Steelhead Anglers Gear Upby Greg Johnston
With rivers around Western Washington finally dropping into favorable shape after the heavy rains of last week's tropical punch, anglers are seeing the steelhead season transition from hatchery to wild runs.
"I'm seeing mostly wild fish now, but there are definitely some hatchery fish left," said Tom Mathews, state catch sampler on the north coast's Quillayute system.
Several hatchery drifts produced good fishing over the weekend as the rivers began dropping, including the lower Cascade River, the Fortson Hole on the North Fork Stillaguamish, and the lower Wallace River and the Reiter Ponds drift on the Skykomish system. A shot of fish also barreled into the Tokul Creek hatchery on the Snoqualmie.
It's likely to be the last big shot of hatchery fish. Anglers are also reporting seeing many more dark and/or spawned out hatchery fish now, as well as fish trucked downstream and recycled back to the river from hatcheries where they are not needed for spawning (often marked with a hole punched in the gill plate).
On the coast, all three of the main Quillayute system tributaries should be good bets as waters continue to drop. The Hoh to the south is still turbid and in poor fishing shape, as is the main Quinault and to a lesser extent the Queets. The Humptulips to the south should be a good prospect, though it was high and murky yesterday. The Wynooche is also high but has begun producing fish for plunkers (still fishermen who do best during high water). The Satsop should start producing fish soon. Further south, a few fish have been reported in the Willapa and Naselle, both rain- and spring-fed rivers that drop fast.
With the wild fish moving in, there appears to be confusion on the rivers about a new annual limit that took effect Jan. 1. Approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission last September, it establishes a seasonal limit of one wild steelhead (any with an intact adipose fin) on the 11 rivers left in Washington where wild winter steelhead may be killed.
Some anglers apparently believe the limit is one fish in each of the 11 rivers. That's not the case. You may retain only one wild steelhead per season period, taken in any of those 11 rivers. The season runs April 1, 2004, through March 31, so any wild steelhead taken after March 31, 2005, counts toward next season's limit.
The 11 rivers are the Bogachiel, Calawah, Clearwater, Dickey, Goodman Creek, Hoh, Hoko, Pysht, Quillayute, Quinault and Sol Duc.
It is a contentious issue among anglers, many of whom release any wild steelhead they catch in the interest of conservation.
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