These are hallowed waters. Rivers carved by the relentless power of glaciers. Born of the rawness of continental uplift, earthquakes, vulcanism, and the force of water, gravity and erosion. Where mountains tower over like Greek Titans, guarding the river that serves as their artery, their connection to the vast productivity of the North Pacific feeding grounds.
Over the last tenthousand years, as glaciers receeded, valleys formed and rivers became stable in their sinuous channels, salmon and other species have colonized, adapted and filled every niche of these watersheds. The deep bodied, prehistoric looking summer chinooks, abundant pinks, lacustrine and riverine sockeye, hooknosed coho and ferocious, striped chum salmon all call these hallowed waters home. Returning annually or in some cases biannually to seed their next generation in the waters of their fore bearers and deposit their offspring and bodies back into the lifeblood of the river.
A fine specimen from an unsurpassed race of fish
Steelhead, however are the species which draw the most committed following of fly anglers to the banks of these mighty rivers. From the bright and cheerful steelhead who call the canyon waters home to the deep, silvery fish of February and March. Steelhead, which have for more than 80 years defined the tradition of angling for anadromous fish in these waters. This is a special race of steelhead. Large, bright, and aggressive the steelhead of the large rivers of Puget Sound are unsurpassed among the many races of winter steelhead. On rivers named for the long forgotten Native bands, pioneering anglers have in many ways defined steelhead fishing in our state on these hallowed waters. The likes of Ralph Wahl, Roderick Haig Brown, Wes Drain, Enos Bradner and many more were some of the first to fly fish for steelhead on these legendary streams.
Today however the rivers of the greater Puget Sound area, the cradles that gave birth to many of our modern steelhead traditions have fallen on hard times. Urbanization, development, forestry, agriculture, hatcheries, and harvest have all withered once mighty runs of steelhead to only a few thousand per year. As recently as the 1950s as many as 30,000 wild winter steelhead returned annually to the Skagit system, last year only 2500. This year the Skagit closed February 16th to protect our few remaining wild fish, while the other rivers of the Puget Sound area closed February 18th. These Rivers, with their magnificent wild steelhead, unsurpassed beauty and raw, hydrologic might have come to a cross roads. As anglers who devote our lives to understanding and enjoying these systems we must stand up for our beloved wild steelhead. The status quo has and will continue to fail in Puget Sound and swift action is needed to restore the once mighty steelhead to their proper place. It is time to prioritize that which has nourished our sporting traditions, and our souls as anglers: wild steelhead, wild country, home waters and wild fish. These are hallowed grounds.