100,000 historically for the Skagit system isnt that wild of a number when you consider the NF Stilly used to get 60,000 to 90,000 summer runs a year, and is a much smaller river


Active Member
Stily stalker-
Historically there was limited summer steelhead habitat in the Stillaguamish basin - the Deer Creek basin and the forks of the Canyon Creek. While I'm sure that historic habitat was nearly ideal for producing steelhead it is very hard to image that the combined summer runs ever averaging much more than 3,000 adults for any period of time.

That 60,000 t0 90,000 steelhead number for Stillaguamish was an estimate based on the steelhead commercial catches from I believe the late 1800s. There always serious questions about the creditability of those kinds of estimates (especially for steelhead). Always questions about river of origin of the catch and even species. I think that the lack of similar "spectacular" catch estimates from the same era for the Skagit and/or Snohomish systems raises some questions. One would have thought that there would have been similar commercial fisheries on those near by basins. Golfman's estimate of 100,000 for the Skagit is the first I have heard of such numbers which is why I asked where it came from.

Tight lines


Ignored Member

I have read that the historical average for the Deer Creek run was at 2000 fish. Is this accurate? Also I have read many estimates for the Skagit steelhead run. Some putting the historical numbers as high as 40,000 and others saying it was more like 20,000. Are either of these estimates accurate?



Rob Allen

Active Member
From what I have been told ( anecdotaly) from a reliable but anonymous source with first hand knowledge The number of wild steelhead caught and released in the Skagit river is not an indicator of the number of fish in the system. Many fish caught are the same fish getting caught and released over and over again.

Now this speaks greatly to the catch and release ethic BUT how many times do we really want to be catching and releasing the same fish in a season???

I personally think that if a river drops below 75% escapement goal is should be closed permanently and all hatchery operations ceased as well as all harvest operations until the river has recovered to 125% of escapement goal..

OK so the 125% of goal shows what I think about escapement goals...


Ignored Member
WDFW juggles a different set of criteria as to whether there is a C&R season than their Canadian brethren. First, there is an agreed upon minimum escapement of around 6,000 fish that they have agreed upon with the tribes. If their forecast based on previous years run's do not meet this then there will be no C&R season. That is the case this year. There should not be any native netting targetting the nate's either.
1st, I took the last 2 days of last year's season off and fished the Skagit. On the last day it was open I fished along side a gill netter. I didn't see them catch anything but I only witnessed one pull. I didn't catch anything either. So the idea that there was no nets targetting wild steelhead is bull shit. I doubt there were many hatchery steelhead in the lower river February 15th. Whether or not they continued to net after the sport closure I cannot tell you. Second and my memory is likely wrong but 20 years ago the escapement was 12,000 fish. A few years ago it was 8,000 fish. Now, it is set at 6,000 fish. What is driving this drop in escapement numbers over the years? I will leave this at that but there seems to be a problem with setting the escapement levels.


Active Member
The "historical" or current "average" is only one part of the equation...runs were likely quite variable in the past as they are today...we just have little data to know this. While I think it is hard to say (and even folks looking at cannery records aren't saying this) that the "historical" run was always 60,000 on the Stilly, a simple math exercise suggests this isn't too implausible. We know that freshwater smolt production has been drastically reduced due to habitat damage. We also know that marine survival is currently as low as we have ever observed. If we start with 60,000 smolts and multiply take 2% smolt to adult survival we come up with 1200 fish, which is not far off from some of the recent runs of summer+winter fish in both forks and the mainstem stilly lets say that before habitat destruction the smolt production was double what it is now on average, not an unreasonable assumption...120, assume marine survival was 30%, which is not unreasonable for the best of years historically, considering that even recently, in the 80's we saw marine survivals of 20-25% in some regional stocks. That would result in an adult run of 36,000 back to the stilly....although not exactly 60,000, my point is that it is in the same ballpark (order of magnitude, etc)...given slight tweaking of the hypothetical numbers i used, one could easily hit 60,000 on the head, suggesting that numbers plausibly could have been that high at some points in the past, but weren't necessarily every year.
If I remember the tribes stopped netting when NOAA closed our season down last year Feb 15th -

So what your saying is that anglers catch the same fish over and over many times - and your ethic problem is? Seems to me that your source would prove that CnR is working and that the mortality is very low - much lower that the est 10% the state goes by today?
If I remember the tribes stopped netting when NOAA closed our season down last year Feb 15th -
Nets were in towards the end of the run targeting spring chinook. Almost 100 wild steelhead were killed last year- way over their allowable take. Woops, there goes 2.5% of the 2010 run stuck in a fucking gill net...


Ignored Member
Chris, thanks for the information but my point was mainly to state that those nets were after wild fish. I was fishing below Lyman. Now I know there may be a stray hatchery fish or two down there mid Feb. but come on. They were after the same fish I was after; mid river spawners and early wilds.
nutsack - I did not know they got those fish in the Spring Chinook fishery - I will check that out Thanks.

