Skagit River Steehead

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Andrew Lawrence, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. Stilly Stalker -
    Sorry I must of left the wrong impression. The guidelines based on the SW Washington info only confirmed what had been seen here in north Puget Sound for decades.

    Justr a couple of example -

    The small percentage of early leaving smolts I mentioned in my post was also seen on the Skagit (at Barnaby slough) were the portion leaving prior to the end of the first week of May was 10% (nearly all within a couple of days removing the screens).

    During the 1980s while there still was a Snohmish basin winter steelhead creel census it was noticed that the return rates back to the Skykomish half of the basin (Reiter ponds) were consistently twice of that to the Snoqualmie half (Tokul Creek) as measured as total catches and hachery rack counts compared to the smolts released. The managers at the time had to wonder way. What they found was that the Snoqualmie/Tokul fish were consistently released at mid-April while the Skkomish/REiter were released in early/mid-May. When the release timing at Tokul were changed to mirror that of Reiter the return rates on the two halves of the basin were on the average more or less equal - later was better.

    There are a number of other studies that show the same thing but to be fair this issue has long been a source of debate between hatchery personal and biologists.

    At some point when all the information is saying the same thing generalizations work just fine.

  2. Inland -
    Those precocious males have long been an issue with a number of hatchery programs. That can double so with wild brood stock programs (especially two year smolt programs). What folks have learned is that if the smolts get too large or grow too fast while young the resulting "smolts" will have a higher likelyhood of maturing early - the two year "smolts" may have mature precocious males before or at the time of release. Following the guidelines mentioned earlier helps to reduce the number of such fish.

    Of course in a system like the Skagit I'm not sure what those precocious males would spawn with other than other hatchery fish. The precocious males should have the same spawn timing as the rest of the brothers and sisters. In the case of the Skagit winter steelhead that would be December and January. The very begining of the wild Skagit winter spawning curve is in early March with low spawning activity until much later in the spring. Pretty common for 90% of the total number of wild redds to be dug from late April to late July with the highest degree of redd building taking place in mid/late May.

  3. Smalma,

    I had a post, tried several times to post so now I give up. Keeps getting a server error.

  4. What has happend to all the early native fish? Could the early run timming of hatchery fish have impacted them? I've heard of a study in the skagit system that showed 65-80% of winter steelhead were trib spawners, now I believe that has flipped. Could Chambers creek fish be predipossed to spawn in tribs? It's been shown in many studies that hatchery introgression reduces the fitness of offspring, so how many of those die and are never accounted for in the introgression studies?
  5. Chris-
    While it is well accepted that there were/are substantial numbers of early wild steelhead in coastal rivers the case for early wild fish in the Puget Sound rivers and especially those of North Puget Sound is less documented. In fact the information that is available indicates that while the odd wild fish was and continues to found in rivers like the Skagit the vast majority of those fish returned later in the year.

    Keep in mind it was not until the early 1950s that the old Game Department first achieved consistent success in getting hatchery produced steelhead to survive and return in appreciable numbers. And while many of us that fished the PS region in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s recall with fondness the early season (Thanksgiving/early December) wild fish that we caught the data suggests that they were actually early 3-salt hatchery fish. Those fish were typically larger (10 to 14 pounds sometimes a bit larger) and returned earlier than the bulk of the 2-satl hatchery fish. Once the State began taking scale samples for the sport catch in various creel census it was found those early larger "wild" fish were from the hatcheries. Those fish disappeared in the mid-1980s with the mass marking of all the hatchery fish though we continued to catch some early season larger hatchery fish.

    I have mentioned before Enos Bardner's book "Northwest Angling" published in 1950, like me suspect that some readers have a copy in their library. In Chapter 5 discusses the various Washington steelhead rivers giving discriptionof the rivers and their fishing. It is a good read and since the catch and timing information in his discussions come from his experience and punch card information from the 1940s (before the widespread success of the steelhead hatchery program) thus providing some insight into the timing of the various rivers runs. One word of caution at the time the typical winter steelhead season ran from December 1 through February with some of the larger lower river open after February so it should be no surprise that most of the fish were caught before March.

