Friday, September 30, 2011

Hatchery Cuts

Due to budget shortfalls it looks like WDFW will be reducing some hatchery production.

"The September revenue forecast was bad and expectations are that November’s forecast will continue a downward trend. The Governor has called for a special session of the legislature on November 28th to take actions necessary to achieve another $2 billion in General Fund State (GFS) reductions. This will be very important since the earlier in the biennium we implement reductions in services, the shallower the cuts will need to be. The Governor gave us the assignment to produce 5 percent ($3.45 million) and 10 percent ($6.9 million) budget cut scenarios in our operating budget....
In responding to previous reductions to our GFS expenditures, we attempted to minimize impacts to the Department’s core conservation, commercial, and recreational activities. But the cutbacks have become so deep that impacting our critical activities is simply unavoidable. General Fund support to WDFW already has been cut 37 percent, dropping from $110 million in the 2007-09 biennium to $69 million currently....

Hatchery closures and reductions in fish production – $1.25 million, 4.3 ftes
Reduced Hoodsport Hatchery production (Hood Canal)—This would reduce Hood Canal area chum salmon production by roughly 50 percent (a reduction of 12 million chum annually); reduce area fall chinook production by 12 percent (a reduction of 800,000 chinook annually), and eliminate pink salmon production (500,000 pink salmon produced every other year). The cut would negatively impact local personal income generated by chum and associated fisheries in the Hood Canal region, estimated at $6 million per year. Total GF-S savings would be $253,112.
Samish Hatchery (Skagit County)—The hatchery would be closed, reducing Department-produced chinook in Puget Sound by about 20 percent. This would eliminate annual production of five million fall chinook (90 percent of the chinook produced in the Nooksack/Samish region). The closure would eliminate about $1.46 million per year in local personal income generated from Bellingham Bay area commercial fisheries. Total GF-S savings would be $267,400.
Nemah Hatchery (Willapa Bay)—The hatchery would be closed, eliminating production of three million fall chinook and 300,000 chum salmon annually. This represents a loss of 43 percent of the chinook production in the Willapa Bay region, as well as 38 percent of chum production. The closure will represent an economic loss to the region of nearly $500,000 per year. Total GF-S savings would be $727,300...."

I have a couple thoughts regarding these cuts.  I am not against the cuts but wonder why only 1/3 of the cuts come from hatcheries in areas with stocks listed on the Endangered Species Act.  Why are the cuts not made where you could not only cut the budget but help the most critical populations in our State?

Also, does anyone else notice that they give the production numbers in juvenile fish and not returning adults?  It makes it sound like we will be losing 21.6 million salmon, when in fact the numbers returning are far less than that.  According to 2011 forecasts the total returning adults for those hatcheries cuts are 4,106 pink salmon, 66,142 chinook salmon, and 114,660 chum salmon.  That is a grand total of 184,908 returning adult salmon.  That is a significant number and will have large impacts on fisheries but it is far less than the 21.6 million salmon the press release talks about.  WDFW does not use the word "juvenile" and I believe it is on purpose.

- 12% of area hatchery chinook is 4,603 returning adults
- 100% of pink salmon production is 4,106 returning adults
- 50% of chum salmon production is 112,798 returning adults

- 90% of chinook production is 33,736 returning adults

- 43% of chinook production is 27,803 returning adults
- 38% of chum production is 1,862 returning adults

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kelp Bed Coho

Until this past month the only water type I had fished for coho salmon in the saltwater was offshore.  A few weeks ago that changed.  I was fishing a rocky point surrounded by kelp.  I started by fishing the edges of the kelp and the rips that formed just offshore of the point.  I was having decent success but almost all of the fish were small chinook salmon and I wanted to find some of the approximately one million coho returning to Puget Sound in 2011.

The bait was concentrated inside the thick kelp beds.  As I was paddling through the kelp heading back to the launch I noticed big swirls deep within the kelp bed.  I stopped the kayak and formulated a plan to go after those fish.  I quickly realized that I couldn't fish a sinking line or weighted fly because I would be snagging kelp fronds on every cast.  I came to the conclusion that the only way to fish this area was with a floating line and a popper.  I rushed to switch out my sinking head to a floating head and a gurgler was plucked from the fly box.  I paddled into position and started to drift through the kelp.

