Today for the first time ever I laid my eyes on the fabled waters of the Skagit River. I left from my Mom's new home in La Conner, WA and headed north to connect with Route 20 eastbound. After the congestion of Burlington and a stop for gas, it was smooth sailing up the Skagit Valley into Sasquatch country. Due to rainstorms the night before the Sauk River was spitting in 4000 cfs of mud, but once above the Sauk the Skagit ran emerald green. Around every bend is classic riffle run swing water, with snowcapped mountains looming in the distance. I could feel the steelhead lore of the river hanging heavy like the moss hanging on branches of the Doug Firs.
From what little I know, the Skagit still has some decent steelhead/salmon fishing, but the run is now a fraction of it's historical numbers. The age-old combination of habitat degradation, dam building, hatcheries and over-harvest, all add up to the perfect equation for an unhealthy watershed and low fish returns. There is still hope for the Skagit though! The hatcheries, are all but closed down, and the habitat is starting to make a recovery from mismanagement in the past. Hopefully conservation efforts on the Skagit will result in a healthier watershed and eventually lead to larger returns of native fish. The Skagit is the biggest drainage in the Puget Sound and if it becomes a success story, it will become a model river for many others throughout Washington and the entire Northwest.
The fishing season on the Skagit is only open from june 1st till the end of January in most sections, and in other sections until mid-Febuary. If recovery goes well, in a few years it might open for the entire winter steelhead season. like many other Washington steelhead rivers, the majority of the early-run winter steelhead in the Skagit are no longer present. The majority of the winter-run fish are in the system when the river is closed to anglers.
To read about the details of the recovery and current situation on the Skagit click on this link: http://wildfishconservancy.org/about/press-room/press-releases/lawsuit-settlement-big-advance-for-wild-steelhead-recovery or click on the image above. Below are a couple iPhone pics form my adventure up the Skagit today. I didn't have time to wet a fly, but will be back around Christmas to swing for a couple days. Who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and run into Mr. Clear fins, back in the river a bit early like old times!