Winter steelhead fisheries ramping up

Even as future Puget Sound winter steelheading is in limbo, seasonal fishing for these vaunted sea-run rainbows is cycling into full swing in other locales among them North Central Washington.

There the Columbia River from Rock Island Dam (below Wenatchee) upstream to the exclusion zone below Chief Joseph Dam including the reservoirs Rock Island Pool and lakes Entiat and Pateros are now open.

Besides the Upper Columbia’s mainstem, selected reaches of the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers also are available for the hardcore of hook and line fraternity known as steelheaders.

Co-mingling in these waters are artificially propagated (hatchery) and naturally (wild) produced returning adult steelhead. The latter are protected by both state fishing regulation and the federal endangered species act, the presence of the former enable these personal use fisheries and is their focus.

Several Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Colville Tribe fish production facilities all contribute annual releases of steelhead smolts that are identified by a missing adipose fin that is clipped off before the youngsters are let go.

Angling pressure as well as hook and line encounters with fish (hatchery and wild) are monitored in real time and there is an enforcement focus because of the threatened wild fish.

Each major delineated management zone (stream or reservoir) has its own management formula and at any time any one or more could be abruptly closed if the fishery’s calculated maximum allowable impact to their wild populations is deemed to have been reached.

Until the last day of November personal use fishers plying selected Upper Columbia waters also may keep hatchery-origin fall chinook and coho salmon. Fishers should check the emergency fishing regulations on-line postings for details including open reaches, bag limits and gear restrictions for these fish.

Also, starting the first day of December, frozen-fingered fishers have opportunities to catch from certain waters the region’s delectable resident whitefish. For details on this seasonal offering include gear limitations and closure dates, anglers should check the stream-by-stream listings on pages 69-84 of the Fish Washington permanent fishing regulations pamphlet.

Fish managers stress that because of the individual stream management systems, fishing pressure and results can and will trigger closures at any time. The data going into calculations is collected from day one of the fishery and their effect is cumulative.

The later they propose to fish these opportunities, west side anglers, in particular, before departing, should check WDFW’s emergency regulations Web portal to determine the status of their destination steelheading stream(s).


Running from early- to mid-fall to perhaps the end of March at the latest, the following major stream reaches were included this year’s fishery.

• The mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Opened Wednesday, Oct. 8, until further notice.

• The Wenatchee River from the mouth to the Wenatchee River at the Icicle Road Bridge, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery barrier dam. Opened Wednesday, Oct. 8 until further notice.

• The Entiat River from the mouth to approximately 1/2 mile upstream to a point perpendicular with the intersection of the Entiat River Road and Hedding Street. Opened Wednesday, Oct. 8 until further notice.

• The Methow River from the mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop. Wednesday, Oct. 8, until further notice. Fishing afloat is banned from the second powerline crossing (1 mile upstream from the mouth) to the first Hwy 153 Bridge (4 miles upstream from the mouth).

• The Okanogan River from the mouth to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville. Opened Wednesday, Oct. 8, until further notice.

• The Similkameen River, from its mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam; Opened Saturday, Nov. 1, until further notice.


Steelheading in waters with both hatchery-origin and wild fish under the aegis of a federal authorization (permit), are governed by regulations a little out of the norm.

It should be noted that wild or unmarked winter- and summer-run steelhead are protected statewide by a reg requiring their release. The only exceptions to this blanket rule are limited wild fish retention periods in the late winter and spring on selected Northwest Olympic Peninsula streams

Besides the creation of recreational opportunity, the concurrent objectives of fisheries such as the North Central Washington ones are to remove the artificially propagated steelhead from the system while keeping hook and line impacts to a minimum on the protected wild fish.

To these ends, these general rules apply to the steelhead openings:

• Add to your licensing documents, if you don’t already have it, an $8.75 Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement. Revenue from this document, in part, pays for real-time monitoring that allows these opportunities to take place.

• Keep all hatchery steelhead (minimum size 20 inches) when brought to hand, releasing them is not allowed. They will have a missing adipose fin with a healed scar at the fin clip location and the back up from the caudal peduncle.

• Retain two hatchery steelhead per day and beginning the first of December 15 whitefish.

• Abide by both selective gear and night closure regulations in all steelhead fishing zones. Only on the mainstem Columbia River pools may bait be used.

• Release all naturally produced or wild steelhead that are readily recognizable by the presence of an adipose fin. These protected fish must be let go of unharmed. They may not even be lifted out of the water.

• Also let go all steelhead that have an external floy or anchor tag attached and/or one or more round 1/4 inch diameter holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin. These distinctly marked fish help managers determine survival rates of released fish.

• Observe the Chelan County ordinance 7.20.190 ban on motorized vessels in the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers.


Getting from here to the Okanogan this time of year can be an adventure unto itself.

Night-time temperatures in the North Cascades in the vicinity of State Route 20 summits currently hover around zero and the Northwest Avalanche Center weather station at Washington Pass at present reports four inches of snow on the surrounding ground.

However, the run of the road is, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, said to just have frost and ice in places, so straight-over trips to Okanogan steelhead waters are still possible.

That said, the ten-day forecast is predicting light snow Tuesday and later rain/snow mix through Friday on the east slope of the North Cascades.

Since its inauguration in 1972, the earliest the North Cascades Highway has closed is Oct. 17 (the 2003 season). The latest weather and crews have been able to keep it open is Jan. 3 (the 1989 season).

The decision to shut down the route for the winter is dictated by the avalanche danger in its many slide corridors.

Once SR 20 closes, the more circuitous path to Okanogan fishing from here involves the all-weather U. S. Highway 2 route from Everett over Stevens Pass to Wenatchee, then U.S. 97 north into the heart of the northern tier. However beginning at the City of Leavenworth on this highway anglers can start steelheading.


The 2014 black bear season closed Saturday, Nov. 15, throughout the state, with a flurry of bruin stalking seen in the North Fork Nooksack basin in the final week.

Ursus seekers hanging up their weapons for the year must report their positive or negative hunting results in two fashions.

Successful hunters have until Tuesday, Nov. 25, to file the notching details on one or both of their bear transport tags.

Bruin hunters who declared ‘no joy’ over the course of the fall general season have until the end of January to report with a carrot offered to those who file before Sunday, Jan. 11. There is an early-bird incentive drawing that will award special deer permits.

The stick hovering somewhere over this process is that persons with big game transport tags who don’t make these reports will have to pay a $10 civil penalty the next year when they go to buy their documents.

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.