On the Water Log, May 8, 2012

The New West End Creek Closures

A very good friend of mine loves to fish the tributary creeks to the larger West End rivers in summer for cutthroat. Or, rather, he liked to, past tense. According to the 2012 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations pamphlet, his four favorite creeks are all now closed to fishing.

If he fished the creeks that drain into Lake Ozette or the larger Lake Ozette tributaries rather than Quillayute System tribs, he would still be able to fish for his cutthroat. He would still be able to kill them, even. I can still fish most of the Hood Canal creeks and beaver ponds that I have fished for years–although they are now managed as catch-and-release.

I understand the rationale of closing tributaries and creeks to protect juvenile salmonids. It makes a lot of sense when the stocks are imperiled. And I am sure there is an explanation for why some creeks remain open under the new regulations, while others are permanently closed. But the WDFW pamphlet didn’t explain the process and criteria by which creeks are closed. Asa result, the closures seem almost arbitrary.

All of the Lake Ozette tributaries that remain open lie within the Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU)  of  the ESA-listed Ozette sockeye salmon. Similarly, Hood Canal summer chum, Chinook and steelhead are all listed, but fishing remains open–albeit, with seasonal restrictions and catch-and-release on most streams.

There are no ESA fish in the Quillayute System–other than bull trout, which, as far as I can tell, are only found above Sol Duc Falls–but all of the creeks my friend fishes are now closed permanently. Moreover, the state apparently believes that sea-run cutthroat, winter steelhead, coho and fall Chinook stocks are healthy enough that you can kill wild adult fish. But you can’t catch-and-release cutthroat on the closed creeks because it poses too much risk for wild juvenile fish?

Not a single Hoh River tributary other than the South Fork is open anymore. The Hoh does support a good population of bull trout, which are listed under the ESA. But I really doubt that any spawn in Nolan Creek, Winfield Creek or Owl Creek. I suppose that some bull trout may dip into the lower tribs on occasion. But then why is Matheny Creek open on the Queets? And why isn’t Sam’s River?

It’s even weirder on the Clearwater, the Queets’ largest tributary. The Snahapish and Sollecks rivers are open, but Stequahelo Creek is closed. I have fished all of these rivers, and I’m not aware of any significant differences.

As I said, I imagine there is, at minimum, some sort of coherent and uniform system for determining which rivers on the West End remained open and which ones were closed. But the facile wording in the regulations pamphlet didn’t come close to explaining them to anglers.

I’ll look into this more and get back to you with what I learn.

Sky Valley Limited
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