I'll be in Portland at the end of May this year and was planning to fish in southwest Washington for the spring run summmer steelhead on the Lewis, Kalama, Washougal or Wind. What is the current health of these fisheries?
well thats a long story indeed. The best records i am aware of come from the Washougal river.
during the early part of the 1900's the Washougal watershed was really being exploited and devastated as were most of the other rivers in SW Washington. It was heavily logged, mined, and damed in 3 places. alsp splash dams were used as a method of transporting timber downriver. on top of that the upper reaches of the river were devastated by two large forest fires. The a little later in the centruy a paper mill was built at the rivers mouth which dumped it's untreated afluent into the river and into the 1950's the river had a consistent summer run that was estimated by index pool counts to be 1500 fish strong , the actual population was likely much higher..
in 1964 the Skamania hatchery started operations, within a few years the washougal rocketed to the top of the charts for steelhead harvest and stayed in the top 5 every year well into the 70's.. However it wan't long before some anglers started to notice a shift in the steelhead population. the size of the fish became more uniform and their behavior changed, instead of lingering in the river and holding in oxeygenated pocket water the fish would rocket upriver and hold in just a few deep pools below the hatchery by the hundreds making easy sport for snaggers.
at this time wild steelhead harvest was allowed and was not banned until 1985!!! One of the largest opponents to wild steelhead release regulations was the association of northwest steelheaders! during the 1980's the clark skamania flyfishers concerned about wild steelhead stocks in the Washougal began doing surveys of the river and found that wild steelhead populations were VERY low.
Since 1985 the Washougal inspite of vastly improved habitat and wild steelhead regulations is seeing little or no increase in the populations of wild summer steelhead.. This leads me to believe that interactions with hatchery steelhead are washougal wild summer runs single biggest problem. Especially in light of increased wild summer runs on the Wind river where hatchery plants ceased about 6-7 years ago.
certainly every thing we do to our rivers has an affect of the fish but in the case of southwest washington streams , I think hatchery interactions are the single biggest factor contributiong to poor summer steelhead runs...
Rob hit it on the head. I have fished SWW waters for the last five years and have only caught one native winter fish and no summers. It came from the South Toutle where there are no hatchery winter plants.
Regardless there should be some fish available in May and I plain on looking for them first hand. The Kalama is probably your best bet, but there will be fish in the Cowlitz and North Fork Lewis as well. There are nice runs in the Cow to fish but the Lewis is lacking. Still there are hatchery fish worth looking for. Good luck!
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