Methow River steelhead

Yes. Fished it today. Caught two steelhead. Between 3 of us. The water is low and cold. Slow.... Met some great locals that were friendly and courteous. They let us access private land because we ASKED!!! The Salmon are done and quickly dying.

Also hooked and landed the largest cutthroat trout I think I have ever seen. The pic is as pretty as the wild steelies we were fortunate to have seen.

I fished it three weeks ago, and the water was very low and cold even then. I got the impression that most of the fish were still in the Columbia waiting for high water, which hasn't come yet.

How far up the river were you fishing? Near Pateros? The canyon stretch? Higher up?

Also, how did you handle the low water? Were you able to swing a wet fly?

What-ever always means yes

My cousin and I fished it last saturday, had a few bites no fish to hand on my behalf. My cousin landed a nice cut-bow approx. 18", nice fish. He is a local and says it has slowed down quite a bit since the opener.
The rumor has it that the game dept. cut only 15% of the fins from the hatchery fish - so there arent many to keep (if ya do that). Is that true or even legal? Any one ever hear of this kind of thing before? It seems that if they are hatchery fish then all of the fish released from there should be marked by clipping.
It sure is a good thing to see the people going over there and spending thier fishing dollars at a place that could use the $$. By the way, if ya like goodies, breads, and such try out the bakery in the town of Pateros - yummy stuff.
I've fished in 3 times over the past 3 weeks. Caught fish each time. I've been fishing a floating line with a split shot about a foot above the fly.

We fished the lower stretch just above Pateros, but I have heard through the grape vine that the steelhead are spread out through the system.

The recent rain hasn't really done anything to the water levels. It's still low and clear.

- Tom
Alright, here I go again.

Methow River steelhead are listed as ENDANGERED under the Endangered Species Act. They've earned that designation because they are in danger of imminent extinction. Officially, that implies the Methow does not have a single steelhead to spare. That is why it has been closed to steelhead fishing over the last several seasons.

The "emergency" opener this year of course is targeted at hatchery fish, which I'm sure is what all of you are fishing for. There is a strange quirk on the Methow though, because by whatever voodoo they decide these things, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed hatchery steelhead along with the wild Methow summer steelhead (Actually part of what is called the "Upper Columbia ESU" which includes the Wenatchee, the Entiat, the Methow, the Okanogon, and all their tributaries). Whether it was a good idea to list the hatchery fish is debatable (many in NMFS believe it was a mistake), but if they are only marking a small percentage of the hatchery fish, I would guess it's because they don't want them succeptible to selective fisheries downstream (these hatchery fish are listed remember).

WDFW applied to NMFS to open a fishery this year because they expect a surplus return of hatchery fish, and they "don't want them breeding in the wild with the wild fish." (I'm paraphrasing.) On its face, that may sound reasonable enough. But when you look closer, it starts to make a lot less sense. First of all, WDFW claims nearly everywhere else that problems with hatchery fish straying and breeding with wild fish are merely "theoretical" and shouldn't force them to modify their hatchery practices (it's either a problem or it isn't). Second, they claim that this particular hatchery program is a "supplementation/recovery program." In other words the hatchery fish are SUPPOSED to breed with the wild fish to help rebuild the population (that's why the hatchery fish are listed). Supplementation is a dubious strategy they are trying to promote all over the region; either that strategy works or it doesn't, and if it does, then what's the problem here? Third, if hatchery fish breeding with wild fish IS a problem (which it certainly is), why are they producing and planting them with ENDANGERED steelhead in the first place. And finally, a fishery, which will also expose the ENDANGERED wild steelhead to at least some level of mortality, is not a very responsible way to address this problem (remember, the Methow officially cannot spare ONE SINGLE WILD STEELHEAD.)

Admittedly NMFS put itself and WDFW between a rock and a hard place when it listed the hatchery fish, but thre are a number of other, more responsible ways they could have addressed this. They had to file an ESA-exemption application to open this fishery, because otherwise it would have been technically illegal to kill even the hatchery fish. They could have filed an application to produce fewer or not plant as many (or any) of the hatchery fish in the first place. They could have filed an application to "collect" the surplus hatchery fish at dam fish-ladders or hatchery weirs, which would have exposed the wild fish to much lower potential impacts than a fishery. And WDFW's blatant talking out of both sides of its mouth exposes its real motive vis a vis hatchery production: provide harvest opportunity at any cost, no matter what the potential impacts to wild fish, no matter how critically threatened that wild population is.

Which, I hate to have to say, may bring US back around to that ethics dead-horse. It's legal right now to fish for steelhead on the Methow, so that must make it ethical. As I've said here many times before, while I'm not shy about telling you what I THINK you SHOULD do, I'll not criticize any individual who's fishing legally. So knock yourselves out.
There is no such thing as a "wild" methow steelhead. They were eradicated in the 30's by a 13 foot high dam. All steelhead in the system are hatchery decendents. I understand the river has a spawning capacity of something like 2000 fish, and projections are for 6000+ fish this year. Last year, the return was something like 12,000. Feel free to correct me if my numbers are not on the mark. The "whitefish" season in past years has had significant by-catch, I'd be willing to bet that was also a factor in opening the system.

The way I see it, the more people know what steelhead fishing could/should be, the better it should be for our future opportunities.
The notion that wild steelhead were eradicated in the 30's by that old diversion dam is popular among those who don't support ESA protection for Methow steelhead, including a lot of the local property-rights types. Unfortunately, it ignores some science about steelhead biology and evolution, as well as some fundamental tenets of resource consevation/management.