I started casting.  What is different about casting in the kelp from casting in offshore rips is that accuracy really matters.  If your cast is off target you will be tangled in the kelp.  As I drifted I aimed for the clean pockets between the kelp.  It wasn't long before the first coho started following and swirling at the fly.  When fishing poppers for salmon the one thing you learn quickly is that for every five to ten boils or follows you will have one solid hookup.  Sometimes the hookup rate is better but not often.

It seemed like every two or three openings in the kelp resulted in at least a swirl on the fly.  Soon a coho came for the fly and there was weight.  What followed was an amazing display.  The fish was instantly in the air.  Not once, but four times the salmon came out of the water while at the same time wrapping the leader around numerous clumps of kelp.  The fly eventually pulled loose while I attempted to untangle the fish.  I continued to fish and rose numerous other salmon.  I hooked three other salmon that day and all of them put on amazing aerial displays along with hard runs into and around the kelp.  Amazingly I was able to land two of them.  Looking back I could not remember a group of hotter fighting coho salmon in my years of experience fishing offshore.

Of course, since that day I have returned to that location many times attempting to recreate that tide change.  The best I have done since is have four rises and two fish on.  But in keeping with the first day of fishing the kelp beds each fish hooked displayed the same great fighting ability.

This morning I returned after a bit of a drought at this location.  The recent windy weather hasn't helped but the fishing seems to have really slowed down.  This morning dawned very chilly with a brisk wind.  I paddled out and tried fishing the outer rips for a bit before coming back in to the kelp.  The wind was blowing a little stronger than I would have liked so I paddled up on top of the thickest clump of kelp I could find and just sat and observed the water for awhile.  I was convinced that the wind would likely die down at some point so I spent about an hour enjoying the sights.  It is amazing what you see fishing out of a quiet and slow watercraft.  Earlier in the morning a family of river otters was feeding out in the kelp.  The seabirds were dive bombing the abundant schools of herring swarming the area.  Herons were perched motionless on the floating mats of kelp waiting to ambush any bait that swam too close.  A large number of turkey vultures circled a thermal just inland. 

Soon enough the wind did start to diminish ever so slightly.  I decided to take advantage of it and start fishing the kelp.  Casting the gurgler to open targets resulted in nothing on the first drift.  I paddled back and started a little closer in to the rocks.  After about ten casts I saw a fish charge at the fly.  The slash came from the side.  The salmon missed but I kept the fly moving and he came at it again and missed.  I continued the retrieve with little hope the fish would come back for a third time.  Luckily I was wrong and the third time was the charm as the line came tight to a coho salmon.  After a couple surface head shakes the fish bolted.  He was on the reel instantly and instead of running underneath the surface I could see his back out of the water the entire time he was running away from me.  It was as if I had hooked him in a foot of water instead of the twenty foot depths he swam in.  Eventually the running stopped and immediately the line went slack.  I will never know if he started running back towards the kayak or if the hook pulled out but the fish was gone.  I eventually got the fly untangled from a piece of kelp the salmon wrapped the line on and started fishing again.

That was my only fish of the day but it was a memorable one.  I think I have a new favorite place to catch coho salmon in the saltwater.  I really enjoy fishing deep within the kelp.  Not only for the challenge of the casting but the extra fight the salmon seem to have when they have to battle from deep within the kelp forests.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Is Extinction Inevitable?"

About a month ago I wrote about what is happening to wild coho in Tarboo Bay on Hood Canal here.

Today Doug Rose posted on his blog more about the serious situation concerning the time, money, and energy spent restoring a creek may be for nothing due to what can only be described as "appalling" management of salmon stocks in Hood Canal.

Doug's post is a must read for anyone interested in why wild salmon struggle when fisheries are managed solely for hatchery fish.  Sometimes I am amazed at what continues to be done in the name of "fisheries management."  I must have gone back in time, because bad decisions like this still cannot be happening in 2011.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bad Timing...

The alarm clock went off early this morning.  I turned it off and stumbled out of bed.  I shuffled to the computer to check what the wind was doing.  It was blowing fifteen and gusting to twenty so I decided to head back to a warm inviting bed.

After waking up I decided to head out to the water anyways.  Rolled up to the spot and it was glassy calm.

