With options added, stream fishing starts soon

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 19, 2013 

For the majority of flowing water venues in Washington the 2013 stream season for trout and other gamefish will open Saturday, June 1.

Those reaches typically are at lower elevations in watersheds that host wild steelhead, salmon or char, several species of which are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and state law.

But some upper basin river reaches and creeks above natural falls and dams in trout territory will open Saturday, May 25.

In addition, some beaver ponds in the greater Puget Sound basin have been reopened for trout fishing.

Stream fishers must remember that as of 2010's momentous rule change, all streams in the greater Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca were permanently closed to all fishing unless opened by special regulation. Flowing waters in watersheds porting directly into the Pacific Ocean also were closed to all angling later. All beaver ponds in this geographic spread were forever deemed off-limits as well.

But thanks in part to the rule-crafting of WDFW District Fish Biologist Brett Barkdull, some classic trout waters in our area, again above barriers that preclude natural colonization by sea-running salmonids, have been reclaimed from the ban.

As with streams, the basic proviso for beaver ponds remains the same: They're closed.

But language added to page 16 of the Fish Washington pamphlet states that "beaver ponds located within or connected to streams listed as open to trout and other gamefish follow the same rules as the stream unless otherwise indicated in Special Rules."

And yet another welcome change this year gains back still more fishing, if the road stays open, that is.

PERUSING THE REGS

As usual, it's the individual angler's responsibility to read, understand, then abide by the rules.

Sections of the 2013-14 Fish Washington Sportfishing Rules pamphlet dealing with rivers and creeks are color-coded gold for Puget Sound and Strait flowing waters (pages 23-38), green for coastal watersheds (pages 39-51) and purple for remaining Western Washington river systems that enter the lower Columbia River (pages 52-57).

The special rules section for all Eastern Washington watershed streams is highlighted in red.

Listings of west-of-the-Cascades lakes are on purple pages and the Eastside's still-waters are in red.

HOW THEY CLOSE

The summer stream fishing season on many smaller creeks and streams is just short of five months, closing Oct. 31.

But selected lower mainstem reaches within river basins may stay open to allow angling for hatchery-origin winter-run steelhead and occasionally native char, mainly through the end of January in our area.

Some westside rivers on the lower Columbia are open to angling further into the winter.

OTHER RULES TO ABIDE DAILY

Size and bag limit regulations may vary by category of stream.

So far as size limits are concerned, managers set minimum lengths often to protect very young as well as mature age classes of trout and salmon species, especially those in wild populations.

Anglers fishing waters governed by the statewide basic length rule may keep up to two trout per day that are 8 inches or longer. The measurement is overall length from the tip of the nose to the tips of the caudal fin (tail) lobes.

A major exception to this minimum length rule occurs in lower basin streams with anadromous forms of coastal cutthroat, so-called sea-runs. To maximize the escapement of first-time spawning females of this native wild species, a minimum keeper length of 14 inches is set for trout in the special rules section for listed streams.

Fishing in many "open" streams including virtually all smaller order tributaries also may be restricted by the selective gear rule, which bans use of bait (single eggs, worms, cluster eggs and sand shrimp) or scents and mandates fishing only with lures equipped with single-point barbless hooks.

In the Nooksack and Whatcom Independents basins, 14 "open" streams or stream reaches now have the selective gear rule in place. One newly open stream is for fly-fishing only.

Anglers should also read critically for other detail changes that constitute exceptions to the general rules, in particular, unusual cut-off or closing dates. The Samish River's rules are an example.

THE GEOGRAPHIC REACH

The Nooksack Basin is one of 16 sectors in Western Washington now subject to the gamefish general stream closure regulation.

Most watersheds are named after their dominant or main stream, but in some Puget Sound locales there are collections of smaller, independent rivers and/or creeks that flow directly into Sound or Strait marine waters.

Look for "open" streams of that type in their own listings heading (such as Whatcom Independents or Fraser streams) or in the sub-headed package associated with a major stream.

Stream regulations spell out where anglers may fish. But even in their third year, the new rules require careful reading plus constant referrals to a good map to discern which waters remain legally fishable.

Here's how the rule appears to shake out in Whatcom County and the Nooksack system, with new inclusions as well as a compilation of waters that have dropped out of the stream season.

WELCOME RENEWALS

As mentioned, this season anglers may reacquaint themselves with a range of beaver ponds associated with creeks that open either this Saturday or next.

The North Fork Nooksack (above Nooksack Falls) and Baker River (above Shannon Dam) valleys complexes of beaver ponds will open, as will those stick dam ponds in the Nookachamps Creek drainage in neighboring Skagit County.

Starting July 1, anglers also may ply the extensive complex of beaver-made open waters in Big Beaver Creek Valley above Ross Dam.

Basin streams and beaver ponds above the North Fork's Nooksack Falls, the Middle Fork Nooksack's City of Bellingham Diversion and the South Fork's Wanlick Creek all are Saturday, May 25, starters.

Anglers willing to pay the price also may fish mid- and upper reach sections of Pressentin, O'Toole and Cumberland creeks in Skagit County beginning Memorial Day weekend.

Fly fishers, once the Loomis-Nooksack Forest Service Road gate opens and the snowpack melts out, may dabble in upper South Fork Nooksack waters upstream from and including Wanlick Creek.

A thoughtful perusal of the regs and a good map or Google Earth also will find renewed fishing opportunities in the Stillaguamish and Snohomish river basins and elsewhere in Western Washington

Some conspicuous streams remain closed and merit mention since they historically have been the focus of neighborhood fishing, especially by youngsters.

INDEPENDENT STREAMS

The Dakota Creek basin above Giles Road is closed to all fishing, as are McDonald and Toad Lake creeks in the Squalicum Creek system.

