Skookumchuck Steelies Draw a Crowd

By Lee Hughes
lhughes@chronline.com

A late winter steelhead run on the Skookumchuck River — and the crowds that fought for a place on the bank to catch them the first week in February — has tapered off. The Chronicle caught up with some diehards last week near the Skookumchuck Dam. Although a couple of 8 to 10-pounders were landed, the fishing was nothing like it the previous week when “hundreds” of angler’s fought for a place on the shore of the river.

From left, John Cline, Doug Drake, Marc Cline, Dale Massey, Bethany Hoover and Travis Bruhn attempt to entice a winter run steelhead to take their bait. Massey was the only one of the six who had yet to be successful with an eight to 10-pound steelie with one-punch in its gill plate. Punched gill plates indicate the fish was returning a second time to spawn. (Lee Hughes/ lhughes@chronline.com)

Dennis Matsuda, a hatchery specialist at the Skookumchuck hatchery, said there were lots of cars and “elbow to elbow” anglers two weeks ago. It gets so bad when there is a fish run, Jim Cline of Tenino avoids fishing on certain days.

“I try not to come out on the weekends,” Cline said Wednesday while fishing the Corner Hole. “There will be 70 to 80 people up here at least. … I don’t know where they come from.”
Cline and five other locals were casting to the far side of the Corner Hole below the dam, hoping one of the few remaining hungry steelhead would take their bait. Only two anglers had managed to land a fish Wednesday morning. Travis Bruhn of Tenino was fishing with Bethany Hoover of Olympia without any luck, although Bruhn said he had successfully landed a 10-pounder the day before.
The Feb. 3 escapement report for the Skookumchuck hatchery showed a strong increase in late winter steelhead from the previous week.
“This year this first push has been large, at least twice as large as it historically is,” Skookumchuck hatchery Manager Jim Dills said. “Normally a good run would be 200, but we’ve had twice that. We’re already up to 500 steelhead.”
It was a trend Dills has seen for all species this year on the Skook.
“Overall it’s been good,” he said, although Matsuda disagreed.
“Their returns varied from region to region,” he said. “Coastal had a great year, but not Puget Sound.”
Neither cared to speculate about the remaining season.
“We don’t know how the steelhead runs will be,” Dills said. “It could be the best ever.”
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Lee Hughes: (360) 807-8239