With a few exceptions, virtually all streams flowing into greater Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca that have winter extensions for steelheading will close under the permanent regulations Thursday, Jan. 31.
This "new normal" for the old pastime of steelheading is intended to protect the native runs of winter and summer steelhead in Northwest Washington basins that are under federal protection as threatened species.
The aforementioned variances from the end of January shutdowns are selected short stream reaches at and below receiving facilities for returning hatchery (marked by adipose fin clip) winter-run steelhead. The extra time here is intended to clear from these waters any loitering cultured-origin fish to keep them from any temptation to adversely interact in the wild.
However, the need to prevent straying of hatchery fish may be superseded in some river systems, especially the Nooksack because nowhere near enough adult fish have made it back to the production facility to yield eggs sufficient to sustain the hatchery run two years from now.
This past week state fisheries managers were discussing the need to close even these stream sections early, so some of the river sections listed below actually may even not be available through Friday, Feb. 15.
As time runs down in the window of opportunity for spawning hatchery steelhead, the matter of egg takes is becoming a serious issue for several facilities such as Kendall Creek Hatchery where as of Thursday, Jan. 10, only 25 percent of the needed 165,000 eggs had been obtained. Also, Marblemount Hatchery in the Skagit basin was 32 percent short of its egg-take goal to sustain its program.
As it stands now here's what's slated to happen according to both the permanent and posted emergency fishing regulations. Note that the waters referred to as closing are reaches that have extended trout/steelhead fishing seasons. Many sections of these streams as well as all their tributaries may have closed previously at the end of October or are now closed year-round under permanent rules.
IN THE NOOKSACK SYSTEM
? Closing Thursday, Jan. 31: all of the mainstem, the South Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork from Maple Creek upstream to Nooksack Falls. Whatcom Creek is currently closed by emergency order.
? Staying open to mid-February: the North Fork from its confluence with the South Fork upstream to Maple Creek.
Anglers have access to this reach of the North Fork through the county park on Truck Road, at Mosquito Lake Road Bridge, at North Fork Road at Kinney Creek and Racehorse Creek, off State Route 542 at the old rest area near milepost 18 and around milepost 20 as well as through Kendall Creek Hatchery. Access to the North Fork above Kendall Creek is most readily made across state land off the upper section of North Fork Road.
IN THE SKAGIT SYSTEM
? Closing Thursday, Jan. 31: all of the mainstem and forks up to the State Route 530 Bridge, the Skagit from the Cascade Road bridge upstream to Gorge Powerhouse, the Sauk River and the Cascade River from the Rockport/Cascade Road bridge upstream to headwaters.
? Staying open to mid-February: the main Skagit from Rockport (State Route 530 bridge) upstream to the Cascade Road bridge.
? Under temporary emergency closure (as of Saturday, Jan. 5): the lower Cascade River (all channels) from its mouth upstream to the Rockport/Cascade Road bridge. This emergency closure is slated to lift Friday, Feb. 1.
There's good foot access to the lower Cascade River and to sections of the main Skagit at Pressentin County Park, around State Route 20 between mileposts 100-101. Boat ramps are found at Marblemount and Rockport (Howard Miller Steelhead Park).
IN THE STILLAGUAMISH SYSTEM
? Closing Thursday, Jan. 31: all of the mainstem from Marine Drive Bridge upstream to Arlington, the South Fork, and the North Fork upstream to French Creek.
? Staying open to mid-February: the North Fork from French Creek upstream to Swede Heaven Road bridge.
The main overland accesses for this reach are at Fortson Ponds, Whitehorse Hatchery and the Swede Heaven Bridge.
? Closing Thursday, Jan. 31: all of the Snohomish River from the mouths of its various sloughs and channels upstream to the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Skykomish rivers, the Pilchuck River, Sultan River, Wallace River above the hatchery, the mainstem Skykomish River from its confluence with the Snoqualmie upstream to the Big Eddy Access off U.S. Highway 2 and the South Fork Skykomish. In the Snoqualmie sub-basin, the mainstem Snoqualmie River from its confluence with the Skykomish upstream to the ramp at Plum Access, the Tolt River and the Raging River.
? Staying open to mid-February: the Wallace River from the furthest downstream railroad bridge up to the hatchery water intake and the Skykomish River from the Big Eddy upstream to the confluence of the North and South Forks. In the Snoqualmie sub-basin, the mainstem reach from Plum Access upstream, to Snoqualmie Falls and Tokul Creek from its mouth to the hatchery outlet marker.
Access to the Wallace River is available off several locations along the U.S. 2 corridor and at the 363rd Avenue bridge at Startup. The late-closing section of the Skykomish has a number of access points, but this is an extremely difficult section for boot fishers, so a glance at a good orthophoto to check for the coincidence of a publicly usable access route with the holding pools is advisable.
