See You Again Soon, Sauk?

That the Sauk would close early was not unexpected.

A month before last Friday afternoon’s official notice, Washington managers hinted the popular winter-spring catch-and-release fishery on the remote North Cascades river for big, brawny wild steelhead was iffy.

And a month before that, somewhere around Thanksgiving, I got word that the preseason forecast was not good.

It’s a bummer, but in a weird way, part of me is actually relieved.

Good, I’ll have a full compliment of hall passes for Columbia springer flame runs.

And I won’t have to drive that godawfully long piece of asphalt between I-5 and the Sauk. Beautiful as it is, 31.9 miles of highway has no right to be so long.

Won’t have to wade sketchy crossings or take the fishmobile down that one grown-in logging road to get to where I hooked something large.

Can save my spoons and jigs for another river.

BRAVE AS THAT SOUNDS, this feels like the start of what happened to my other fave, the Skykomish.

Its trophy steelhead fishery was put on hold in 2001  (the Sauk’s season was cut short too that year), and there’s never been enough fish back since to give us a go. Finally, the Sky’s season was written out of the regs, and who knows if anything will ever reopen.

In its place, I went to the Sauk.

As I write this, I can smell cottonwoods breaking into leaf on warm downriver breezes, hear the drumming of grouse in the flats – and feel the thump of whirring blades as a helicopter surveying spawning beds flew over me last spring.

I asked the river’s biologist about it and he was worried about how few redds there were.

A bad sign for future runs.

It was one of the last, best hopes in a regional basin where steelhead are listed as a threatened species.

“I fished a few of my favorite runs on the Sauk today,” wrote Skykomish Sunrise yesterday on Piscatorial Pursuits. “The water looked nice, and it was good to be out on the river again. However, I couldn’t help but to feel as if I was making one last visit to a relative that is about to die.”

There are several photos of the river in that thread that are good for remembering the good times.

THAT’S MY OWN ADMITTEDLY SHORT VIEW. A guy with the long view is Bill Herzog.

Last winter, the woes of winter-runs were the subject of several blogs – elegies, really – by the veteran Northwest steelheader.

Since 1973, we have lost OVER F-O-R-T-Y winter steelhead fisheries due to closure or lack of returning fish. I’m not going to list them all here … but here are some examples from my journal notes.

Back in March of ’83, here’s where I was steelhead fishing: The Big Quilcene River, Duckabush River, Skokomish River, Dosewallips River, a whole lot of trips to the Dungeness, Nisqually and Carbon Rivers, the upper Quinault River and a wonderful new catch and release fishery on the Skykomish.

My fishing partners and I landed over 200 steelhead from those rivers that month.

Go ahead, try to fish any of those places today. The steelhead for all rights and purposes are gone from most of those rivers, a few have runs falling off the table and only the Quinault from that list is still open in March.

Want to fish in April now? Join everyone at the last buffet still open, the Quillayute system’s Bogachiel, Sol Duc and Calawah. After that system is hammered to death by every poor angler still willing to put up with overcrowded streams … well, how about bass fishing?

Hell no. I’ll golf before I’ll fish for bass.

BUT THE MAN MUST FISH, and last winter Herzog did find good action on immature Chinook, or blackmouth, in the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

In our February issue, which we’re sending to press shortly, he tells Tim Bush about the “new funk” for that fishery, which reopens in mid-February.

The myriad passes and banks in the nearby San Juans also come into prime shape, and author Wayne Heinz has collected 101 years of blackmouth wisdom for his map feature.

Speaking of maps, Larry Ellis highlights South Oregon Coast rockfish, lings and Dungeness – crabbing’s so good he’s been throwing back legals.

Then there’s Tillamook steelhead, and Lake Roosevelt walleye AND rainbows. Used to be it was all about the bugeyes this time of year on the upper Columbia reservoir, but trout action’s been the “best in a decade,” say some, so we track the fish downlake for you.

Just a sampling of the winter keepers we serve up around the Northwest in our February issue, which should be out to subscribers and newsstands soon.

Even if my heart was set on fish to release.

One Response to “See You Again Soon, Sauk?”

  1. February Issue Brews Up Keepers « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] was set on lots of wild winter steelhead coverage in our big February issue, but with many runs not faring so well, we ease the pressure and go after keepers of other species […]

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