    Chris one of the rivers in Bardner's book is the Nooksack (your home water?). He states -

    "This river has one of the largest runs of winter fish in Washington and ranks 5th on the Game Department list. They are prime fish averaging 7 to 8 pounds with a few taken in the 15 to 19 pound class. The runs are late, with good fishing during February and in the lower river during the March opening...."

    How does that run timing compare to what is seen today?

    BTW - The Nooksack first recieved consistent plantings of hathcery steelhead in 1972.

    In regard to the Skagit wild steelhead Bardner says -

    "It is fished very little during December, but January is good, and the period from Washington's Birthday until the end of March is the best"

    Sounds much like the Skagit I fished a decade ago.

  6. Curt,

    After I spoke to you last year, I found a couple copies of Bradner's book @ powell's books in Portland. One was signed by the author so I bought it for $10.00, Great book.
    I have seen some numbers that suggest earlier run timing ( Dec, Jan & Feb), and from my own experience, there are few fish until the end of Jan. Wouldn't those early fish be important for genetic diversity?
  7. January Skagit fish from "The Nineties"


    Fly fisherman on the Skagit in January were few and far between back then, but you knew if you put in your time you could get fish like this - regularly.
  8. That is one scary picture..........
  9. Chris -
    Please don't miss read what I'm trying to say/point out. Of course those early fish represent part of the diversity historically found in those North Sound population and as such they are important.

    I was not saying that those early fish did not exist. Rather they were just a small portion of the total population (the old timers thought that there were not enough of them were in the Skagit in December to spend much time targeting them). As you and WW pointed out and my own fishing experience confirms (I have caught wild winters in the Nooksack as early as mid-December and the Skagit as early as early November) there still exist some early wild fish just that they represent a small portion of the over all wild population - just as they did historicially. Because we have little insight in what historic run numbers look like we really have not hard info on whether the poriton of early returning fish have decreased or not.

    However what we do know is that important aspect of population diversity still exists. Further if the today's over all populations were much larger (habitat more similar to what was found historically and higher marine survivals) there would be lots more early fish. Additionally with those early fish and if the were significant advantages to be an early returning fish under current management in place (wild steelhead release all season) we would see increasing numbers of such fish.

    I should stress that we are talking early run timing and not early spawn timing. In fact the early wild fish in north PS that I have had the opportunity to examine were all very immature sexually (almost summer run like) and likely would have spawn with a timing similar to their later arriving cousins.

  10. Its my understanding that early winter fish are high system trib spawners and although they come in early, they stlll spawn at a similar time as the rest of the winter fish
  11. Early hatchery fish = early netting = dead early wild fish in nets

    Altough the old timers seem to say that the fishing was better later in the season, this may be because their would be more fish late in the season since the numbers build on themselves over time. Fish that return in December can still be caught in March. For this reason, March will always have better fishing than December.

    Additionally, if you look at the slides that started this thread you will see that although wild fish smolt over an extended period of time, the majority of them smolt just after or at the same time as the hatchery fish. This means that they are in the PS just after or with the hatchery smolts. Whether this makes any difference in wild smolt survival in the PS is unknown and truthfully unstudied. Maybe the extended smolting time is the reason that wild fish smolt to adult rates are high. Those smolts that are leaving before or after the hatchery smolts may make up the difference. Over time it may be expected that these fish that smolt before and after (I'd expect especially before) the hatchery fish will grown in number. This wouldn't be a guarenteed outcome of mortality caused by hatchery smolt interaction though. If it is happening it would be a clue.

    It's always assumed that we are dealing with hatchery impacts by having different run timing and spawn timing. Essentailly, it is believed that in river impacts of hatchery fish can be managed. I don't think this is the case and represents more than a bit of hubris.