"Perfect," I thought as I rigged up the kayak.  I rolled it to the water and started paddling out to the distant kelp beds.  I arrived in time to see that the bait was still packed into the kelp.  As I approached the start of my first drift it started to rain.  Along with the rain came a stiff breeze.  Both the rain and the wind continued to build.  I tried to fish but the wind and current were pushing the boat way too fast to have any chance of fishing effectively.  The rain started to die down but the wind kept building.

In approximately twenty minutes the wind waves built to around two feet.  I decided to head home knowing that I should have come out earlier in the day.  Next time I'm staying awake.

I guess I didn't learn the lesson from this day.

NY Times Elwha Editorial

NY Times The Return of The River

Nice quote at the end of it:
"The Elwha project is a reminder that there was a time when Republican leaders cared about the environment and understood that protecting it could also be good business. Where have they gone?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

More Elwha Woes

If you think the hatchery plans for the Elwha are bad, what do you think about siting fish farms and producing 1.7 million fish (either atlantic salmon or steelhead) along the Elwha salmon's migration path?

Aquaculture Proposed in Strait of Juan de Fuca

Looks like another example of our inability to learn from our mistakes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It has been a fun week fishing a local spot where the kelp is loaded with small herring.  The herring brings in the salmon, birds, seals, and porpoises.

The fishing has been a mix of coho and immature chinook salmon.  Most of the coho fishing has been deep within the kelp forests fishing surface patterns.  So much of the saltwater game is fishing subsurface that one forgets what a visual smorgasbord fishing on the surface is.  You will have many salmon follow the fly swirling multiple times at it before either taking it or turning away.  Sometimes you will have fish that come out of nowhere and mug the fly.  Landing fish deep within the kelp is a challenge as every fish seems to aim for the thick kelp.  Tangles are commonplace as the fish continue running and jumping while you are focused on trying to get your fly line untangled from a mat of kelp.
Hopefully the Puget Sound coho run is as large as forecast and the fishing holds up through the end of October.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Elwha Hatcheries Helping

While the hatchery plans on the Elwha will now be sorted out in court I have to mention one positive part of the Elwha hatchery plans.  I believe that we have never seen the hatchery issue debated so much in the mainstream press.  The Seattle Times has run numerous articles about the dispute and mentioned the science behind the debate.  The local Port Angeles paper has even run an article or two about the issue.  While the end result may not be what wild fish advocates would like, the fact that so many people are learning that hatchery fish and wild fish are not interchangeable has to be a good thing.  This is especially true of the people who do not fish and would normally not even be aware of one of the largest issues in salmon and steelhead management in the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday evening I had the chance to attend an dam removal event which featured Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia.  Speaking ahead of Yvon was Dylan Tomine who brought the house down with an impassioned plea to let nature recover on her own and leave the Elwha hatchery fish free.  He was hands down the best speaker of the night and hundreds of people learned more about how wild fish can and will show us abundance if we just get out of their way and stop thinking we know the best ways to help them.

While the hatchery battle is likely lost on the Elwha the debate and public opinion is swinging in the right direction.  Twenty years ago who would have thought that planting hatchery fish would be the most controversial part of the dam removal on the Elwha?

Let's also not forget that next month Condit Dam on the White Salmon River is set to come down.  This restoration project will not be using hatchery fish and will rely on natural recolonization.  One out of two aint bad.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thinking Yourself Out Of Good Fishing

The internet is a wonderful resource for a fly fisherman.  Real time weather observations, creel reports, river levels, free online topo and satellite maps, and online marine chart viewers make planning a trip much easier than ever before.

I met up and fished with another kayak angler a couple mornings ago.  After fishing we were talking before loading up the cars and heading home.  We both shared the sentiment that had we not been meeting each other to fish we both would have looked at the weather observations and forecast and rolled back into bed instead of going fishing.

While the weather wasn't ideal we found really good fishing for salmon along the kelp beds.  I landed four on flies and he landed more fishing jigs.  It was windier than I would have liked but I might have learned more from the tough conditions and fish seem to really bite well in crappy weather.

