The Fishing Corner: Opening day for rivers is next week, plan for steelhead

Next Saturday is opening day for rivers, streams and beaver ponds across the state of Washington. This opener sets into motion the freshwater fishery for the 2012-13 season.

Locally, it means anglers will be strategic in their efforts. With respect to beaver ponds, fishers will be after cutthroat trout which are either the product of a former plant, or more likely, the offspring of those fish. Anglers like to try their luck in those rather obscure bodies of water in search of a strike.

When it comes to streams or rivers, most would agree the resident rainbow trout population has been depleted. So, the species of game fish that anglers would be pursuing will be steelhead.

The summer variation of this species is largely dependent upon smolt plants. Some fish do exist in rivers which have accommodated summer steelhead in the past. These are the product of spawned steelhead which have produced a natural lineage of wild fish. No one would say that the actual numbers are significantly large for this option. Therefore, anglers rely greatly upon the plants which occur two years prior to the current fishing season.

The smolts planted for the summer 2013 season took place in 2011. These fish were released at a minimum size of 10 fish per pound. There were actually three river systems in our region, which is considered the Coastal River System, obtaining plants by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The Quillayute River System received a total of 47,124 smolts. These were divided between two rivers in that system. The Sol Duc River obtained 20,000 smolts and the Calawah River received a total of 27,124 fish.

The Humptulips River is the second system in the Coastal category. It receieved 31,405 smolts.

Finally, the Chehalis River System received 61,065 smolts. All these smolts were planted in the Wynooche River. It makes good sense to fish the Chehalis downstream from the mouth of the Wynooche River in addition to the Wynooche itself for these fish.

While these numbers reflect the actual plants in these bodies of water, it does not mean those are the actual numbers for returning fish. These smolts have matured somewhat in the rivers of their origin all the while migrating toward the Pacific Ocean. When they reach the ocean, they begin a feeding frenzy which causes these fish to fully mature. Next, they will return to the river of their planting to spawn and if they are able to endure, return to the ocean only to repeat this cycle.

The hazards of migration are many. The return ratio is very small in comparison to the plant number. It is estimated that only one to three percent of these steelhead will actually return to spawn. This means of the 31,405 smolts planted in Humptulips, only 314 to 942 will survive this migration ordeal.

This translates into “slim pickups” for anglers when you consider the length of this river. Some of these fish will get past the place of their plant and inhabit upper portions of river water.

The angler virtually needs to be in the right spot at the right time. Furthermore, because the numbers of fish are relatively low, anglers will tend to be secretive of their find. Welcome to summertime steelheading!