Chuckanut, Padden and Connelly creeks also are no longer on the list of permissible streams.

And remember, all tributaries of Lake Whatcom are permanently closed, as are all streams flowing into Lake Samish.

MAIN NOOKSACK RIVER

In the main lower river corridor, Whiskey Creek, Schneider Ditch (including Keefe Lake), Scott Ditch as well as Double Ditch, Bear (Silver Creek drainage), Cougar (the outlet of Wiser Lake), Kamm and Fourmile creeks are not available.

Fishtrap Creek, except for the section between Kok (misspelled in pamphlet) and Bender roads, also appears to be closed. This is the section in Lynden City Park that is temporarily screened off for the June Camel Club kids' fishing contest, but soon after the contest the barriers are removed, allowing the remaining rainbow trout to disperse up and down the creek.

All waters impounded by beaver construction in these drainages are closed to fishing.

NORTH FORK NOOKSACK RIVER

In the North Fork Nooksack, the beaver ponds in the Hatchery Creek/Bear Creek complex near Kendall are closed, as are the resident trout zones of Coal, Bell, Boulder and Aldrich creeks.

Upper Wells and Bar creeks, with their eastern brook trout, also are closed year-round.

The lower 4.7 miles of Canyon Creek remain closed to protect spawning chinook salmon.

MIDDLE FORK NOOKSACK RIVER

In the lower Middle Fork Nooksack drainage and Canyon, Porter, Bear and Peat Bog creeks as well as beaver ponds on the latter two are off-limits.

Unfortunately, the mid- and upper sections of Canyon get automatically stocked with a stunted resident cutthroat population that drops down from Canyon Lake in its headwaters.

Beaver pond chains associated with the lower main Middle Fork's sloughs and wall-base channels (sections without river flow) stay closed.

SOUTH FORK NOOKSACK RIVER

In the lower South Fork Nooksack, Tawes Creek and its beaver pond complex are closed, as are all sections of Black Slough. Hutchinson Creek including Powers Creek and Mustoe Marsh also are now closed, as are the beaver ponds on an unnamed tributary upstream of the second Mosquito Lake Road bridge.

The major mid-reach stream, Skookum Creek, is closed up to Arlecho Creek as are lower sections of Cavanaugh, Howard, Plumbago and Roaring creeks. Skookum Hole Pond and the entire Edfro Creek drainage and its previously stocked beaver ponds also remain closed.

Fans of the upper South Fork basin tributaries still are not allowed to fish Springsteen Creek for its eastern brook trout, nor Three Lakes and Brookie creeks and its ponds, likewise for eastern brook.

TRANSBOUNDARY (CANADA) STREAMS

Except for the juvenile fishing waters in Johnson Creek that flow through Sumas, almost all of the Sumas River basin has been restored to the angling domain as are the other border crossing streams in the greater Chilliwack River basin.

KIDS HAVE SUCCESSFUL DERBY

The younger trout fishing set had a great time Saturday, May 11, at the annual Bellingham Kids Fishing Derby organized by the Northwest Washington Steelheaders.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provided the rainbows, the City of Bellingham's Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments made the venue in Whatcom Falls Park available and Haggen Northwest Fresh's Barkley Market provided the hot dogs and pop for the event.

Yeager's Sporting Goods, Mayberry Sporting Goods and LFS Marine and Outdoors, all of Bellingham, donated a host of prizes.

Triumphant anglers based on the order they landed and posted their limits won fishing poles, sleeping bags, tackle boxes and other outdoors gear.

As an added treat, one specially tagged trout was put into the pond for each round with the young catcher of that fish taking home a $100 gift certificate from Yeager's Sporting Goods.

AND THE WINNERS WERE

In the up-to-age-9 division, the girls and boys winners, in the order they entered their two rainbows, were:

1. Addy Whitener and Ruvim Alter

2. Hayden Arelar and Erik Shulga

3. Violet Whitener and Patrick Mills

4. Madyson Whitner and Bogdan Shulga

5. Stella Wolf and James Dyck

6. Emily Dutton and Brody Smcherts

7. Lila Vangolen and Carson Adams

8. Kendra Camping and Max Moffett

9. Lila Sitton and Carson Whitener

10. Bailee McClelland and Samuel Twining

11. Rachel Dutton and Cole Larson

The special tagged rainbow trout catcher was Kyley Johnson.

In the age 10-14 division, the girls and boys winners, in the order they entered their two-fish limits, were:

1. Justice Longona and Brady McDonell

2. Caley Whitner and Alex Shulga

3. Liliya Kasko and Jeremiah Hartman

4. Madyson Whitner and Bogdan Shulga

5. Manssa Desdier and Conner McCollum

6. Taya Shuey and Egon Apkalikov

7. Daniel Shulga

8. Jase King

9. Jathan Delano

10. Ashton Toctocan

11. Zachary Tucker

12. Tim Litovchenko

13. Preston Abitia

14. Larry Saldivar

With only six girls entering limits the remaining prizes were awarded to the 11th-14th place boys.

The tagged fish was not caught during derby period and the gift certificate was raffled off.

LAST RAZOR DIG TILL FALL

The season-ending spring dig for razor clams on Washington's Pacific Coast is slated for May 24-26 in the Twin Harbors management sector, between Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

Other beaches remain closed for this morning (midnight to noon) finale dig.

Dan Ayres, the state's coastal shellfish manager, said the personal use take of razor clams this season topped 5 million clams, the single greatest haul by diggers in more than 20 years.

Digging should resume in the fall after the summer spawn, provided razor clam populations remain healthy and marine toxins stay below safety thresholds.

Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pbogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.

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