I will still use all the tools available but this morning I'm glad I ignored the mountain of online information and just went fishing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Elwha Hatchery Issue Heading to Court

“Restoration” Includes An Increase In Production Of Non-Native Steelhead

A sixty-day notice letter mailed today to federal and state agencies charges that these agencies are violating the Endangered Species by ignoring best available science and the needs of killer whales and native steelhead by funding a fish hatchery that will impede the recovery of the Elwha River ecosystem. Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition served legal notice that they would file suit against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife under the federal Endangered Species Act. The groups allege that the fish hatchery plan that the agencies are implementing for the Elwha River violates the ESA by harming Puget Sound Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout without the proper authorization.

The federal government has already taken steps to remove Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon Dam and open up miles of pristine riverine habitat in Olympic National Park, with actual demolition scheduled to begin this fall. But instead of relying on colonization of the habitat by wild salmonids, however, the federal and state agencies are going ahead with a plan that includes a new $16 million fish hatchery that will increase production of steelhead not native to the basin.

“This is the world’s largest river restoration project and the wild salmon deserve a chance to come back to the Elwha without having to compete with millions of hatchery fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “The habitat is excellent and the wild fish would colonize it quickly if left alone.”

Will Atlas, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee, said “The reality is that the annual release of four million hatchery fish means that the Elwha will not reach its potential. In the rush to harvest the abundant hatchery fish we will be repeating the mistakes of the past, depressing the productivity of the habitat we fought so hard to restore.”

Rich Simms, president of the Wild Steelhead Coalition said that the Coalition “hopes that the issue can be resolved for the benefit of wild, not hatchery, steelhead."

"This is a first time opportunity, unlike other dam removals, because the habitat is pristine,” said Pete Soverel, president of The Conservation Angler. “But we are going to compromise the recovery efforts by out-of-basin, Chambers Creek steelhead stock which NOAA's own scientists say is unsuitable for Elwha recovery."

The groups believe that dam removal is a giant step forward to restore the ecosystem but relying on artificial production is counter-productive. The agencies’ plan gives no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production.

My take is that the hatchery part of the Elwha Restoration Plan is not only bad for the fish, but is creating animosity among those who normally would support dam removal and wild fish restoration towards the Elwha dam removal.  A friend of mine recently said, "If they're going to spend $350 million to create another Quinault or Cowlitz hatchery fish factory they should just leave the dams in."  I do not agree with not removing the dams but the hatchery component is the one dark cloud hovering over this project.  Kudos to these organizations for taking the government to court and shame on our government for allowing this nonsense and creating one more example of government ineptitude.

Animated Dam Removal

Check out how the dam removal will occur.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why I C&R

I can only imagine the shape the rod and reel are in now.  Thirteen years being dragged along the jagged, rocky bottom of the Pacific Ocean by the daily currents can not be good to metal and graphite.

We've all dropped fishing gear into the water.  Most of the time it is not a big deal.  I've lost an uncountable number of flies over the years due to clumsy hands.  Last winter I came within a second of seeing my entire supply of sink tips vanish after fumbling my shooting head wallet into a glacial river as I changed tips.  The worst for me was losing an entire rod and reel overboard.

I was fishing right where the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean meet.  There are some shallow rocky spots north of Tatoosh Island that can be fantastic places to catch rockfish on the fly at the right tide.  The fish were finning all over the surface and the fishing was great.  I unhooked a rockfish and left the fly dangling in the water right next to the boat and the rod leaned on the gunwale.  As I was putting the rockfish in the cooler I heard a dragging noise.  The noise was the fly reel moving along the deck.  A rockfish had grabbed the fly sitting inches below the surface next to the boat and turned towards the bottom.  I started towards the rod being pulled towards the edge of the boat.  I felt like I was moving in slow motion as I swung around the console and saw the rod go over the edge.  It felt like it happened in slow motion but I know the time between the fish grabbing the fly and the rod being swallowed by the ocean was just a matter of seconds.

I look back and realize that the lesson of that day is that harvesting rockfish results in a severe financial consequence.  One more reason that catch and release can be a good thing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Finally Begins

Elwha Dam Removal Finally Begins

This upcoming Thursday is when the concrete starts coming down.

While there has been tons of recent discussions about some of the problems with the Elwha River fish restoration plan this week will be purely about celebrating the opportunity to right a giant wrong.

