31 AM
Juro great photos of the job site. When all those big cats are driving around throwing all that rip rap and gravel its a pretty incredible scene. Would you beleive , with the exception of the Bridge project, all that River re route and channel work took less than two weeks. The main project of the water filtration plasnt is rumored to have 200 workers. Apparently the dam removal is a side show in comparison.

07-21-2008, 07:46 PM

These are phots of the new bridge under contruction that is replacing the old single-lane wood-decked one just above the state hatchery right? I also assume the reason the river is closed to fishing is due to this construction.

I know I've been waiting for both dams to come down since the early '90's, and had many a conversation with Meyers (I think that is how he spells his name) who was the park's fishery bio when I lived in Port Angeles from '91-'94. I have many fond memories of making the short 7 mile drive to the lower river after work. The middle river between the dams is such a gorgeous piece of water (too bad the gravel is pretty much gone because the upper dam prevented gravel recruitment) that I often find myself dreaming of fishing for steelhead in it after the dams are down.

I sure hope they come down in 2010 as now planned and that there are no more delays. I often wonder what Slade Gordon was thinking when he blocked funding for their removal. I'm glad he lost to Cantwell in 2000 because of this and several other issues.

07-22-2008, 12:37 AM
Fly Tyer Those are indeed pictures of the replacement for the old One Way bridge.
When completed it will have watermains from the Dry Creek Water Association new Wells on the West bank and also the bridge will be Double decked with a horse and foot path below the vehicle deck this is for the bike path that follows the old railroad grade and is slated to hook together a trail that runs from Port Townsend all the way to Forks some of which is already in use.
The River is closed to fishing from March 1st till sometime in October to protect the Chinook and the Spring steelhead run from us sport fishers it has been for several years no connection to the construction (other than access).
The tresspass (access) through the job site is making it difficult to fish there in the Winter when it is still open. I was suprised to see Juro having a vehicle down there, several fellows have done that and run afoul of the law. (timing is everything)
The latest word I heard from the Park was the dams might come down as early as 2012.
Did you know that both of the Eighth Street bridges are also being replaced at the same time by the Company that is building the Elwha Bridge. Unemployment is not very common around here, when its local, its called infrstructure, when its someplace else, its called "Pork".

07-22-2008, 01:41 AM
Russ -

Those structures are as you and Moonlight describe (for the new bridge / structure) however looking south away from the bridge you can see that the entire layout of the river has been changed from what I was told by the crew 'to deal with silt when the dam comes down'. In keeping my promise not to linger I left in haste and came in the other way to get additional shots.

Based on what we've seen even after devastating floods in other river systems the headwaters always seem to maintain the runs. Where they were not accessible before, my assumption is that even if the last few miles are affected by silt from the removal the available passage to the waters above will more than compensate and with luck we'll see the glory of this river's rebirth within the decade.

07-23-2008, 11:28 PM

Yes, I know about the 8th St. bridges being replaced. I was told about them last month by some Port Angeles friends I saw when I was over for a job interview for the Director of WorkFirst Education and I-BEST at the college. Unfortunately, I didn't get the job. I have missed Port Angeles ever since I moved over here to Mount Vernon in 1994.

I suspect you know at least one of these friends who told me about the bridges, John Saddler (aka John Wayne) owner of a local auto repair business. I'm also sure you know Dave Steinbaugh, who although not a friend, is an acquaintance I make a point to stop and see whenever I get over also told me about the bridges. Tom Hostetler, he retired from teaching speech at the college 10 years ago is another friend I stopped to see and he and his wife Lynette also told me about it. They told me having both bridges down at the same time created some real headaches for folks living on the west side of town.

I recall being told back in 1993, when I still lived in PA, that the bridge by the hatchery was going to have separate bike and foot travel lanes on it. Sounds like it is going to be right nice one when finished. I was also aware that the old RR grade was being turned into a trail, which I think is a great use of no longer used rail coridors.

Yep, isn't it always "Pork" when it is spent somewhere else and infrastucture when local? Jim Buck and the folks in Joyce probably even agreed that it wasn't "pork".

I sure hope the dams come down in 2012 as your latest info indicates. I've been waiting since the James River Company agreed to let them come down and Congress then approving there removal. I just want the delays to stop and see them down.


Yep, it is readily apparent to me in your photo looking north from the new bridge that the river has been moved to the east because the barren gravel just above the river water in this photo used to be the main channel. It also looks like the pool down at the bottom just above the turn to the right at the top of your photo has been altered and had the big back eddy just above the bend filled in.