Optimism For Skagit C&R
There is hope...
Below is an article from the Skagit Vally Herald
"Steelhead are back"
"Game officials expect larger runs this winter"
A year ago, fishermen learned that one of their chief seasons — the 2001 spring Skagit River wild steelhead fishery — would be closed.
A year later, anglers are still waiting to find out the fate for the 2002 season. While reports look good that there will be a wild fishery, a final decision won’t be made until January, officials said.
“There absolutely will be a steelhead fishery,” said Chuck Phillips, state Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 4 fish manager. “There will be a hatchery fishery without a doubt. And from the last numbers from Pete (Castle, the Skagit River biologist), there is my recommendation for a wild steelhead release season.”
The hatchery fishery, which is currently open even though the bulk of the run has yet to arrive, is a release season only. As has been the norm for recent years, if there is a wild steelhead fishery, it will be a release season.
Estimates by Castle put the wild steelhead return at 5,022 fish. That is a sizable increase over lastScott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
year’s estimate of 4,300.
“The year before was totally unanticipated,” said Bob Leland, state steelhead manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The fish that came back, the numbers fell off the face of the earth. And we didn’t expect that.”
The department enraged many anglers with its decision to close the catch-and-release spring season this year. Fly-fishing for wild steelhead on the Skagit draws fishing aficionados from around the world.
The effects of the closure went beyond recreational anglers. Guiding services, gear shops and lodges were hurt economically.
“It is one of the best and largest strain of wild steelhead in the state,” said Kulshan Expeditions owner RoCastle
b Endsley. “Potential-wise it is tops for pure, wild, big steelhead.”
The river is also one of the wealthiest in the state in regards to data history for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We have on the Skagit probably the longest database regarding winter steelhead,” Phillips said. “Steelhead stuff is really pretty recent. Most of the steelhead stuff basically started in 1977-78.”
For years, there was no set number of a run size to base a season on the Skagit River. This year, Castle helped nail down an escapement goal — the number of estimated fish returning to maintain the long-term health of the run — on the Skagit with the Skagit System Cooperative, and the natural resources consortium of the Swinomish, Upper Skagit and Sauk-Suiattle tribes.
“I did get an interim goal with the tribes,” Castle said. “I call it an interim goal because maybe the goal isn’t quite right in terms of what would be the best goal for the optimum production of wild steelhead. I have to give a lot of credit to the tribes for coming to some sort of an agreement.”
In past years of bountiful runs, an escapement goal might not have been needed. But after some lean years, it gives the Department of Fish and Wildlife a set number of fish that must get to the river.
“We just had been managing without it,” Castle said. “For years and years we were running pretty good numbers. We were running 7 (thousand) to 12,000 fish all of the time. But all of a sudden we had a drop. The basis of all management has to be an agreed-upon escapement goal.”
The interim escapement goal is 6,000 wild steelhead returning up the Skagit. In the Steelhead Management Plan, a normal fishery can occur if a run is 80 percent or greater than the escapement goal. By those numbers, at the minimum, the run would have to be 4,800 steelhead in order for there to be a season.
“The escapement goal gives you a good thing,” Phillips said. “It might be incorrect but it can be changed. It gives you a number of very good things in my mind.”
Castle said the 6,000 escapement goal gives good numbers to rebuild the Skagit run.
“When you only have 4,000 fish or 3,000 fish the last couple of years, then we really got scared,” Castle said. “This is a huge system. It can accommodate a lot of spawners and to the best of our knowledge it can really produce a lot of wild smolts. Until we can get a good feel for what that number is, at least we have a good handle on the wild spawners and what we want in terms of a goal.”
The increased size in the return points to improving conditions and health of the system, Castle hopes.
“Because we did have an improvement, I’m just using the survival values of last year’s run,” Castle said. “If this year’s return survive at last year’s rate, then we’ll have 5,000 fish. Maybe if we have a trend going, it will return at a better rate and could get as high as 6,000. But you can’t base a forecast that way because we don’t know. So the best you can do as far as I’m concerned in forecasting is use the current return level.”
Before a season can be announced, the estimated run must be approved by all parties and the outline for a season must be made. Phillips said a final announcement won’t be made until January. Another reason for such late notice on the March 1 wild steelhead fishery is because it would occur under emergency regulations and those govern only for a certain time frame.
The problem Endsley sees with the late announcement is it makes it difficult for businesses such as his to secure customers.
“If there is a catch-and-release season, it doesn’t give lodges and guides and tackle shops much time to get ready,” he said. “It’s hard to have people make reservations in advance when there isn’t an announcement until right up to the season. It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride.”
Ryan S. Petzold
aka Sparkey and/or Special
I spoke with Curt Kraemer last week and he had just forwarded his recommendation that there will be no C and R season on either the Snohomish or Stillaguamish systems this year. The projected escapements while up from last year, still fall below the 80% of minimum that is needed.
Now if we can stop killing them, maybe more will come back. (sorry, just was overcome with a bout of rational thought.)
There is no substitute for time on the water.
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