Between the Hammer and the Anvil

Matching the “Metal” Hatch
September 29, 2020
Spoons sink quickly allowing you to get your gear down to where the steelhead are holding.
Mastering Your Presentation
February 1, 2022

Between the Hammer and the Anvil

By Bill Herzog

To fish, or not to fish. Is that really a question?

While our fellow late winter/early spring steelheaders in northern California and Oregon go about business as usual in February and March, we anglers of the Fourth Corner were made to zip up the vinyl suit and stuffed in the gimp box in the basement of the WDFW. Like we did not see this coming ten years ago.

Make my suit extra-large, leave wiggle room in the crotch, please.

In case some of us have been locked in that cramped box, ball-gagged for some time under the staircase and not aware of the evisceration of the steelhead regulations for Washington winter/spring steelhead in 2022, here is a short version: Complete closure of the Chehalis system (Wynoochee, Satsop, Skookumchuck); renal shut-down of the four icons of the mid-coast, the Humptulips (which years back featured the last 3 wild fish limit in the State), the scenic upper Quinault, the mercurial glacial Queets and its main tributary, the Clearwater. Removal of those seven major players from the starting line-up creates a void that may go in two directions: either north to the five rivers kept open or to the southern lower Columbia tribs.

Let’s look closer at the new regulations for the Forks area streams. First, let’s get on bended knee and fold our hands together in appreciative prayer that we even have a season. The Nov. 29 meeting of the Monarchs of the Solar Federation had complete closure of all Olympic Peninsula rivers as one of their final answers on the table. What we got, thankfully, was this: The crown jewel of Washington winter steelhead, the Hoh, open through March 31, artificial/barbless single hook lure, no fishing from boats. The Quillayute system (Bogachiel, Sol Duc, Calawah, Dickey) is open through March 31. Fishing from a floating device is allowed this season on the Bogachiel and Calawah rivers from Highway 101 and down past the junction through the Quillayute.

This was a strange choice, as the Sol Duc has scant places to pull over and fish, gravel bars or safe enough spots to wade are rare. The Bogachiel features plenty of safe, wadable runs along its entire length. Plus, the Sol Duc has a stronger wild return. Head scratcher, there.

I believe the compromise was more than fair. Some at this meeting—you know who you are—were the same ilk that were vocal about still “needing” to kill wild steelhead a dozen years ago. To all that pushed for this, you see where that thinking has found us now and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your crotches.

Now we have another factor, yapping at us like a never-resting angry Chihuahua nipping at ankles. It comes from our own kind, our brothers in arms, our fellow steelheaders. Some of them considered the most influential of our generation. There is a movement, a strong movement, to hang the rods up for the season and not target wild fish. This was a common thread splattered throughout the Internet during record low runs on the Columbia summer tributaries. The major thought is we need to leave them alone, as every single steelhead needs to make it unmolested to its spawning grounds. The guilt layered upon those of us who did go fishing was relentless. Now this movement is overlapping the regulations for the rivers left open on the northern Olympic Peninsula.

I understand the genuine distress felt over the decline of something beyond iconic. And every single individual who wishes not to participate in these suffering fisheries is absolutely correct with their choice. Kudos. However, kids…

When we choose not to fish, I harken back to the days of the punch card. We had to turn those in, as we do now with catch record cards at the end of the season. The wounds were still fresh from the Boldt decision, anglers were more than salty about sharing their steelhead. The thought permeating nearly all steelheaders back then was not to turn in your punch card, as it was perceived doing so would just up the catch allowed by the Tribes. This rebellious attitude ultimately backfired as steelhead were not counted and resulted in lesser used rivers being cut down or in some eliminate all plantings. This had a nasty trickle-down effect as many rivers were closed due to perceived nonuse.

We get to fish because of hatchery plants and ceremonial harvest. Several tribes have chosen not to fish at all this late season on the sport closed rivers, props to them. If we choose not to fish, believe me, we are being watched on the rivers left open now like never before. By not participating in these February/March fisheries may be a feel-good endeavor, but it may cost us all the opportunity to fish in the near future. The old trope of damned if you do …

Personally, I will be there, spey and spoon rod in hand. I will be stopping at one steelhead landed per day this season. I strongly suggest following that plan somewhat. Set a proud example. These are not salmon, leave that tuna fishing on commission mentality in the truck. One rare, perfect wild steelhead to hand must make the day for the true steelheader of the brave new world. The least encounters we have, the better it looks on our rap sheet for next year’s regulations.

If you look closely, there are still small stream steelheading opportunities on the OP. There are a half-dozen or so large creeks/small rivers for us to explore, still open through February. With La Nina thoroughly soaking the coast and blowing out larger streams every eleven minutes, perhaps this is the year to burn some wading boot leather and scout them. The smaller flows drop back swiftly after a deluge, they have saved my bacon countless times on a coastal trip. Surprisingly premium sea trout sneak into these spate creeks, many larger than you want to hook in confined wood-laden spaces. A float and barbless ¼-ounce pink/white marabou jig in these special regulation waters is your best friend. These places may give you peace of mind and unexpected satisfaction while wringing hands about what we cannot do.

It does make you wonder what all the Great Lakes anglers, watching from afar must think of us on the isle of the steelheading misanthropes. My grand kids may have to travel, God forbid, to Michigan thirty years from now if they wish to see a live steelhead. Someday, we ironically may be borrowing steelhead we gave to the Great Lakes one hundred years ago to keep our original stock from fading memory.

A way of life for generations is following the sun, setting behind the hills of the West into shadow. To whatever end, I say prop open that box in the basement and bring out the gimp. Let’s make our annual coastal trip. We use it, or we lose it, fellow steelheaders.  ssj

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