Skagit to Skagit

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by _WW_, Feb 2, 2008.

  1. Now that I have a better understanding, albeit incomplete, of the Skagit management practices in regard to wild steelhead I do have some thoughts on the future. As always trying to figure out how to have your cake and eat it too presents problems, compromises, and outrage from someone. Change is always difficult and all too often slow in coming.

    I am not affiliated with any group, coalition, government agency, club, sport fishing equipment manufacturer, or conservation entity.
    I’m just a guy with a fishing pole.
    Over the years I have discovered that I have a very low tolerance for bureaucratic red tape and often seek the path of least resistance. Probably a fault, but in this instance it might be useful.
    In my limited dealings with WDFW I have never found them to be resistant to sport fishermen suggesting more restrictive regulation changes. Sport fishermen on the other hand are highly resistant to these types of changes even as they complain of the poor quality of their fishing. Where is the path of least resistance?

    I offer up the following as my own thoughts. I claim no originality of them per se, and if they are something you thought of first, then congratulations all around are in order as we are on the same page. Also, the following does not necessarily reflect my opinions, prejudices, or own personal needs. Nor is it designed to affix or imply blame at anyone for anything. It is presented merely as a study to begin the search for an alternative to the status quo using what is available to us now as much as possible.

    First, in regard to the tribal harvest, this is a fact that will not go away unless the tribes or congress effect change. For now these fish numbers need to be pushed over next to those containing the numbers of poor marine survival, flood loss, poaching, etc. And it is important to remember, if the steelhead runs increase, so will the harvest by the Tribes.

    To increase the size of future returns will, as a matter of course, require cooperation. Not from the Tribes, but from the fish. Those fish available to help would be the 50% of the harvestable surplus available to the recreational angler. What makes the task even more formidable is that only a portion of our 50%, are wild fish.
    The situation is unique. Our only allies being the very victims themselves.

    What do we do?
    How do we do it?

    What we can do is resolutely manage the fish available to us in an aggressive and decisive manner.

    How we do it is by setting aside all other agendas until a goal is reached.

    I know you’ve all heard that before so I would like to offer up some specifics.

    Let’s list what we have to work with.
    1. Wild Steelhead
    2. A hatchery
    3. WDFW
    4. A river system
    5. Us – the sport fishermen

    At first glance I think that covers it but some others could reveal themselves as we move along.

    Step 1.
    Close the river system to sport fishing. For how long I cannot say but for the purpose of this discussion let’s pick a period of five years. The Tribes will keep fishing; the closure is for the sport fishermen. Why close it? There are several good reasons for a closure. Probably the most important reason is to allow the WDFW biologists a period of study. Secondly, a closure will ease pressure on our only allies, the wild steelhead. Liken it to stepping back and taking a deep breath if you will.

    In conjunction with this closure the hatchery production needs to continue as if there is no closure. Why? For the purposes of tribal allocation there is no distinction between hatchery and wild fish. It is simply a numbers game for them. To help the wild fish during this five year closure we need to make an attempt to slant their harvest towards the hatchery fish as much as possible.

    Can a sport fishing closure be viable from an enforcement perspective? Ask any enforcement officer and he will tell you what they have told me. No fishing is easier to enforce than the plethora of regulations in force when fishing is allowed.

    Does everyone else sit idle during this closure? No. We now have a five year window to make preparations for opening day.

    Step 2.
    Reopen the river system under new sport fishing guidelines. Aggressive management is required here, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for less. We just have to do our fishing differently than we did before the closure.
    A. No wild steelhead retention allowed. Nothing new here.
    B. Fishing from any floating device prohibited. The idea here is to let the fish have the middle of the river and confine all fishing to fishing from the bank. In exchange for this more restrictive rule we need more public bank access. Maybe something on the order of every ½ or ¾ mile would be sufficent. This may seem like excessive bank access but keep in mind for all intents and purposes the Skagit and Sauk are un-crossable. In many areas all that would be required is a little bit of shoulder instead of a mile long guardrail next to the road. In other areas property or rights of way will need to be purchased or leased to cut down on the instances of trespassing. An added benefit of more access for us is more access for enforcement.
    It’s going to take money and time to do this. The time part of the equation is easy, we have a five year closure to work with. As for the financing, read on.
    C. Taking a page from out northern neighbors we designate the Skagit and Sauk systems as classified waters and charge $10-$20 a day to fish them. People will balk at this because it is new but it is a win-win situation. If they refuse to pay and go elsewhere it results in less pressure on the resource. If they do pay they are helping to finance the formidable task of getting more bank access created.
    D. Create exclusion zones. Not in the marine environment where the battle for it cannot be won, but in the river itself. I once fished a small trout stream in PA that had such a policy. Every 1,000 yards or so was a well posted, 300 yard no fishing zone. After adjusting for the scale of the river, these safe havens could be established on the Skagit and Sauk at the discretion of WDFW biologists. Among other things this would allow them to exclude sensitive areas at major tributary mouths from fishing.

