Flowing waters start to open for trout

For The Bellingham HeraldMay 24, 2014 

For streams on a seasonal opening schedule, the 2014 summer fishing for trout and other gamefish generally begins the first Saturday in June — just under two weeks from now Saturday, June 7.

That applies to the vast majority of the remaining ‘legally fishable’ creeks and rivers that are available to anglers.

By rule, all streams in the greater Puget Sound basin are now permanently closed to trout, steelhead, native char and salmon fishing unless explicitly open under a special regulation.

But before you take exception to the powers that be for inhibiting angling opportunities yet again, the exception here is that a number of foothills and mountain headwater streams have already opened — the Saturday before Memorial Day — or Saturday, May 25.

Streams in this sneak peek package are higher elevation sections of the North, Middle and South Forks of the Nooksack above barriers that bar protected steelhead, chinook salmon and bull trout from ascending into those waters.

The May 24 open list includes: *North Fork Nooksack River upstream from Nooksack Falls and all tributaries to that section of the river. *Also in the North Fork Valley, Canyon Creek upstream from the Forest Service Road 31 (Canyon Creek Road) to its headwaters. *Middle Fork Nooksack River upstream from the City of Bellingham's diversion structure. *South Fork Nooksack River upstream Wanlick Creek. *Sections of other major creeks in the mid-South Fork Valley upstream from Skookum Creek also open, but those reaches are above barriers or mileposts. For starting points on these streams, see the listings on page 24 in the Fish Washington sporting fishing regulations pamphlet.

In neighboring Skagit County, reaches of Jones, O'Toole, Cumberland and Pressentin creeks also open. (For those legal descriptions, see page 25 in the Fish Washington sport fishing regulations pamphlet).

There are a small number of other early openings of streams elsewhere in the state that are listed in the regional special regulations sections.

PERUSING THE REGS

As with any fishing endeavor, it’s each angler’s responsibility to first read, understand and then abide by the rules.

Sections of the 2014-15 Fish Washington Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet dealing with rivers and creeks are colored coded according by major geographic area, gold for Puget Sound and Strait flowing waters (pages 23-38), green for all coastal watersheds (pages 39-51) and purple for remaining Western Washington river systems (those entering the lower Columbia River) (pages 52-57).

The special rules section for all Eastern Washington watershed streams is highlighted in red and runs between pages 69-84.

As before, listings of west-of-the-Cascades lakes are on purple pages, the Eastside’s still-waters are in red.

HOW THEY CLOSE Closings for streams are also staggered.

The summer stream fishing season duration for many smaller creeks and streams remains the same as past years — just short of five months — closing on the last day of October.

But as has been the historic norm, selected lower mainstem reaches within river basins, may stay open by rule to allow angling for hatchery-origin winter-run steelhead and occasionally native char, mainly through the end of January in the Whatcom area.

Some westside rivers on the lower Columbia are open to hook-and-line effort further into the winter.

OTHER RULES TO OBEY DAILY Size and bag limit regulations may vary by category of stream.

And insofar 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 populations that reproduce naturally.

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. There is a bonus for stream-caught eastern brook.

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, may also 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 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 flipped-to-open stream has been designated ‘fly-fishing only.’

Anglers should also read critically for other detail changes that constitute exceptions to the general rules. In particular, these are unusual cut-off or closing dates. The Samish River’s rules are a key example here.

THE GEOGRAPHIC SPREAD The Nooksack Basin is one of 16 sectors in Western Washington that are now subject to the blanket 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 explicitly where anglers may now fish. There is no need to reiterate the obvious.

In the fourth year of their existence the new rules require careful and repeated reading plus constant referrals to a good map to discern which waters remain 'legally' fishable from those that are now not.

For many grizzled stream vets, parents and many young fishers in training, here's a summary of 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.

BEAVER-MADE WATERS As mentioned, this season anglers may reacquaint themselves with a goodly range of fishing options in the form 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 impoundments will open again and beckoning the tough angler as will those stick dam ponds in the Nookachamps Creek drainage in neighboring Skagit County.

Coming the first of July anglers also may ply the extensive and mysterious complex of beaver-made open waters in Big Beaver Creek Valley above Ross Dam.

In the category of Memorial weekend fishing inaugurals, 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, as of this year again may dabble in upper South Fork Nooksack waters upstream from and including Wanlick Creek.

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

Even with these additions, some conspicuous streams remain closed and need to be mentioned since they historically have been the focus of neighborhood fishing especially by youngsters.

THE SMALL 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 Creek, along its entire reach, together with Padden and Connelly creeks also are no longer on the list of permissible streams.

And remember, too, that all tributaries of Lake Whatcom were previously permanently closed as now 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 and Bender roads, also appears now 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 populations also are still protected by year-round closures.

By older rule, the lower 4.7 miles of Canyon Creek remain closed to protect spawning chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

MIDDLE FORK NOOKSACK In the lower Middle Fork Nooksack drainage and Canyon, Porter, Bear and Peat Bog creeks as well as beaver ponds on the latter two now are off-limits to any angling.

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 various 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 fishing 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.

STREAMS FLOWING INTO CANADA Except for the juvenile fishing waters in Johnson Creek that flow through the City of Sumas, most 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.

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://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.

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