Thursday, January 7, 2010

Urban Rivers

Over the last 30 years steelhead country has seen unprecedented population growth. Starting in the 1980s and reaching its feverish peak in the last decade or so people have been flocking to the west coast like never before. Pugetropolis is now one of the largest urban areas in the US, The Fraser Valley/Van aren't much better off. As a consequence of all these new McMansions, lawn fertilizer, strip mall parking lots and the other good things that come with people, a lot of once productive rivers have really taken the hose pretty hard. There was a time when the Green and Puyallup were two of the most productive rivers on the west coast, the Skagit wasn't far behind. Depressing to think about how far we've fallen really. Bill McMillan says the Skagit was probaby getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 steelhead in the 1950s. Last year, 2500. Still, up until recently these rivers produced good fishing for the many anglers living in the Puget Sound area and even now, they have their moments, albeit fleeting.

tailing a memorable fish

Its a paradox. Up and down the westcoast, urban rivers are some of the most beloved, oft fished and completely hosed out there. Other than two or three rivers in the Portland area, every river within an hour of a major metro area is majorly degraded. The rivers in Oregon only qualify as partly hosed. Somehow the wild fish hold on in these hardluck rivers and the anglers come, if only because generations of fishermen before them have. Growing up in Pugetropolis I cut my steelhead teeth on a couple of these streams and despite dwindling returns, disgusting amounts of rip rap and knot weed, and the occasional tweaker, I love those systems.

If I was going to move somewhere for quality wild steelhead fishing it might be in BC, but it sure as hell wouldnt be Van. Other than the Cheddar no river in the Lower Mainland gets more than 1000 wild fish annually, urban sprawl has consumed large swaths of most rivers and shite marine survival in the Salish Sea has been the icing on the cake. Somehow the fish keep coming, trickling anymore, but they're there. I've been scouting one little river with a handful of wild fish. Its not stocked with hatchery fish and I couldnt find a single reference to fishing it on google so I figured it might be a good place to check out (it is open to fishing). Plus, the scenery isn't bad and I can get a few hours of fishing in and still make it to work at a reasonable time. Went and scoped things out on Weds before my 2PM class. The river was about the size I'd imagined, steep and fairly confined, it literally tumbles straight out of the mountains into the tidewater. Water was at the low end of being perfect and despite the fact that it was January on a river with only a few hundred fish it actually felt pretty fishy.

Talked to an old timer who said he's been fishing the river since 1972. Of course there were alot more fish then but from the sounds of it he stills gets them every once in a while, at least enough to keep him coming back. And thats just it I guess. The rivers keep us coming back despite all the adversity, shitty news, declining runs and blatant mismanagement. We come back for the river itself, the river which gives life not only to the salmon and trout but to us. The rivers we come to know and love flow through us, the fleeting mist of the february morning, the tumbling rush of the rapid, familiar smells that linger long after we've gone back to the mundane day to day lives. The river's life flows through me, leaves me energized and curious wondering whether that little bucket I found yesterday will fish at higher water, or if we are living at the end of the line for steelhead angling. This is life for many of us. With rivers in Puget Sound closing on the 16th of February this year this passion of ours is feeling pretty fragile. And of course it is. These fish are in trouble and have been for a while, sure things will get better, they always do. Steelhead and Salmon have come back from glaciers, they can come back from this shit. Its just a matter of time and whether we'll be there to soak it all in.

waiting for dawn

Standing in a river not 5 blocks from a highrise condo unit I could have sworn I was in the wilderness. The rapids, moss covered cedars and the dippers were my only company most of the day and despite the long odds I've got a good feeling about that sweet little stream.

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