    What I am always amazed at is that no thought appears to be given to potential impacts in the lower river/near shore environments and in the PS although we know that the 2 stocks are comingled at that time and we know that that is where the majority of mortality occurs to skagit wild steelhead. We keep studying genetics like Germans concerned with purity. We aren't studying where and when the smolts are dying although most bio.'s I know say it's before they hit the big ocean.

    Add to this fact that the hatchery is an epic failure with regards to return on investment and you really have to ask the question as to why it is still pumping out 200,000 or so smolts per years. Actually, you should ask as a tax payer why it pumps out even 1 smolt. This isn't a mitigation hatchery. Maybe the hatchery should be cut and the money could be used to come up with a steelhead management plan or maybe we could try and fund a study on smolt survival in the PS.

    If you look at the Nooksack the hatchery is even less succesful. The return rate is abysmal. The potential interaction with wild fish is sure high though given theat they are in the PS/ Salish sea at the same time.

    FWIW, My only Skagit fish last year came on Christmas eve day. It was a lovely albeit small wild hen. A true joy of a fish that made a day away from my mother in law that much better.

    Go Sox,
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  12. IMO, the problem is not having fisheries that offers a reasonable chance for catch by anglers. I know there are hard-lines drawn on this topic, and everyone's points are well taken; arguments for and against have been hashed over more times than the Ford vs. Chevy or Evinrude vs. Mercury debate.

    But in the end, I think most want viable fisheries that offer improved numbers of catch-able fish. And, personally, I don't care what pedigree they are. Some will say that's a short-sided view, and perhaps you are correct, but fly-fishing waters void of fish is, well, casting practice.
  13. As is west side winter fisheries dominated by hatchery fish.

    Given the abject failure of PS hatchery winter fish I have a hard time imagining how hatchery suplimentation will lead to a "reasonable chance of catch by anglers." I fish the Skagit in the hatchery steelhead season. There is the cascade hatchery clusterfuck (fail to see any anglers there) and there is us knotheads fishing for the few early wilds with a smaller chance of an odd hatchery fish down below. Quite simply, there is nothing to lose by cutting PS winter steelhead releases.

    The possible exception to this rule could be the Sky.

    Go Sox,
  14. I disagree about the harvestable fish mentality in regards to steelhead, bulltrout and SRC's . Yes, plenty of people would love to bonk what they catch and take it home, but look at Idaho and Montana where native trout get a lot more protection because the fish are a HELL OF A LOT MORE VALUABLE when you can catch them more than once. A sport fish is fished for sport, not the table. Let people keep a few salmon, AGREED 100%, but not steelhead or other trout. They are too valuable, and in all honestly, if the runs would be allowed to bounce back a bit ala no netting etc people would come from all around the world to places like the Hoh or Sol Duc knowing full well theyd never beallowed to keep anything
  15. Agreed, but how long has and will the no netting debate rage on?
  16. as long as the tribes are allowed to commercially harvest ESA listed fish. Or until there are no fish left
  17. I think we need to just let people fish - Canada lets people fish the Thompson with less than a 1000 fish coming back. If you allowed guys to pay a few hundred dollars (maybe $500) to fish Feb, March and April, no fishing out of a boat, no Bait/barbless hooks and be able to fish the entire system - spread the anglers out - you would have a world class fishing opportunity, you wouldn't hurt the runs and people who choose fishing for Steelhead in that time of year could do so.

    We have seen Skagit Wild Steelhead returns up over the past three years - this past season the returns were 6,185 (approx) - 2009 was a very poor year for returning numbers approx 2125 - we fished in 08 & 09 (returns in 08 were 4800) and if we get a good return this season - that is one very good element of proof that CnR angling doesn't hurt returns.
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  18. I wasn't aware Jerry Garcia was a steelheader.

    Go Sox,
    stilly stalker and Chris Johnson like this.
  19. Could Chambers Creek fish be predisposed to spawn in tribs? And could this have a negative affect on early fish?
  20. fixed it for ya ;)
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