The Skagit Blues



Though it wasn’t unexpected, the official announcement still hit like a sucker punch to the guts. Due to disastrously low run projections, the last of the great Puget Sound wild steelhead flyfishing venues will not be open for business this spring. The sand is slipping through our fingers faster than ever. In 2001, when my beloved Skykomish River closed, I suddenly found about 45 extra March and April days on my hands, but I figured it would be temporary. Hasn’t re-opened since. Maybe it was too convenient to simply run north to the Skagit and Sauk. Or west to the Olympic Peninsula and its wild waters protected by the National Park. But now… there’s hardly anywhere to run at all. At least if you want to swing flies for wild winter steelhead in Washington State.

Currently, Puget Sound wild winter steelhead are clinging to existence by a thread. Their population stands between 1.6% and 4% of historical run sizes. Talk about fishing for crumbs! And out west, things are hardly better: The Hoh River has not met escapement goals in 4 of the last 5 seasons, and yet, the tribal and sport harvest of wild steelhead continues. On the steelhead factory known as the Sol Duc, wild fish production is down as well: Last season, the Sol Duc missed escapement goals by 25%. And throughout the state, in spite of evidence showing hatcheries to be detrimental to wild steelhead recovery, we continue to pour millions of tax-payer dollars into these programs with laughably low returns on investment—at a time when we’re closing schools and struggling to provide basic services to citizens….

The only bright spot I can see (and believe me, I’m searching) is the hope that this latest loss of another treasured fishery, and the continued decline of the “healthy” coastal rivers, will function as a wake up call for all who love wild steelhead and have yet to take any action to save them. Along with the incredible sadness I feel for the latest closure and the state of wild steelhead in general, I see an opportunity here for people to pull together and make some real changes. Is this what it will take to motivate us? If the answer is yes, I would suggest contacting the Wild Steelhead Coalition and asking what you can do to help. Thanks for your time, and I will now step off my soap box and return you to regularly scheduled programming.


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