Winter river fishers are strongly advised to log into the fish and wildlife department's emergency fishing regulations Web site at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/rules_current_order_by_date.j for the most up-to-date closure information as well as reading carefully the FishWashington sport regulations pamphlet.
ELSEWHERE FOR STEELHEAD
A partial closure by emergency order of the suite of Northcentral Columbia Basin summer-run steelheading streams occurred at the beginning of December. However, several options remain there including the Okanogan River and lower Similkameen River as well as the main Columbia River reservoir pools from Rock Island Dam up to the Wells Dam markers and from the State Route 173 bridge upstream to the Chief Joseph Dam markers.
Steelheading for summer-runs also remains in several lower sections of the Grande Ronde River in Southeast Washington together with reaches of the lower Palouse, Touchet, Tucannon, Snake and Walla Walla rivers. In many of these streams anglers may keep three hatchery-origin fish.
Of course, anglers have access to Southwest Washington's vaunted steelhead venues including the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis and Washougal rivers contingent on regulations found in the purple section of the pamphlet.
Winter steelheading also continues in many ocean-entry stream systems from Willapa Bay north to Cape Flattery. River reaches open for steelhead in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor tributaries tend to close sooner than those rivers north of Grays Harbor.
Several of the so-called North Coast ported streams have a combination of early hatchery fish opportunities as well as the only legal option in the state for retention of wild steelhead. Anglers are reminded that the regulatory window for keeping natives starts in mid-February, until then only marked (adipose clipped fish) may be kept and they will be hard to find on rivers such as the Hoh and Queets that do not have hatcheries on them.
Be sure to check the 2012-2013 FishWashington sport regulations pamphlet for any special rules, such as selective gear or barbless hook provisos that may specifically apply to your intended fishing waters.
COUGAR HUNTS CLOSING
Under its new system of discrete unit harvest-driven management, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will close cougar seasons in 20 game management units around the state at just after midnight Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Affected units (GMUs 105, 108, 111, 117, 121, 145, 149, 154, 157, 162, 163, 166, 175, 178, 328, 329, 335, 642, 648, and 651) are in Stevens, Pend Oreille, Garfield, Asotin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Kittitas, Chelan, Grays Harbor, Mason and Thurston counties.
Adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission early last year, the new system sets harvest guidelines based on local cougar populations for a significant number of specific areas around the state. This enables WDFW managers to close areas where and when cougar harvests meet or exceed guidelines while permitting other areas to stay open until the schedule March closures.
"The goal is to preserve a variety of cougar age classes in numerous areas throughout the state, particularly older animals which tend to be more effective at maintaining sustainable populations," said Dave Ware, WDFW game program manager.
Cat hunters are reminded that during the late-season cougar hunt - Tuesday, Jan. 1 through Sunday, Mar. 31 - additional areas (GMUs) could close early. Cougar hunters should check http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/cougar/ or call the cougar hunting hotline (866-364-4868), both of which are updated weekly, to find out of their intended hunting area is closed or not.
WINTER-RUN HATCHERY WATCH
Editor's Note: With restrictions now in place prohibiting inter-basin transfers of hatchery winter-run steelhead eggs to make up deficits if a hatchery does not get its needed spawners, it is more important than ever for enough adult fish to reach their artificial spawning destinations.
Under the state's steelhead management plan and individual hatchery genetics management plans, facilities are directed to spawn the earliest returning adipose fin-clipped adults they get back.
For more details in individual hatchery programs for winter-run steelhead, visit http://wdfw.wa.gov/hatcheries/hgmp/2002-2005_archive.html#pugetsound and http://wdfw.wa.gov/hatcheries/esa.html
As of Thursday, Jan. 3 these are the numbers, reported by installation, of adult hatchery winter-run steelhead trapped as well as eggs already taken and other details:
Maritime Heritage Center Hatchery (Whatcom Creek): one adult reported, no eggs taken
Kendall Creek Hatchery (North Fork Nooksack River): 39 adults, 44,000 eggs taken (target 165,000 egg take)
Marblemount Hatchery (Cascade River (Skagit)): 95 adults, 187,000 eggs taken (target 275,000 egg take)
Whitehorse Hatchery (North Fork Stillagaumish River): 103 adults, 125,690 eggs taken
Tokul Creek Hatchery (Snoqualmie River (Snohomish)): 500 adults, 550,286 eggs taken
Soos Creek Hatchery (Green River): 71 adults, 72,000 eggs taken
Dungeness Hatchery (Dungeness River): 23 adults, 16,000 eggs taken
Bogachiel Hatchery (Bogachiel River (Quillayute)): 1,193 adults, 306,000 eggs taken
Humptulips Hatchery (Humptulips River): 610 adults, 187,250 eggs taken
Forks Creek Hatchery (Willapa River): 418 adults, 200,000 eggs taken
Cowlitz Hatchery (Cowlitz River): 817 adults, no eggs taken
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.