Kerry well put - with the trend of good early wild returns those nets do target the wild fishery. I was below Lyman yesterday and it looked and fished well - Nothing yet

Thanks gents


Active Member
Nets were in towards the end of the run targeting spring chinook. Almost 100 wild steelhead were killed last year- way over their allowable take. Woops, there goes 2.5% of the 2010 run stuck in a fucking gill net...
Yep, I saw this too in May of 09 during a canoe trip near Hamilton. One net pull I saw had about 5 darker steelhead in it along with a couple chrome spring chinook. In this instance the steelhead take > springer take which was the target species.

I also agree about the drop in escapement being questionable. I can't believe the bar is now set so low that 6000 fish is not only acceptable, but they have the audacity to use it as a "goal". In a system the size of the Skagit, 6000 fish should be seen as a benchmark for failure, not success. I know habitat is limiting productivity, but that doesn't mean the bar should keep being lowered to accommodate.


Well-Known Member
As Smalma points out, there are problems with the old catch data suggesting a 60,000 steelhead runsize to the Stilly. Much of the harvest came from fish traps located in saltwater, so the fish caught were likely returning to a number of different rivers. However, the best information does suggest that historic productivity was many times greater than what we see today. Weirs operated by USFWS on tributary streams in the early 20th century, which frequently washed out during freshets, still suggest runs as much as 10 times greater than any we have counted since.

The Skagit steelhead escapement goal is problematic no matter how you cut it. When there was no escapement goal, it was OK to allow general harvest down to an escapement insufficient to barely seed the habitat. The harvest closures begun in 1977 allowed the run to bounce back. And it did bounce. Between 6,000 and 16,000, although the higher number occurred only once. An escapement goal of 10,000 was set by WDG (WDFW) using a habitat estimator, but the tribes didn't agree to it. Nonetheless, it was a useful target that allowed the run to demonstrate its productivity under contemporary habitat conditions. As a data set was developed, and it was pretty clear that runs of 20,000 weren't really going to happen, the tribes and the state negotiated an escapement goal based on spawner-recruit performance. And MSY/MSH escapement goal falls in the range close to 4,000 spawners, and the co-managers agreed to use 6,000 as a hedge. Smalma recalls the details leading to this better than I.

6,000 steelhead spawners doesn't seem like a whole lot for a river system as large as the Skagit. This particularly puzzling when one considers that the Quilayute system regularly achieves 8,000 or more, and even the Queets gets that number at times, although it's often closer to half that. And those wild runs are harvested much more intensively than the Skagit, where the wild steelhead harvest has seldom exceeded 1,000 fish in the last 30 years. Among the things we've learned is that coastal rivers are more productive of steelhead than Puget Sound rivers, and maybe that has always been the case. The Skagit and other Puget Sound tributaries have had lots of protection from major steelhead harvest effects these past 30 years, so if they had the habitat productivity to produce significantly larger steelhead runs, harvest was not a factor preventing that from happening. Unfortunately I think what we are seeing are river systems producing at their best under current freshwater and marine habitat conditions. Why steelhead smolts that are 6-8" long cannot survive as at high a percent as pink salmon fry that are less than 2" long has me extremely puzzled these days, that's for sure.


stewart dee

I don't follow all the numbers and guessing games by the official dummies in charge. I do know that when I fish the Skagit, Sauk system the number of aggressive Dollies seem to be growing. Is it just that the habitat structure of the system is becoming a battle zone and the Dollies are out numbering the smolt? Then in the lower system - just like the Sky (about 5 min. from my house) the number of birds and seals in the river is increasing over the years. I know that some say that Dollies spell a good clean environment. But hell that is one heck of a gauntlet to get through before the salt predators. I think its weird that you can fish the coast, sky, stilly and other small rivers all day and sometimes not even touch a Dollie. Fishing the Skagit the past few years seems to have its frustrations with trying to get a fly trough a run without 4 or 10 Dollies pounding the fly. Not sure if I am right but it seems the predator Dollie seems to take a big toll on the little guys. Shoot the Chum had a heck of a time with the Dollies this season, I seen the little guys raiding reds after a fresh egg drop. Like I said it could be over harvest, clear-cutting, the saltwater conditions etc. but are these little Dollies causing an impact?


Sorry to get back to this so got in the way..Kerry I was talking about the skagit and just looked for the link sent out by WSC but can't find it where I normally save it...should be on their website though. Talked about in march how they ( guides, tribes and wdfw) target steelhead for scale samples to see their genetic source etc. They said 4000 fish were sampled....
Again, look at their site as it should be on there...

The person who I hope chims in would be Mike Kinney and hopefully this won't put him on the spot or anything but could clarify what exactly they were doing and the numbers....I asked him and he said he was there for one of the days.

You guys know that river a helluva lot better then I do, i've only scratched the surface of it....I was probably blowing smoke out my butt with the 100,000 estimate from reading the article, "fishing for crumbs" that came out a year or two ago and talked about what it was like fishing back even in the 90's when the run's were much larger. I thought he said the skagit run at one time was estimated at 100-120,000 fish and is now down to below 10,000 and dropping.....That could be totally my fault on interpretation...