  2. Something I'd like to know about closing a river system. What about the Sky and Stilly rivers? They've been closed for fishing after February for a few years now. The tribes haven't been netting, and I do believe the Stillys always had nets out in late Janurary and the Tulalips I don't think they have ever fished the river hard. Has there been an significent increase in the wild fish? Especially the Stilly which has been closed after Feb. longer than the Sky
  3. The problem with your proposal is that these things...

    Areas open to fishing
    Making the "middle of the river" inaccessible to fishermen

    ...wouldn't help the fish one iota.

    The main limiting factors on Skagit/Sauk wild steelhead are habitat concerns and marine conditions. Very, very few fish are taken directly, or indirectly, by fishermen...tribal or sport.

    Probably less than 5% of the steelhead are ever "in the middle of the river"...they're all on the banks, anyway. Closing the river to boat fishing looks like a very thinly-veiled attempt to make it harder for non-flyfishers to fish the Skagit, while not affecting flyfishers in the least.

    "Ask any enforcement officer and he will tell you what they have told me. No fishing is easier to enforce than the plethora of regulations in force when fishing is allowed."

    In my years working with Enforcement at the State, and many more years fishing and talking with them, they've all told me exactly the opposite...closed waters are poacher waters, and due to the lack of numbers of enforcement officers, closed waters get no enforcement.

    A couple of fishing regulation changes that make sense for the Skagit, in my opinion, should include starting the CnR season on March 1, rather than March 15, which is when it changes over in many areas.

    The CnR season weeds out many anglers who don't want to fish in them, and also seems to attract a more conscientious and conservation minded who is less likely to fish over redds, or mishandle a fish.

    Next, the selective gear regulations (no bait, no barbs) should start on Feb. 1, rather than March 1 or March 15, depending on the area, as it does now. There are very, very few hatchery fish around by then, and most of them are up in the Cascade River proper by then, anyway, so there's little need for bait and barbs.

    The benefits of that are twofold...just as with the CnR season, the angler makeup changes when the selective gear regulations kick in...less pressure, and less poor handling of fish. While studies have shown that having bait, or not, has little effect on the mortality of released adult steelhead, the presence or lack of a barb does...going barbless is better for the fish, and certainly isn't required to hook or land them.

    Fish on...

  4. A few tweaks.......

    No bait after Jan. 1 and barbless hooks year round. No more hatchery steelhead, none. It is a failed hatchery program causing far more harm then good.

    I like tha idea of increased fees or additional permits to fish the Skagit/Sauk. Its going to happen sooner or later.
  5. Smalma submitted rule change suggestions last cycle similar to what's mentioned above.
  6. do you guys seriously think they will eventually charge a fee to fish a public waterway? maybe increase boat launch fees or a seperate wdfw parking decal fee increase ?? it just doesnt sit right with me to pay a daily fee to fish on water that is a public right of way.
  7. Bhudda, I agree with you. However, for too long now, I've felt guilty in spending so much money on my fishing gear and trips, and putting so little money towards the actual fishery. I'd be happy to pay $5 every day I went fishing (which would be about $400-$500 a year) if I knew that money was going to something useful. I'd pay $10 a day if I knew I was fishing a steelhead stream that actually had some steel in it!
  8. My major objection to the suggestions (not counting that long-line bait and net strip-mining of the ocean will continue without opposition) is that at some time during the five-year river closure, I will either commit suicide or be institutionalized for deep clinical depression.
  9. I wouldn't mind a fee like something added to the cost of a license just for steelhead, but I like to fish for cutts down around town here. Some years when the levels are right I'll be out 3-4 times a week. Also I fish for salmon too. 10-20 bucks a trip would be adding up pretty fast. I'd rather give my money the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement, at least that goes to habitat improvement. A daily fee wouldn't go over very well. Neither would closing the whole Skagit Sauk system. At the way things are now it wouldn't really put anymore fish in the river. Improve river habitat, and try to find out why ocean survival is low. Tweak the regs some maybe close it after March and leave the spawners alone in April.
  10. right now the idea of giving more money or any money to the state is kinda rediculous imo. because the track record of money management these days is poor, and to think they are really allocating all the monies givin by us to 'said topic' then i see wool coming over my eyes:)
  11. I was at the hearing in Olympia this morning regarding the States Steelhead Management Plan. There is considerable momentum it seems to make the Skagit a "Wild Steelhead management zone". How sweet would it be to have zero hatchery program in the Skagit. Wouldn't be a magic bullet, but it would go a long way towards helping those fish recover. Todd, where were you today, I figured youd be there?

