Skagit, Skykomish early kings step to the plate

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 31, 2014 

Starting Sunday, June 1, river anglers out for a chinook salmon or two won't have to wonder if the Columbia is open, worry about stepping on a Roza rattlesnake or scramble to secure a ferry reservation for a trip to the Quillayute.

Two backyard spring king options are available right next door, on the upper Skagit and lower Skykomish rivers.

These opportunities target cultured contingents of early-returning chinook bound for two state salmon production facilities, Marblemount Hatchery and Wallace River Hatchery.

Flush with Cascade Mountain spring snowmelt runoff, the one thing on these two rivers with which anglers will have to wrestle is how high or low they will be and, in the case of the Skagit, how muddy it might be on any given day. When it rains muddiness is guaranteed.

Unlike other flowing waters, these two salmon reaches also open for gamefish.

Summer stream trout fishing season starts - now on three separate dates - can be complicated, so a close reading of the regulations specific to the river or creek is required, if you want to avoid a ticket.

At one time in the greater Puget Sound basin the stream opener was an invitation to take to any flowing water in search of a rainbow, cutt or brookie, but today only specific streams coursing down to Puget Sound or the Strait of Juan de Fuca are available.

KINGS OF THE REACH

In the Skagit River from the State Route 530 bridge at Rockport upstream to the Cascade River Road bridge, marked chinook salmon are fair game from Sunday, June 1 to Tuesday, July 15.

Of the nearly 4,233 total early kings forecast by state and tribal biologists to return to the Skagit this spring, 2,756 are expected to be of hatchery origin - and therefore keepers - while the wild or non-marked contingent should be 1,477 strong.

Besides those mainstem waters, Skagit chinook seekers will have about .7 mile of the smaller, often wadeable Cascade River from its mouth upstream to the Rockport-Cascade Road bridge to plumb for clipped kings.

In the Skykomish from its mouth upstream to the Wallace River, adipose fin-clipped kings are keepers from Sunday, June 1 through Thursday, July 31.

For the Snohomish River system chinook run, technically classified as a summer/fall stock, state and tribal managers anticipate about a 50-50 split between hatchery and natural origin chinook abundance - 5,362 to 5,280 fish, respectively.

As mentioned, keeper-eligible salmon are the "marked" ones missing their adipose fins, instead having a healed scar or slight hump at the fin's original location.

All wild chinook bearing their adipose fins must be quickly released alive and unharmed and may not even be removed from the water.

In both fisheries, anglers may keep and card up to four clipped chinook a day, but only two of them may be so-called "adult" kings, which are 24 inches or longer. The other two keepers may be so-called "jacks" in the 12- to 24-inch range.

For the first 15 days of June, although the main river and bigger tributaries are open for trout and other gamefish, the Skagit's reach from Rockport to Marblemount will be the only section where anglers may keep salmon.

That changes Saturday, June 14, when the lower river reach from Mount Vernon up to Gilligan Creek opens to a focused hook and line effort just targeting Baker River-bound sockeye salmon.

ACCESS BY BOAT OR SHORE

On the Upper Skagit's spring chinook reach, fishing afloat is going to offer the best chance to cover the most water.

It's difficult, though not impossible, to get overland to the water's edge in a lot of places in the Rockport to Marblemount reach. Private ownership predominates here and you must have permission to venture onto such lands.

The North Cascades Highway side of the Skagit (west) provides the broadest opportunities to get to the river and includes two of the three boat put-in/take-out spots.

Two of the three launches handily serve powerboats. The upper one is a U.S. Forest Service maintained ramp, at the east end of Marblemount's Cascade Road bridge, just above the open waters. The lower end launch is just below the SR 530 bridge closure line at Howard Miller Steelhead Park.

A half-way gravel ramp that is sometimes inhospitable to larger jet-sleds is available at Barr Creek near State Route 20's milepost 100.

While overland access is not universal in this section of the Skagit, the highway at MP 101 (101 Hole), Clark's Skagit Resort and Pressentin County Park (Big Eddy) are available for walk-in/wading fishers. Contrary to popular belief, the left or south bank accesses to the Eddy holes off the Rockport-Cascade Road are privately owned.

The lower Cascade offers boot anglers by far the most readily accessible water, with several paths linking the Cascade River Road with river banks property now owned by the federal government.

In addition, anglers may get to the Cascade by parking on the hatchery grounds and walking through the facility or down Clark Creek. Don't block any of the facility's work areas.

Accommodations in the area include Howard Miller Steelhead Park, which has all variety of layover options (RV and a few cabins to car, tent and group camping) and Clark's Skagit River Resort. Unfortunately, Rockport State Park has been closed to overnighting due to budget cuts.

By virtue of a series of well-spaced boat ramp accesses, the Skykomish early chinook is readily accessible for jet-sledders and is nicely dividable into drift sections for those boat-borne anglers who go with the flow.

Starting on the downstream end at the Tualco ramp just up from the mouth are the Monroe (Lowell Street), Ben Howard and Sultan accesses with ramps.

GEAR AND BAITS

Selective gear rules do not apply in the Upper Skagit or lower Skykomish mainstem fisheries, so anglers may use what many consider to be the best chinook lure: cluster eggs.

