Skagit River Steehead

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

  1. "100,000 tons of steel, out of control
    she's more a rollercoaster than a train I used to know"
  2. That is likely, as I know of several locations where hatchery fish are found spawning in tributaries. I know of several other areas where they are spawning "mainstem" but so high up it might as well be a trib. Others spawn in small creeks just off the main stem, still considered a trib.
  3. Chris -
    You asked -

    "Could Chambers Creek fish be predisposed to spawn in tribs? And could this have a negative affect on early fish? "

    A couple great questions. Taking the first one first.

    I think most folks that have spend time monitoring steelhead escapements would agree that Chambers Creek winter steelhead like all steelhead are prediposed to spawn where they have been reared. The tendency is to see hatchery fish clustering in and around the release sites with the longer the pre-smolts/smolts held in an area prior to release the more likely it is that any uncaught returning hatchery fish will spawn near that release site assuming that there is suitable gravels.

    Some examples from the North Puget Sound area for Chamber winters -
    At Tokul Creek were the smolts are released in a pretty good sized creek the majority of the fish spawn in the creek itself with some pretty densities at times.

    At Reiter Ponds were the smolts are released more or less direrctly into the river only a small portion the fish spawn in the creek itself. With limited spawning gravels in the main Skykomish in and around the hatchery site one sees the adults spawning in a number of areas. One sees the fish attempting to use the patch gravelsin the main stem up and down stream of the hatchery as well as nearby creeks as the fish seek out suitable spawning areas.

    At Barnaby Slough on the Skagit (while smolts are no longer released here the fact that they were released there for nearly 40 years I thoughtsince we are talking about Skagit steelhead makes it an good example) the fish are released in a slough with little gravel that enters the main river a short distance downstream. With the abundant gravels in the river near the mouth of the Slough it should not be a surprise that lots of spawning hatchery fish or their redds were seen in the main river.

    So the answer as often the case with steelhead depends on the specifics of the situation but the short answer is that no they are not predisposed to spawn in tribs.

    BTW -
    Even thought the uncaught hatchery fish tended to spawn near the release site the managers always assumed that those fish shot-gunned through the river system with a spawning distribution similar to the wild fish. Why? Because that would be the worst case situation (one where the impacts on the wild population would be the largest). This kind of attempt to make sure that any management assumption made were erring on the side of the wild resource while good for the resource has not been so great for the angler or the managers creditability.

  4. Chris to your seocnd question.

    Again staying with the Skagit example - Stilly Stalker stated that the early returning wild winters were the fish that tend to spawn i head water areas; somethng that seems to be commonly held by lots of anglers. The thinking goes that to reach those areas the fish need the time to migrate the distance required to reach those areas as well as to get past some significant migration obstacles. Assuming that is the case the areas in the Skagit basin where we are most likely to find such habitats would be in areas like the upper South Fork of the Sauk where the wild winter steelhead spawn 110 or more miles from the salt water at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet and above a pretty narly set of cascades (immediatley below Monte Cristo Lake); hard to imagine a situation that would be more likely to select for an early returing adult. Other locations that might be used by those early fish would be the upper portions of the Suiattle and Whitechuck basins.

  5. Chris -
    As I attempt to post my response to our questions I keep getting an error message so I"m trying to answer your questions piece meal.

    Some additional info on the upper South Fork Sauk. 3 different springs during the 1990s that reach was monitored for steelhead spawning with redd counts and adult sampling . Only wild winter steelhead were found and the earliest redd was dug in late April with the vast majority of the redds being dug in May. Given the timing of the spawning , the distance from the hatchery and the fact that only wild winters were found I'm comfortable saying that no or at worst minimal interaction between hatchery and wild fish is occuring in that reach of the river (between Barlow Pass and the town site of Monte Cristo.

    All things considered unless a hatchery is located or the smolts are being released in a reach of river that is used for spawning by those early wild winters it is hard to imagine much hatchery/wild interactions occur between the spawning adults or with the early rearing juveniles. Off the top of my head the situation that comes to mind where those kinds of interactions may be happening would be on the Green.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to respond Curt, your opinion is much appreciated.

  7. Your side of the discussion being the Yugo and the broken oar... I totally agree ;)
  8. I think you're dead right. For over 30 years I have travelled to Idaho and Montana just to catch and release those wild trout. I've done the same for steelhead as far north as the Gold in BC. And, I have travelled plenty of times to the OP to catch and release steelhead. But it's not like it used to be, and the fishing here is pretty good, so my excursions north have tapered off.

