The Northwest Washington Steelheaders are making final arrangements for their 2014 banquet and auction set for March 15 at the Deming Logging Show Museum Hall.
This is the independent sport-fishing group's primary annual fundraiser, which will help boost releases of hatchery winter-run steelhead smolts into the Nooksack River.
President Dave Bailey said that this year's fundraiser is of even greater importance since the club got word in late January that not only did Kendall Creek Hatchery make its basic egg-take goal for steelhead, but also enough additional females arrived at the hatchery before the end of January cut-off date to enable extra eggs to be taken.
That was welcome news considering last year's shortfall.
The club voted at its January meeting to provide money to support its traditional 50,000 smolts called for in the cooperative agreement the group has with the fish and wildlife department, Bailey said.
When it became apparent that it would be possible under the state's steelhead management plan to raise 20,000 more smolts from the extra eggs, Bailey said the club membership authorized him to investigate costs for taking on the financial support of the additional fish, as well, which the club is now planning to do.
Bailey said he and the club are looking forward to the improvement in Nooksack steelhead fishing these increased smolt plants promise and that it's as important as ever to generate community support, both monetary and moral, to help make these larger releases happen.
The club also plans to continue the tradition of introducing young anglers to the pasttime at the annual May Bellingham Kids' Fishing Derby, which was started in the 1950s by the Bellingham Sportsmen's Club. Proceeds from the auction also pay for prizes and refreshments for this event.
For more than three decades now, this club and its predecessor, the Whatcom Chapter, Northwest Steelhead and Salmon Council of Trout Unlimited, have supported hatchery production of salmon and steelhead for Nooksack and Samish river sport anglers.
This group's history includes:
? Spearheading the conversion of Bellingham'ovide money to suppoatment plant at the mouth of Whatcom Creek into a fish rearing site that would later become a fully-operating fish hatchery.
? Building a set of concrete raceways with the help of several Fourth Corner Fly Fisher members, as well as small fiberglass rearing ponds at Bellingham Trout Hatchery in Whatcom Falls Park.
? Helping put together and maintain net pens at South Lake Whatcom Hatchery for the rearing of juvenile steelhead.
? Building both temporary and permanent steelhead smolt acclimation ponds on Bell and Kinney creeks in the North Fork Nooksack Valley.
? Aiding in annual stocking efforts to maintain fishable steelhead and salmon runs in the Nooksack and Samish rivers.
? Building and operating a large asphalt steelhead rearing pond (McKinnon Pond) on the Middle Fork Nooksack at Peat Bog Creek, which helps boost overall winter-run steelhead production in the Nooksack.
Through the years, the club and its membership also have developed a cooperative program with Mount Baker High School's Advanced Natural Resources Class, taught by Todd Rightmire, that among its broad range of outdoors-oriented coursework gives students first-hand experience in raising young fish, studying Nooksack basin fish ecology and doing water quality tests.
ADVOCATES FOR STEELHEADING
As greater demands are made on state agency funding, it's becoming more difficult to maintain hatchery programs that provide recreational fishing opportunities while protecting wild fish populations.
Through its leadership and the grassroots support it mobilizes in Whatcom County, the club continues to demonstrate that sport fishing is important here and that there is an ongoing demand for maintaining and improving recreational fishing opportunities.
As of last year, the winter steelhead program for the Nooksack consisted of a 70,000-smolt contingent raised at Kendall Creek Hatchery and another 40,000 fish reared at Maritime Heritage Center for release into lower Whatcom Creek to aid in future broodstock recruitment.
Augmenting that was a group of up to 50,000 juvenile steelhead that were raised from fall to spring each year at the club's McKinnon Pond on the Middle Fork. With insufficient numbers of adult broodstock returning last year, this spring's 2014 release will be much smaller than normal, perhaps numbering no more than 88,000 young fish.
With this winter's larger egg take and club support, the release in May 2015 is likely to be much larger, and the club intends to support 70,000 of those smolts.
While the rearing juvenile fish are always under the supervision and control of the state fish and wildlife's hatchery program, which pays for costs such as the required fin-clip marking, tanker transportation and fish health treatment, the club's money goes to purchase the specially formulated fish food for all the extra mouths.
Bailey said that this year the membership voted to apply for an Aquatic Lands Endowment Account (ALEA) grant annually given out by the fish and wildlife department to citizen volunteer projects, including hatchery fish production. If that $2,660 award is given, it will stretch steelhead rearing funds, including the club's community donated monies, even further, Bailey said.
Without the club's annual donation, current Nooksack smolt plants would be reduced by as much as 40 percent, and if more state budget cuts are ordered, they could further pare the program down to a breaking point where it is terminated.
In that scenario, any local winter fishing opportunities likely would end as well.
THE EVENING'S AGENDA
This year's fundraiser will will have an array of bucket raffles and a silent auction in addition to the evening main live bidding event. There were more than 245 attendees at 2013's auction, and in 2011 225 people bid up a storm for steelhead.
Doors will open at 4:30 p.m. to the museum hall, and attendees can immediately begin inspecting the array of donated goods and services, either tossing a ticket into the bucket raffle for an item or jotting down a bid if a particular prize is going via the silent auction.
A highlight of this year's auction will be the raffle of six firearms and one scoped air rifle to be awarded by a special card draw. The list of hunting arms includes a Tikka T-3 rifle, a Remington 870, a Knight Northwest muzzleloader rifle, a Ruger American, a Ruger 10/22 and a Smith and Wesson 40 caliber, the only handgun.
The club urges attendees interested in trying their luck at winning a gun to arrive early.
The gun raffles will be staggered with two going at 5 p.m.; two at 5:30 p.m. and three at 6 p.m. The club announced that due to the demand demonstrated at past auctions, the initial sale of cards, which will be priced at $20 apiece for all the firearms and $5 each for the scoped air rifle, will be limited to two per person.
The firearm dealer will have a representative to help complete gun paperwork that night. Winners of each firearm also may elect to negotiate an equal value exchange for other firearms or merchandise in the dealer's store at a later date.
Dinner, including this year's main course of barbecued baron of beef, will be served at 7 p.m. as the silent auction ends.
The live auction portion of the evening's festivities will take place after dessert.
GETTING IN THE DOOR
Banquet admission is $25 for singles and $45 for couples. Children under age 12 are admitted to the dinner free.
Early-bird ticket purchasers also will get $5 worth of raffle chits per person when they register at the door. Additional raffle tickets can be purchased at the door.
Admission tickets are on sale at Dave's Sporting Goods in Lynden, Yeager's Sporting Goods in Bellingham and Bailey's Tire Service in Everson. In addition, tickets can be secured by calling Dave Bailey at 360-966-3161. Individual club members also have tickets.
A limited number of dinner admissions also will be available at the door.
Doug Huddle writes a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.
DONATING TO THE CAUSE
The club gratefully welcomes donations of new goods/products, art or a business service for raffle or auction at this fundraiser. Call Dave Bailey at 360-966-3161 if you can help.