Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Slow Death of Steelheading

WDFW is trying to kill steelheading in Washington. Its death by a million cuts, every few years we loose a little more fishing opportunity, until one day....wham. The door slams shut and we realize we have a month long season to fish over a few tightlipped, shit kicking, 6 lb chambers creek fish every year. What is this world coming to!? For the 2010 rule change cycle the department decided that closing the rivers on Feb 28th (a month earlier than almost every river in Oregon) wasn't enough, they've now proposed bumping back the close of steelhead fishing to Feb 15th shortening our already short window of time to fish for winter fish in Puget Sound by two weeks.

Granted, things have gone to shit around the sound. Thirty years ago, the Puget Sound rivers were literally the premier destination in the Lower 48 for catching gigantic, chrome bright wild steelhead. 50-100 fish seasons were not uncommon on the Sky in the 70s and 80s when they instituted the C&R season, after all the jims went home the few fly fishermen had it to themselves. The year I was born, the Big River saw more than 11,000 wild fish return, this past season, 2500. So how does WDFW respond? Not by taking any action to restore populations of wild fish, not with any foresight or creative solutions. Instead its the age old, reactionary, close the river to all fishing and let the poachers have it bullshit. Steelhead culture is literally dying in Puget Sound. guys work their asses off the entire season around here for 3 fish and celebrate like its their birthday after every one. How many of us are willing to do that? Its either that or drive out to the Coast and crowd in on the last few remaining scraps of our once glorious runs of wild steelhead. Thats not how its supposed to be!

And now this, straight outta Seattles one and only daily news rag,

"Because preseason forecasts for returns to the Skagit River Basin are down this year, additional fishing closures to protect wild steelhead also are likely this spring," said Bob Leland, a state Fish and Wildlife steelhead program manager.

That may include the catch-and-release fisheries in the Skagit and Sauk.

Cold March Evening on the Big Tributary

...I know she was a hold out but shes one hell of a river. Shoot I'll come right out and say it, I love her. and now they're gonna take it away. They're spooked cause they dont know a damn thing about how many fish are coming back. Last year they predicted 7000 and got back 2500 who didn't see that coming? Once its gone, it never comes back. Just look at the Sky. Closed up shop for C&R in 2003 and hasn't opened since. At the beginning they said, "oh we'll open it up as soon as the escapements come back up." Well the status quo went right on, and where are we now? Record low escapements two years running and not a damn thing changes in how we manage those rivers. Hatchery fish in, nets at the mouth, jims pound reiter and everyones happy right? puke

We're managing the legendary S Rivers as hatchery rivers, and its not working. Every year WDFW dumps millions of salmon and steelhead smolts into them for dismal returns, meanwhile the rivers close Feb 28th once the hatchery return wraps up and they shrug their shoulders as though they haven't the foggiest why ocean survival is so low.

So they close the rivers when the wild fish are around, and frankly who gives a shite about fishing for chambers creek fish? Instead of robust runs of wild fish starting at christmas and lasting through April, we get a 4 week window in December to target hatchery fish. They blow right through all the fly fishable water on the lower river and sit right in the terminal areas where Jim and his 200 best friends stand shoulder to shoulder hucking borax cured nutsacks at them until they give up on their worthless lives and bite. Thats what we're managing for....and its not even working well. Annually ocean survival on Puget Sound hatchery steelhead is in the neighborhood 1%. That means for 400,000 fish out, we get 4000 fish back. Thats fishing welfare goddamit and I want answers.

Like why we allowed harvest until 2001 when stocks in the area were in the middle of an apparently irreversible nosedive? Two years later the Sky was closed in March, probably forever. Its as though WDFWs mentality is either harvest, or no fishing. Look at Oregon. Harvest is allowed on two or three rivers but the rest of the state stays open for C&R because people like catching and releasing wild steelhead dammit. Now the same thing is happening on the Peninsula. We continue to allow harvest on the few remaining "healthy" populations, despite the fact that the Hoh has missed its escapement goal more times in the last decade than not and most runs are shadows of their historic abundance. I'll bet 100 dollars there wasn't a SINGLE river on the westside that made its escapement goal for wild winter steelhead in 2008. If it did, the escapement goal is too low. Thats how bad things have gotten.

Its time for things to seriously change if we want a chance at ever fishing for wild steelhead again. How many of us spend hours daily day dreaming about the next useless spey rod, or overpriced Hardy reel we'll buy when our wild fish are literally disappearing from under us? Guess what fellas, when there aren't any fish left all that shit is irrelevant.

Without the wild fish there is no steelhead culture, hatchery fish just cant do it. That scene at reiter or the cascade or fortson isn't steelheading, its meat harvesting and I want nothing to do with it. Never will frankly. I dont go to the river to smell some dudes dip spit and stand in line to stand on my designated rock. I know and respect plenty of gear fishermen and frankly none of them fish in terminal areas....ever.

So this is what its come down to, time to take our rivers back. Sport fishermen have long been happy to sacrifice for the cause of wild recovery, now WDFW show me the wild recovery. Until you walk the walk I call bullshit. We can't engineer our way out of this one, no hatchery will bring them back. Wild is the Future, and dont forget it.

Pure Chrome Brilliance Boy. That aint no Chambers Creeker

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