Fix suggested for weak winter steelhead runs

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter



Should Washington revamp its winter steelhead hatchery programs in the Washougal and North Fork of the Lewis rivers to get better fishing?

The Steelhead Management Work Group, a 20-member citizen panel advising the state Department of Fish and Wildlife since August, thinks a change is needed.

Hatchery-origin winter steelhead in the Washougal and Lewis rivers, plus Salmon Creek, originated decades ago from Chambers Creek, a Puget Sound tributary.

There are lots of problems in the view of some anglers with Chambers Creek-stock winter steelhead.

They return in a fairly compressed time frame of mid-December to mid-January, plus they don’t bite particularly well.

Chambers Creek winter steelhead are small and their overall survival rate is not good.

Steelhead releases — both winter and summer — have been ended in the East Fork of the Lewis River.

State fish and wildlife director Phil Anderson announced last week the East Fork of the Lewis will be one of three wild steelhead gene banks in Southwest Washington, with no more releases of hatchery fish starting this spring.

The steelhead work group supported the East Fork of the Lewis as a gene bank, but wanted improvement in winter steelhead returns and fisheries in the North Fork of the Lewis and Washougal rivers.

That improvement could be replacing Chambers Creek fish with a hatchery stock developed from wild winter steelhead from a Southwest Washington stream.

Biologist Bryce Glaser of the Department of Fish and Wildlife said the Kalama River might be a source of wild winter steelhead to establish a new program.

The Kalama has a fairly healthy wild winter steelhead population and a program that uses wild winter steelhead as brood stock to produce hatchery fish for harvest, Glaser said.

“If we were to do it, that’s likely where we’d go,’’ he said.

Wild winter steelhead return mostly between February and June.

The goal would be to develop an earlier-returning winter fish.