Steelhead fishery set to open on Skagit, Sauk rivers
A catch-and-release steelhead fishery is set to open Friday on portions of the Skagit and Sauk rivers.
The season marks the second opportunity for recreational fishermen to cast their lines for wild steelhead, which were protected from fishing from 2010 to 2017 due to concern about declining numbers of the fish.
Wild steelhead have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2007.
The catch-and-release fishery was reopened for the first time since the closure in April 2018.
“We are excited to again be able to provide anglers with an opportunity to fish for wild steelhead on one of the premier river systems on the West Coast,” Edward Eleazer, regional fish program manager for the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, said in a news release.
The fishery will be open during daylight hours seven days a week from Feb. 1 until April 30, or until the total catch limit of about 660 fish is reached.
Eleazer said the catch limit is based on a 10 percent impact rule, with about 6,600 steelhead expected to return to the Skagit River from Puget Sound this year.
Fishing is authorized in the Skagit River from the Dalles Bridge in Concrete to the Cascade River Road Bridge in Marblemount and on the Sauk River from the river’s mouth to the Sauk Prairie Road Bridge in Darrington.
Fish & Wildlife is also requiring use of single-point barbless hooks to reduce injury to wild steelhead.
All wild steelhead must be released, but fishermen can keep up to two hatchery steelhead — distinguishable by their clipped adipose fin on the top of their body near the tail — per day.
The fishery will be closely monitored and will close when the limit of catches set in the fishery management plan is met.
Fish & Wildlife and area tribes that co-manage the fishery received federal approval in 2018 for a five-year steelhead fishery plan. During those five years, the impact of the fishery will be evaluated.
Ongoing efforts by Fish & Wildlife, tribes and area nonprofits to protect habitat, remove fish passage barriers and improve steelhead survival in the Puget Sound region have resulted in an increased number of wild steelhead returning to the Skagit River watershed in recent years.
About 40 percent of Puget Sound steelhead return to the Skagit River to spawn during the winter, according to the plan for the fishery.
The number of fish returning to the Skagit River has grown from a low of about 2,500 in 2009 to an average of 7,600 in recent years, according to Fish & Wildlife data.
While that remains well below historical numbers, according to Fish & Wildlife, it’s strong enough in the Skagit River to allow some fishing.
For the rules and boat restrictions, visit skagit.ws/steelhead2019.