The Skagit River has the largest wild winter steelhead population of all Puget Sound rivers. From a low point in the late 2000’s of only a few thousand returning fish, Skagit River steelhead have rebounded to current averages near 8,500 wild returning fish, in part due to the extinguishing of hatchery planted fish and intact quality spawning habitat.
Currently WDFW regulations dictate closing of the river on January 31st. We’re fortunate enough to have the Skagit in our backyard and spend a fair amount of days fishing during December and January over the past few seasons. While there are nowhere near the number of fish in the system during this early season, swinging prime water can be productive.
An opening of a spring catch and release season would be a wonderful boon to the local economy and for anglers dealing with dwindling runs and limited opportunity elsewhere in Washington state. But the big questions remain, can we as anglers limit our impacts in a sustainable way and can the Skagit River steelhead run withstand the additional pressure from anglers and tribal net fisheries which would also operate if a spring season were to come to fruition.
A good deal of talk and action regarding the potential opening of a spring catch and release season spearheaded by the Occupy Skagit grassroots movement has led the WDFW, Skagit River System Cooperative and the three treaty based tribes(Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe) to draft and submit a Proposed Evaluation Pending Determination of the Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan, which outlines both a tribal harvest fishery and the catch and release sport fishery targeting wild steelhead.
The National Marine Fisheries Services is accepting public comments regarding the proposed management plan through January 8th. It is important that anglers who fish the Skagit River and care about the future of Washington’s wild steelhead weigh in with comments and concerns for the potential re-opening of this fishery. We urge you to click through the links presented here, digest the information, make an informed comment and let the NMFS hear your voice for the future of the Skagit river steelhead fishery.