Fishing Report: Lots of People Steelhead Fishing the Skook

By The Chronicle
As always, those who know where and how to fish will hook up with some decent steelhead, but for the rest of us, the fishing is pretty darn slow in most rivers and lakes around Lewis County.
The Cowlitz River continues to run a bit muddy. The occasional steelhead is being caught, but even the river guides are going elsewhere.
Perhaps the best bet continues to be on the Skookumchuck River below the dam, where lots of smaller steelhead are being caught, according to Charles McElroy, a sporting goods clerk at Sunbird Shopping Center in Chehalis. For those that don’t mind a bit of company while fishing, the area just below the Skookumchuck Dam is kicking out lots of fish. But expect going elbow-to-elbow and about two-deep.
Those fish in the 9 pound range are small enough to sneak through the gillnets stretched on the mouth of the Chehalis River by the Quinault Indian Nation. McElroy said if he was set on catching fish this week, his best bet would be either steelhead on the lower Chehalis River on Sunday, as the Quinault Indian Nation takes the weekend off; or sturgeon fishing on the upper Columbia River, likely near the Willamette River.
One interesting development is the run of smelt up the Cowlitz River. McElroy said he heard reports of a tube of smelt about four feet wide running up the river. One oldtimer told McElroy that the run is the biggest in 20 years. Don’t get ready for smelting, however, as the fishery is closed.
The big fishing draw of springers is still at least two weeks away, and likely won’t hit big until March.
As far as the lakes, Riffe Lake is okay for landlocked silvers, Mayfield Lake near the hatchery is always a good bet, and for those under 15 years old, the Fort Borst Park Pond still has thousands of planted trout.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Report:
Cowlitz River — No report on angling success is currently available. Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 20 coho adults, one jack and 83 winter-run steelhead during four days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.
During the past week Tacoma Power employees released 13 coho adults, one jack and 33 winter-run steelhead into the Cispus River above the mouth of Yellow Jacket Creek and 16 winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
River flows at Mayfield Dam were approximately 12,800 cubic feet per second on Monday. Water visibility is three feet.
Lower Columbia from the I-5 Bridge downstream — Effort is beginning to build with 28 boats and 82 bank anglers counted during the Saturday effort flight count. Although WDFW did not sample any catch, some spring Chinook have been reported caught. Lower river is turbid below the mouth of the Cowlitz.
Bonneville Pool — No salmonid anglers were sampled.
The Dalles Pool — Slow for steelhead from the bank.
John Day Pool — Bank anglers are catching some steelhead.

From Paul Hoffarth, WDFW District 4 Fish Biologist in Pasco:
Lower Reach (Highway 395 to old Hanford town site):
An estimated 136 steelhead were caught of which 100 were kept in January. Anglers are averaging 1 steelhead for each 17 hours of fishing. Boat anglers have fared better than the shore anglers at 12 hours per steelhead versus 31 hours per steelhead for bank anglers. A total of 1,146 steelhead have been caught this season and 871 steelhead have been harvested. WDFW staff sampled 24 percent of the estimated angler effort in this fishery in January and 23 percent for the season. Catch and harvest numbers are well below the 2008 and 2009 fisheries but similar to those of 2004-07.
Upper Reach (Vernita Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam):
On Dec. 8, WDFW opened the Columbia River from the Highway 24 Bridge (Vernita Bridge) to Priest Rapids Dam for the retention of hatchery steelhead. This is the first time this area has been open in the winter for steelhead in many years. For the month of January, 78 steelhead have been caught and 42 hatchery steelhead have been harvested. Angler effort has been relatively light. WDFW is currently averaging 1 boat trip per day. Very few anglers are fishing from shore for steelhead. For those who venture out fishing has been very good with boat anglers averaging 1 steelhead harvested for each 5 hours of fishing. An estimated 225 steelhead have been caught in this fishery with 47 hatchery steelhead harvested.
Based on steelhead sampled at Priest Rapids Dam in 2010, 42 percent of the unclipped steelhead migrating to the Upper Columbia River are hatchery origin.

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam — We did not sample any legals nor many sublegals last week. Effort is building with 90 boats and 27 bank anglers counted during last Saturday’s flight count. One-third of the boats were counted in the Vancouver area.
Bonneville Pool — Including fish released, anglers averaged nearly a legal per boat. Bank anglers were also catching some legals.
The Dalles Pool — Slow for legal size fish.
John Day Pool — Boat anglers are catching some legals. Slow from the bank.