  12. Hey, Will...glad the meeting went well, I've been getting pretty good reports all day.

    Unfortunately I had to work today, so no meeting for me...I submitted my comments last week via e-mail and snail mail, and had my usual input into the WSC's official comments...we had a handful of board members down there to deliver those official WSC comments, so it didn't fall to me to do it this time.

    I think the Skagit system's hatchery production is slated to be cut in half next year...

    Fish on...

  13. Just keep in mind that when/if hatchery fish "go away", tribal netting will be targeted 100% on wild fish...
  14. There's NO WAY I would support a daily fee. Maybe an additional yearly fee of some kind, but not a daily one. I think BC charges an extra fee to retain steelhead.
    If the hatchery program goes away, then the harvestable number of fish goes way down. Wouldn't that greatly reduce the number of fish the tribes are allowed to take? People would bitch, but I'd like to see a stream go without hatchery plants for a few years. Not so related to the Skagit, but I'd like to see them stop planting streams that don't have a hatchery or rearing pond to collect the adults. The Sauk would be a prime example.
    Going barbless would have my support.
    I also disagree about closed rivers being easier to enforce. There's very little enforcement to go around. Honest anglers with cell phones are the best enforcement tool out there. And any additional fees or non-fishing zones are going to require more enforcement.
  15. Todd,

    I would have to agree with your suggested regulation changes concerning C&R and hooks.

    In another thread concerning netting the Skagit, I was told that I “would be amazed” at how many steelhead are taken each year even though it is illegal. However, with a closure another variable can be eliminated while the limiting factors you mentioned are studied.

    My personal experiences fishing gear from a sled and drift boat would indicate otherwise. I also have done very well fishing gear from the bank. However, if what you say is true, then fishing gear from the bank would increase the fisherman’s odds of a hookup. The rule change would in effect be doing them a favor.

    I must admit, posted on a fly fishing forum as it is, that could be one’s first impression. Next time you go to the river fish your favorite fly run with gear and discover how easy it is to do.

    Years ago I attended a meeting at the fire-hall in Oso concerning the Deer Creek fish that were in trouble because of angling pressure and low water conditions. Two enforcement officers told us all that a closure of that area would be the easiest for them to enforce. If you fish, you are busted. It doesn’t get any easier than that. As for closed waters getting no enforcement, what a travesty. The solution for that is obvious.

    Nooksac Mac,

    Come now, there are worse things you could suffer from for five years. Prison, the stigma of bankruptcy, a nasty divorce, hiccups…


    B.C. charges $20 a day on Class II waters and $40 a day on Class I waters during certain times of the year, C&R fishing included. For instance, the Bulkley River is designated as Class II water from Sept. 1 – Oct. 31 as well as a no angling from boats during specific dates on certain sections of the river.
  16. I agree that closing the system would be hard to enforce due to lack of enforcement officers.... It is also more concerning to me that the enforcement officers are basically never seen in the waters i fish when the wild steelhead are in the river... I see them out when the millions of pinks are in the river or when the hatchery bonkers are all over the cowlitz... or other systems... but how about getting out when the wild steelhead are in the rivers and they are the ones we should be protecting right? I have heard that enforcement officers are sometimes after a quota like the you might see with city cops... i hope this is not the case.

    Maybe if some hatchery programs were removed that would give more money to hire enforcement officers??? As i work for a local government and work closely with state gov't i know how money can be wasted in those agencies...but that is another story that needs to be sorted out with wdfw and not one i want to debate about.