    I always wanted to fish the Skagit too, but the way things are looking, it sounds like I missed my chance and I should have given it a shot 20 years ago.

    I agree that it's time the regulating agencies see the resource for the opportunity that it is and protect the wild fish. Catch and kill (especially netting) of wild fish is extremely short sighted and there are plenty of people who pay good money to fish without ever wishing to take anything home.

  9. Think of the solution not the problem
  10. we had a family friend who spoke of fishing the Sauk back in the sixties. but he did mention that they would not start fishing until March, as that was the best time for Steelhead. of course this was before i started down the Steelhead road.
    All these questions and answers kinda lead us down the road to " What kind of fishery do we want ?".
    are we ready to close down the hatchery's. and if yes, then what ?
    some long thinking is in order if we are ready for that.
    and for those in the know would not the Kalama be a prime spot to study this ? with the trap and all. ??
  11. Your first question is an easy answer for me: healthy wild steelhead runs. The second for me is: Yes, with 70+ hatcheries in this State, I'm sure there are more than a few that could be closed. The cost of some of these hatcheries is hundreds if not thousands of $ per fish caught, with no real benefit to wild fish. The third question: Take the money we save from closed hatcheries and do habitat restoration. There are 14,000+ fish passage barriers in Wa. That would be a start.

    TallFlyGuy likes this.
  12. We can study these things till we are blue in the face or until the wild fish are gone. What needs to be done is clear and has been clear for 20 years.

    1. we need to stop all harvest of them even if that means breaking treaty's anyone who cares would not kill them anyway.

    2. we need to restore and protect the habitat

    3. we need to stop breeding them out of existence with hatchery fish.

    making minor changes in hatchery practices is not going to accomplish much of anything...
    TallFlyGuy likes this.
  13. At what point does the sportfishing industry realize the fish are for recreation and not for sustenance? ....AT what point does all the information and research come to head with the realization that hatchery fish are failing our native fish and we need to stop planting them? Will a lawsuit against the WDFW help or hurt wild fish? IF Hatchery fish were successfully replenishing our rivers and streams, why are they raping fish in the form of "Broodstock" Programs?
  14. Closing the Skagit hatchery steelhead program means the end of recreational steelhead fishing on the Skagit for the foreseeable future, or longer. Since the wild steelhead run is ESA-listed and abundance is averaging less than the spawning escapement goal, no CNR fishing will be allowed.

    The hatchery steelhead program may be struggling, but if it is terminated, it won't be and cannot be re-started under the WDFW policy of localized in-basin steelhead brood stocks. This is also approved by NMFS, so any policy change would have to be reviewed and approved, and approval doesn't seem likely as it now stands.

    I only recently learned that Chambers Creek steelhead are extinct in Chambers Creek. What remains of this original source "universal" broodstock is housed at numerous hatchery locations in western WA. Some, like the poor performing Puyallup fish at Voight's Creek Hatchery, have been terminated. So there are no longer any hatchery steelhead stocked in the Puyallup apparently.

    We can close the remaining hatchery steelhead programs if that is what the public wants. What will remain is largely museum-like remnant wild steelhead runs in Puget Sound rivers. No fishing will be allowed on them, including CNR fishing. We can want healthy wild steelhead populations all we want. But it is just chatter. We don't even know what the limiting factor is for PS wild steelhead abundance beyond attributing it to low early marine survival. The proximate cause is unknown.

    Chris DeLeone likes this.
  15. Wild fish don't have bottom lines that end up on a report on the guvna's desk. Removing hatchery fish is an admission of failure. Failure of 120+ years of policy. At this point, and for quite some time, hatchery programs are commercial and harvest oriented guide welfare programs. Once this door has been opened, the loss of 'jobs' due to a report with a bottom line...that is the death nail. If the rivers still had fish, LOTS OF WILD FISH, the harvest oriented guides would have plenty of trips. The commercials would have plenty of fish. The reduced impact hook and release nut would have plenty of fish. Now that the village has been burned down, losses mitigated by fish culture that has never lived up to its promises, we are forever stuck on the teat with a catch 22 that is darkly humorous. The kind that makes one lower their head, hands over face, head shaking side to side. The kind that SG just mentioned.