Anadromous steelhead and resident rainbows are the same species, and often part of coincident breeding populations. In other words, steelhead can contribute to a resident trout population, and more imprtantly in this case, resident trout can preserve and then contribute genetic material into a steelhead population. Not only do steelhead and resident rainbows breed with each other, steelhead progeny can spontaneously residualize, and juvenile resident trout can take it into their heads to go see the world. (This is exactly what we hope will happen when the dams come down on the Elwha.)

Not only that, Methow steelhead are part of a larger evolutionary population that includes the mainstem Columbia, the Wenatchee, the Entiat, and the Okonagon watersheds. Strays from those systems could easily have recolonized the Methow, by themselves or by breeding with resident rainbows.

Given all that, and the utter lack of any genetic proof that wild Methow steelhead have been extirpated, it is not up to the steelhead to prove that they are "still" wild. It is the human manager who wants to introduce hatchery fish in to the system or open a fishery that could further hurt an already decimated population that must "prove" there are no wild fish left to harm. If the risk is uncertain, don't take it. THAT is the fundematal tenet of sound resource management that your argument ignores. Action taken on the basis of conjecture (even reasonably sounding conjecture) that happens to be conveniant for the managers' preferred alternative is irresponsible, simple as that; especially when the stakes include imminent extinction.

I'm not sure where you're "spawning capacity" number comes from, though I'm hesitent to call you wrong, because I don't know. I will say that on an intuitve level that sounds awfully low. A spawning "capacity" of 2000 steelhead for the entire mainstem Methow, the Twisp, the Chewack, and all the rest of the Methow tribs. I don't know. Maybe. If I had to guess, I'd say that sounds more like it might have been an old MSY escapemment goal, something far different than an equilibrium spawning capacity. But again, I don't really know any of the numbers.

The number I do know is ONE. That's how many wild (I stand by that term, and so does NMFS by the way) steelhead the Methow CAN NOT spare. And that's how many federally listed ENDANGERED Methow steelhead it would be illegal to kill without a scientific direct-take permit (yes, WDFW is calling this fishery a science project).

I absolutley agree that 6000 or 12000 or even six hatchery steelhead spawing in the Methow is too many. I am merely suggesting that managers should have never allowed it to happen in the first place, and now that it has, there are better ways to handle it than subjecting the wild fish to even more impact.

I'm not sure I get the point about the whitefish fishery. It seems to me that bycatch of listed steelhead is a good reason to shut down the whitefish fishery, not open another fishery directed at the steelhead.

And yes yes I'm well aware of the old cannard about keeping the steelhead's "most passionate" constituency "motivated."

"If nobody gets to kill them (figuratively, of course), who will be left to love them?" Well, it's starting to look to some of us like we may be loving them into oblivion.

I'm not saying don't go steelhead fishing. Hell, I go steelhead fishing too. But is EVERY steelhead in every river fair game, even for C&R? If we shouldn't leave the ENDANGERED fish alone, which ones should we?
ray helaers,

Are you objecting to C&R fishing in the Methow? Or are concerned about catching and killing steelhead in the Methow which may in fact be be wild?



Be the guide...
It seems clear to me he is concerned about any fishing on the Methow - C&R and otherwise.

Even in C&R there is a mortality rate - which means SOME fish will die - whether intended or not.

Mr Helaers is pointing out that killing just ONE (via C&R or otherwise) endagered fish is one too many...

The Deer Creek run on the N. Fk. Stillaguamish was close to extinction a few years ago, and is still quite small, though it's recovering. Does this mean that we shouldn't fish the Stilly below Deer Creek, just because we might catch (and release) a wild fish?

There must be many rivers with a few wild fish mixed in with many hatchery fish. Shouldn't we fish those rivers either?



Idiot Savant
Ray, what are your qualifications to address the Methow River steelhead situation? I'm not being disrespectful, just curious.


Vincit Omina Veritas


Be the guide...
Let me just clarify that I'm not necessarily in agreement with RH. I was just pointing out that his stance and argument are both clear and compelling. I don't have a lot of knowledge about the plight of wild steelhead, this fishery, the stilly, or any other fishery for that matter (but I'm interested in learning more). I do respect that he has taken a stand that he feels strongly for and he has brought a good argument to the table. But I'm open to hearing other views if they are available...

o mykiss

Active Member
I agree that is the point Ray is making. Listing a species as endangered is a pretty major deal - an indication that the U.S. government, which does these things very reluctantly by the way, feels there's a serious threat of extinction. The situation with the Upper Columbia ESU including hatchery fish is totally bizarre and I have never heard any explanation - logical or not - for including hatchery fish in the listing. Unfortunately, like the Hogan decision in Oregon last year, this kind of action reinforces the uninformed notion that hatchery and wild fish are just the same thing so why worry so much about wild fish. Including hatchery fish in the Upper Columbia ESU may have had the unintended consequence of causing many locals in that neck of the wood to conclude that, with as many fish as have been making their way up the Methow and other upper Columbia tribs in the last couple of years, the ESA listing is totally unwarranted. I think an important takeaway from Ray's posts is that one should think hard about participating in a fishery at all if that fishery includes ESA-listed fish. No one's questioning anyone's right to do it - it's legal with WDFW having convinced NMFS to open it up. I might even participate myself, but before I stepped in the water I'd at least ponder the possibility that unsuccessful C&R of a wild fish could put the species (i.e., the wild upper Columbia steelhead) one fish closer to extinction.