Fisheries managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Skagit co-managing tribes can now begin fisheries directed at steelhead on the Skagit and Sauk rivers under an updated plan approved by federal agencies this month.
Biologists have forecasted that 5,211 wild steelhead will return to the Skagit River in 2023, enough to sustain a recreational catch and release fishery managed by the state and modest steelhead fisheries operated by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, and the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe.
“We acknowledge that anglers have been eagerly awaiting updates on Skagit steelhead and are excited to open this fishery now that our plan has been approved,” said Edward Eleazer, WDFW’s North Puget Sound Region Fish Program Manager. “This collaborative 10-year plan is a model for managing sustainable steelhead fishing opportunities guided by science and careful monitoring.”
Portions of the Skagit and its major tributary the Sauk will open for recreational steelhead fishing on March 25 under catch and release regulations, except up to two hatchery steelhead may be retained. Steelhead fishing will remain open five days per week Saturdays through Wednesdays only through April 30, 2023. Wild steelhead must be released immediately and may not be removed from the water. Fishing for all other species remains closed.
On the Skagit, steelhead fishing will be allowed from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete upstream to Cascade River Road (Marblemount Bridge). On the Sauk, steelhead fishing will be open from the mouth upstream to Darrington Bridge (Sauk Prairie Road). See the emergency Fishing Rule Change
for additional details, including a prohibition on fishing from boats while under motor power on the Skagit, and fishing from a boat with a motor attached on the Sauk.
In 2007, steelhead in the Puget Sound Distinct Population Segment (DPS)—including wild fish returning to the Skagit—were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The new 10-year Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan (RMP) allows state and tribal co-managers to operate steelhead-directed fisheries with stringent guidelines, monitoring and catch sampling, and enforcement. The plan was approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and was reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during ESA consultation. The RMP and documents from the federal review are available on this NOAA Fisheries webpage: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/skagit-basin-steelhead-fishery
The wild steelhead is Washington’s State Fish, and the Skagit Basin holds venerable status among steelheaders as the birthplace of several fishing techniques used by both gear and fly anglers. More information is available in this December 2022 blog post.
Holding sustainable catch and release fisheries for wild steelhead on the Skagit and Sauk rivers is one recommendation of WDFW’s “Quicksilver Portfolio for Restoring Puget Sound Steelhead & Fisheries”. Published in May 2020, this portfolio was developed through years of collaboration between WDFW and the Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group (PSSAG)—a group of anglers, scientists, conservation leaders, guides, and other steelhead supporters—as well as conversations with tribal co-managers.
Implementation of the Quicksilver Portfolio has been underway with $1,682,000 in funding from the State Legislature in the 2021-23 biennium and the goal of providing a diverse portfolio of steelhead rivers that achieve both conservation and fishery goals.
“Strong support from the Legislature and steelhead advocates was vital for the new 10-year Skagit plan as well as the Quicksilver Portfolio,” said WDFW Fish Program Director Kelly Cunningham. “We’re moving forward with increased monitoring and other efforts for Puget Sound steelhead and sustainable fisheries, and we hope that the Legislature continues to support this important work into the future.”
Anglers are reminded that the new fishing license year begins on April 1, 2023.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.