    Maybe we need to form community volunteer enforcement teams... sorta like the commuity teams that report pollution... in local drainages.. they could go out and do daily if not twice dailt patrols of local fishing spots and then if something is seen they could call the wdfw, sheriff or local police... and because everyone knows the system is CLOSED it would be much easier to enforce!
  17. I agree with Kerry on year round single barbless hook restriction on the Skagit/Sauk/Cascade.

    I am opposed to having WA residents paying an additonal fee to fish the Skagit system. BC doesn't charge BC residents an extra fee, it charges non-Canadians the extra $20 or $40 and Canadians who aren't residents of BC half of that (or $10 and $20). We pay for enforcement and fisheries management through our taxes, should we pay a second time per day? I don't think so. Non-WA residents OK, but not WA residents.

    I'd like to see the Sauk, Skagit above the mouth of the Cascade, and the Cascade above the Rockport Sauk Road be wild fish only (no hatchery plants period) conservation zones with C&R, artificial lure, single barbless hook rules for all species. In fact, I sent this in as a proposed rule to WDFW last summer.

    I would also like to see fishing from boats banned on the Sauk, but not the Skagit. The Skagit is such a large river that it makes little sense to me to ban fishing from boats. I would like to see the "no fishing while under power" rule enforced on the Skagit. It has been in place for many years, but I've never seen it enforced.

    Unlike Todd, I don't see banning fishing from a boat on the Sauk as stopping fishing by non-fly fishers. I spent 12 years in Montana and during that complete time nearly all of the Madison from West Branch Bridge to Ennis Lake had a no fishing from boats ban, which it stll has. And there were many non-fly fishers fishing it with spinners with good effect. All such a ban would do is provide the fish with a bit more sanctuary. Good gear fishers would still be good gear fishers and get their share of steelhead bank and wade fishing if fishing from a boat were banned.
  18. My point about banning fishing from boats isn't that gear anglers won't be able to do it...anyone would be able to fish most of the river just fine, whether you're in the boat or not.

    My point is that virtually every fish in that river is accessible from shore, or close to it, already...if you're trying to fish the middle of the Skagit River, you're not likely to be very successful.

    I find plug pulling to be about as exciting as watching paint dry, so it wouldn't bother me any, but guys who do pull plugs would be pretty bummed about such a rule.

    If the point of the proposed rule would be to lessen the pressure on the fish, how about a rule banning fishing unless you *are* fishing from a boat?

    That would sure cut down on the fishing pressure!


    Fish on...

  19. While I dont have a direct objection to this, it has been attempted in other states (such as CA through stamps).

    Unfortuantely, without audits to ensure the money collected is going to the fisheries these funds have a tendancy to get divertied into the general fund, and god knows toward what. An art project in downtown Seattle? (case in point - the striper stamp in the Sacramento river, last time i looked, none had gone toward the fishery - this was several years ago however.)

    My problem is with audit requirement is that it would require more government and more tax mony - which after paying my taxes, I think they have enough of. If we can only get smarter with that, but that is another topic... Seems like we dump a ton of money into broken systems, and the knee jerk reaction is to go to the tax payers and want more (example, our schools which last i looked we ranked 15th in 16 countries in Math). Okay, I'm back on topic now :)

    While I am no biologist, I would think we could make a big difference in just being smarter in the way we manage our fisheries. Not much we can do about marine conditions, and I cringe at taking away the hatcheries (which would just mean less fish in our waters unless someone can provide me with a case study where closing a hatchery has resulted in greater fish returns).

    I think getting smart about our commercial/tribal fishing is an obvious place to start... but then again these are hot topics in todays politics and government, and I dont think we are going to see any politician stand up for what is right at the risk of losing votes.

    Taking a look at each of our sport fishing regulations and restricting bait/barbed hooks, daily/seasonal limits, and seasonal closures (where and when each of these are appropriate for the specific waterway) seem like a good add on in the hopes to improve the numbers of fish in our systems.
  20. The Canadians have had pretty good results with baitless fisheries.

    The theory goes that with baitless fisheries, you don't get the wild fish biting multiple times and getting caught multiple times.

    This means they get their job of spawning done with less molestation and have much more energy.

    I would also like to imagine that a steelhead will "learn" what a fly or lure is and be that much less vulnerable to being caught.

    Bait is bait and some guys are so good with it I think they could catch the same fish over and over, if they knew where it was, but you get the idea.

    I think a regulation change as simple as this coupled with the no hatcheries on the Skagit may show some improvements.

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