Barbed hooks and single treble hooks, too, get a thumbs-up, but anti-snagging and night closure regs apply.

The soft, scent-filled globs of eggs drifted or plunked with Corkies or wingbobbers work well.

Boat-borne fishers also find "pulling" plug type lures, including Brad's Wigglers and K13-15 Kwikfish, can be equally effective through the deepest pools.

Egg clusters are a universal offering and will attract pick-ups in virtually all water conditions, but a reasonable rule of thumb is to reduce the cluster size and perhaps add some lure color or action as the water drops and clears.

And if you are a bank angler on the edge of a deep pool, don't overlook large spinning lures such as the old Wells spoons or No. 6 versions in the Mepps or Steelie lines.

Whether you're casting from a boat or the bank, be prepared for big strong fish and bring a reel with lots of backing line.

FLOW MAY MATTER - OR NOT

The amount and color of water on the Upper Skagit on any given day is a concern to some fishers, but the hardcore partakers of this opportunity are not put off by June's routine pulses of big water.

The ideal volume for fishing here in many an angler's mind is flow a of 4,500 to 6,000 cubic feet per second with some snowmelt color and a clarity at depth of three to four feet.

Though it rarely happens, a drop in flow volume below 4,500 cfs tends to send the fish fleeing to the deepest pools.

Of course, burgeoning flows exceeding 7,500 cfs are usually both quite muddy and very fast and it's difficult for bank anglers to work all the usual places if the river is up in the brush lapping at the overhanging vegetation.

Another thing to be cognizant of on this reach is Seattle City Light's Gorge Powerhouse daily power generation cycle. The facility is responsible for a 3,500 to as much as 4,500 cfs fluctuation in flow volume that is detectable in the Rockport/Marblemount reach.

June median daily flows in the Cascade River range from a low of 1,500 cfs, which push fish to the few holes and overhead cover, to upward of 3,200 cfs, which makes the river difficult to approach, let alone fish effectively.

To take full advantage of this opportunity, anglers should come prepared with a variety of gear and explore the range of accessibility that the combination of artificial flow manipulations and natural weather-driven rises and drops create and take away.

The Skykomish system lacks a hydroelectric facility that holds back water, so its flows are largely dictated by the amount of residual snowpack, hot days to melt that snow and, of course, rainstorms.

Last year, with a considerable mantle of snow, the Sky's flow stayed level through about the middle of June, then started a slow steady drop in volume through the end of July and beyond.

This year's snowpack is nowhere near as robust so not only will volumes be down, the dropoff may be sharper.

DERBY CHITS ON SALE

Tickets for this year's Bellingham Puget Sound Anglers Salmon Derby, set for Friday-Sunday, July 11-13, go on sale today, Sunday, June 1.

Just 500 of the $50 adult division entries will be sold, but any number of no-fee entries for the kid's division of this family-oriented fishing contest also are available.

With their free admissions, youngsters vie for a slate of special prizes. Youngsters may fish for cash with a parent's permission but they must have purchased for them a $50 adult ticket to enter their catches for the money prizes.

The 2014 derby purse features a top prize of $5,000 for the heftiest chinook landed by contest participants. Second- and third-place kings earn $2,500 and $1,000, respectively. Two $500 hidden weight prizes also are offered and there's a third $500 check for the PSA member who enters the largest fish.

There are several ways to acquire both adult and kids' tickets.

The first is by mail with an order form downloaded from the Bellingham PSA Web site at bellinghampsa.com/derby/tickets.htm.

The second is over the counter at any of these sponsoring businesses including:

? Clearwater Marine Services on Home Road off Bakerview Road in Bellingham.

? LFS Marine & Outdoor on Coho Way off Roeder Avenue at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham.

? Yeager's Sporting Goods on Northwest Avenue in Bellingham.

? Holiday Sports Center off Highway 20 and Interstate 5 in Burlington.

? Dave's Sports Shop at the Fairway Shopping Center in Lynden.

The third is to contact one of Bellingham PSA's derby coordinators, Roy Lentz at 360-734-2172.

Since the Bellingham PSA has long been affiliated with the Northwest Marine Trade Associations Northwest Salmon Derby Series, another benefit from buying into this local contest is that all adult ticket purchasers will be entered in the NMTA's 2014 Derby Series September grand prize boat drawing.

For a complete set of this year's Bellingham PSA derby rules as well as tide tables for the three-day event and suggested San Juan Islands locales good for a potential rendezvous with a derby-winning salmon, check out Bellingham PSA's homepage at bellinghampsa.com/index.htm. There will be more about the derby, how to fish it and how to follow the action later this month.

ALSO UP THIS MONTH

The 2014 inland waters personal use crab season starts today but in the furthest reaches from Whatcom County in Marine Area 13. That's south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The third opening for streams occurs Saturday, June 7, in selected Whatcom County streams only. The first closure for stream trout fishing is at the end of October.

Free Fishing Weekend also comes along Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8, allowing anyone to partake of any fishery open on that weekend without fear of getting a no-license ticket.

The lower Skagit opens for 16 days for Baker River sockeye salmon. This is a precursor to a July 10 start to a fishery in Baker Lake itself.

A kids' bluegill tournament at Fazon Lake organized by the Borderline Bassin Contenders is Saturday, June 21.

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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