    And yet here we are. No more Skagit, Sauk, and Sky (among all the Puget Sound losses). The greatest (even though they certainly weren't the prettiest or most pristine) wild 'winter' steelhead FLY fishing rivers. Gone. Death by a thousand cuts. A few club blows to the head and we sit on the sidelines watching empty rivers flow to the ocean. I am thankful for my memories from the Skagit and Sauk. Especially my son finding his one and only wild Skagit steelhead. RIP Skagit and Sauk. Nice to have known ya'...
  16. This seems to be a doomsday approach. What you are saying is, if we close the rivers and give the wild fish a chance, they will not succeed or come back in any way shape or form? Hard to believe. This is exactly what they were saying about the wind river, but guess what? The wild fish came back. The wind river went from under 200 spawning adults in 2000 to 1468 spawning native adults in 2011. An amazing thing happens when you take Hatcheries out of the equation. The WDFW and the rest of the "sportfishing" industry does not want this info to be out. IF we get rid of their "blessesed hatchery brats", they think the world will come to an end.

    This would be a victory if we got rid of the hatcheries! It is the first step to a healthy run of fish.

    This is your opinion. Other rivers that were left alone, have an amazing ability to come back. Simply put, we get rid of the hatcheries, the commercial pressure (nets) drop, the catch and kill crowd doesn't kill (they stay home), and the fish come back.
  17. I don't know if this is in response to my post or not, but I never said the skagit program should be closed. What I said was " there are more than a few that could be", maybe the Skagit is one, maybe not. Public discourse or "chatter", is how we share information and ideas, in order to decide what we want wdfw to do, who in theory work for us. Which makes skyrise's questions all the more relevant.

  18. Justin,

    The hatchery fish are not a direct problem on the Skagit/Sauk like they were (and I hope 'were' stays the course here) on the Wind. Two times hatchery fish have been pulled from the Wind. Both times the wild fish responded. Norcal pulled hatchery winters from several ESA listed rivers. The same ESA listing that is on the Skagit and Sauk and Sky and...and...

    The fish did respond but have since dropped off yet still better than before the hatchery fish were removed. Oh yeah, these ESA listed rivers are open to riff raff such as ourselves, doing the unthinkable and trying to put a sliver of sharp steel in their mouths. I say that in jest as the situation of the death of fishing the Skagit is a political one. This stuff is enough to force one to drink. A bad run year of 4K wild steelhead, and you can't fish for them on the Skagit? A run of 4K wild steelhead on an OP stream and its mayhem with wild retention allowed. And now we could see a run of 20K wild winter fish back to the Skagit and still no hook and release angling? But you could bet your ass if that hatchery were built, that intended to have fish return during the spring months, we could be fishing to our hearts content. Damn that is a beautiful thing, head buried in hole ostrich style. All because a new hatchery was fought and ultimately the feds coming in to look over shoulders? Makes about as much sense as using broodstock programs to save the hatcheries from extinction.
  19. A steelheads value is not measured by how it fills belly or bends a rod..
    I say lets save them even if we never get to fish them again.
  20. TallFlyGuy,

    Sorry about the doomsday, but yes. The Skagit has been mostly closed to direct harvest of wild steelhead for around 20 years. Some incidental and small treaty harvest has occurred in that time, but all objective evidence indicates that harvest is not limiting ANY PS wild steelhead run at this time.

    The way you recover a depressed anadromous fish run is to reduce or eliminate the limiting factor. Doesn't that seem self evident? If harvest is not the limiting factor, and virtually 100% of the fisheries biologists knowledgeable about WA state steelhead agree that harvest is not the limiting factor for PS steelhead, then how will closing the rivers, more than they already are closed, help the populations recover?

    The Wind River is a different kind of case. If terminating hatchery steelhead stocking and going to CNR correlates with increased population abundance, then that means that hatchery steelhead and harvest MAY have been causative, but DOES NOT prove those variables actually were the causative, or limiting, factors. If you know a little about science you know that correlation does not prove causation. Specific tests are necessary to determine causation.

    Getting rid of hatchery steelhead production on the Skagit would contribute to a healthier wild steelhead populaton, no doubt. However we know that hatchery introgression among the wild population is significant, but limited. So any victory would necessarily be equally limited, unless your yardstick is emotional, rather than rational. It could be a step to a healthier wild run, but a healthier step would be the identification of the proximate cause of present day low early marine survival. No other causative factor so limits the steelhead abundance except egg to fry survival.

    Yes, it is my opinion. But ask around. I think you'll find that mine is a highly informed opinion, based on the best of what we know about steelhead biology, ecology, and harvest management.


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