April 30, 2016
Howard Miller Steelhead Park
Drift boats full of steelhead anglers plying emerald green waters are a common fixture of Northwest Rivers in late winter and spring.
However this is no longer the case in Puget Sound where spring steelhead seasons have been closed for nearly a decade.The Skagit River was arguably the most famous of these Puget Sound streams and its fisherman have quietly been replaced with boats of bird watchers hoping to see scores of Bald Eagles in their wintering habitat.
Following a sudden crash in the wild steelhead population, Puget Sound winter steelhead were listed as threatened in 2007, leading to the eventual closure of the spring catch and release season. While this was an acceptable step to help stem the decline of wild steelhead, it is no longer appropriate management.
In fact the Skagit has an abundance of wild steelhead. Returns are at levels that have not been seen since the 1990’s. The continued closure of this fishery despite the relatively healthy population has prompted anglers to take steps to open the river through a movement known as Occupy Skagit.
Occupy Skagit is a gathering of anglers who not only want to see an open fishery, but care deeply about the shared resource and the preservation of slowly fading local angling traditions.
The morning of April 30th a group of anglers will come together at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport to demonstrate with picket signs in the hopes that state and federal agencies will take notice and expedite the process of opening the fishery. Participants will also stage a “fish in” where anglers cast hook-less lures into the river in protest of the closure and in memorial of a bygone era.
This will be the fourth year of Occupy Skagit and many people are hoping it will be the last. In addition to holding a demonstration on the banks of the Skagit, many people will also be attending the WDFW Commission meeting in Olympia on Saturday April 9th. A short time is allotted for public comment on non-agenda items in the morning, even if you don’t want to testify packing the room with concerned anglers sends a strong message.
This movement is not only an issue of anglers wanting to fish; Occupy Skagit has bigger implications about the overall attitude and desire of today’s steelhead fisherman. The days of empty rivers during catch and release steelhead seasons save for a couple of die-hard fisherman are disappearing. The closure of the Skagit does not represent a lost opportunity to harvest; it has in fact remained open a during the traditional hatchery season.
What draws the crowd to Occupy Skagit every spring is the lost opportunity to spend time on the water searching for a wild steelhead. Opportunity to get out on the water and pursue steelhead is what anglers desire most, which demonstrates the need for balanced management that accommodates the desires of all anglers whether it is to bring one home or catch and release.
Come join us the night before the event at Howard Miller Steelhead Park, campsites are still available. Bring your favorite beverage and take a seat around the campfire for good stories and the making of new ones. Don’t forget to bring a picket sign and your waders for the event which starts at 9:00AM Saturday, April 30th.