SULTAN, Wash. – The battle to save a Pacific Northwest icon in Puget Sound waters has one local power company asking the state to rethink the opening day for the fishing season.
Because of a rule change, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife opened the season in most areas Memorial Day weekend but, that means endangered steelhead may have been placed in angler’s crosshairs during their critical spawning season.
“I’ve heard people call these are the fish of a thousand casts,” said angler Gary Keaton. “Sometimes that’s how many casts you have to make to catch one.”
Keaton has been fishing the Skykomish River for decades and he says the fish aren’t biting like they used to.
“The salmon and steelhead runs are pretty small now though,” he said. “It’s not like 20 years ago.”
“Last year was a record low year, this year the situation is more dire than last year,” said Keith Binkely, manager of natural resources at Snohomish County PUD.
But this year, because of a state-wide rule change at WDFW, the opening day began earlier than in some years' past.
According to the Snohomish County PUD, that also meant putting at risk a large portion of steelhead returning to spawn up the Sultan River.
“Close to 20% of the run could be impacted with an early opener,” said Binkley.
The PUD had asked the state to delay the opener, to give the steelhead a head start but WFDW says the county asked too late.
“We’re not anti-fishing, by no means,” said Binkley.
The PUD has spent millions on environmental projects along the Sultan River to give spawning steelhead a fighting chance. Now, the county agency is already in talks with WDFW to make sure the next open season takes closer account for steelhead runs along the Sultan.
“We’re looking at getting something in place for next year,” said Binkley. “It will probably mean that we’ll get with other like-minded folks to have that changed in the interest of conservation and steelhead recovery.
Steelhead is endangered in our waters and is Washington’s official fish.
Both agencies vow to continue coordinating on when anglers should be able to get a bite of the action – as long as steelhead have the advantage.
“If we keep taking all our steelhead and salmon away, there’s going to be nothing left in another 20 years,” said Keaton.