Wish I had tickets to the actual celebration, but will be looking forward to getting back to the Olympic Peninsula in time for this historic dam removal and the talk by Yvon Choinard.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Selective Fishing

A recent post over at the The Caddis Fly's Blog (Salmon Slam 2011) not only got me going regarding my previous post on trolling flies but the comments got me doing some serious thinking about how our saltwater fisheries are managed.

Are the current selective fisheries helping wild fish runs?  I do not know for sure but I think the discussion needs to be had regarding the huge amount of catch and release involved in harvesting hatchery fish inside Puget Sound (From Tatoosh Island east).

The 2011 wild coho return for Puget Sound is approximately twice that of the hatchery return.  My take on selective fisheries is that they assist in harvesting abundant hatchery runs while minimizing the impact on smaller co-mingled wild runs.  What happens when wild runs are larger?

When selective fisheries first started I was a huge proponent.  It was like the diet advertisement that says you can eat everything you want and still lose weight.  All of a sudden we had longer seasons and all it took was releasing unmarked salmon.  While I feel that I was very gentle on the fish we released (especially compared to the average saltwater angler) we still were releasing huge numbers of unmarked fish to get our two fish limits as well as catch and releasing fish just for fun.

It seems like the current management regime results in huge numbers of released fish.  I can recall days where you had to release ten to fifteen fish to find one hatchery fish and current reports do not make it seem like things have changed too much.  Most people are also still fishing gear that takes a huge toll on released fish.  Two hook mooching rigs tear fish up.  I know that when I fished two hooks I could have more bleeders in a day than an entire season with clousers.

We are already seeing some changing of regulations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca regarding wild coho release.  In late September you can retain wild fish in Area 5 (Sekiu) and in October Area 6 is open for wild coho retention.

I like the idea of selective fishing.  I would like to think that it is helping wild fish but I am starting to pass on the selective fishing kool-aid.

Monday, September 5, 2011

In Defense of Saltwater Fly Fishing

Recently I have spent a good amount of time casting flies along our coastal salmon migration highways.  I have not always seen success but have found good fishing and have just started to scratch the surface in learning about some new places.  Learning these areas when you're dealing with tides, currents, and migratory fish takes time.  This is where it gets interesting.  Does the learning curve increase or decrease by using non-fly fishing techniques?

The technique most often used to search for salmon among "fly fishermen"is called bucktailing.  Bucktailing is trolling a fly behind a moving boat.  If you weren't familiar with this area you might wonder why a trolling technique gets so much attention and press in the Pacific Northwest fly fishing community and press.

When discussing bucktailing it comes down to one simple question.  What defines fly fishing to you?  For me fly fishing is first and foremost about the cast.  Whether the cast is aerialized or cast using water borne anchors we use the weight of the fly line and not the fly to deliver our flies to waiting fish.  We can argue for days about the definition of flies with all of the new synthetics and weights we use to construct flies these days but without fly casting we're not having any of those arguments.

Does bucktailing help someone learn how to become a better saltwater salmon fly fisherman?  Does bucktailing help a fly fisherman learn the water types salmon prefer?  My belief is that is answer to both questions is no.  No amount of trolling a fly around is going to help you become more proficient in casting or learning which retreives work.

Like most fly fishermen in the Pacific Northwest I had always heard that bucktailing was the way to fly fish the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It is how I started fishing for salmon at Neah Bay.  I quickly found out that I not only did not enjoy trolling flies but I wanted to actually fly fish for salmon.  I stopped trolling flies and my education truly began.  I slowly started to learn how to read the water and slowly started to have success.  As I gained knowledge of the fishery the good days started to outnumber the poor fishing days.  Not only did I not bucktail personally but I was able to successfully guide fly anglers for years with zero bucktailing.

What I find interesting in the fly fishing communities acceptance of bucktailing is the lack of acceptance of other methods that are far closer to fly fishing than bucktailing.  Bring up fishing beads for steelhead on any Northwest fishing forum and watch the sparks fly even though fishing beads is closer to fly fishing than motoring a boat with a fly dangling in the prop wash.

The only thing bucktailing shares with bead fishing is an attempt to speed up the learning curve.  Unfortunately it doesn't teach you how to fly fish and the only thing it helps with is hooking a few fish on a fly rod.  Of course, what is the point of using a fly rod if you are not going to fly fish?