Looking for a First Chance at Second-Chance Summer-Run Steelhead

By Kim Mason
For The Chronicle
WDFW and USGS is working together over the summer to conduct the Cowlitz Summer-Run Steelhead Recycling Study, a program that is being paid for by the very dollars we spent to buy our salmon/steelhead endorsement so we could legally fish the Cowlitz River.
As an angler who has yet to land her first steelhead, I’m pretty wound up about the idea at getting my first chance at a second-chance steelhead.
I spent Monday morning at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery in Salkum with Chris Gleizes, a WDFW biologist and member of the Cowlitz evaluation team, to watch the team tag their second batch of summer-run steelhead.

Through August, a total of 500 steelhead will be tagged with Floy T-bar tags and 60 or more of those fish will also carry radio tags, inserted into their stomach. The fish are then trucked downstream to the I-5 boat launch to be re-released back into the water.
“This study will help us to determine whether the recycling program is an efficient use of funds, if anglers are benefitting from this second chance at the fish, and if there are any negative impacts from the program,” said Gleizes.

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery on Monday, Chip Nissell, of Pacific States Marine Fisheries, holds a radio-tagged summer-run steelhead while Mike Blankenship, a scientific technician with WDFW, sets the Floy tag. The wire protruding from the fish mouth is the antennae which will allow the recycling study team to monitor the whereabouts of the fish. "We're tracking the fish to see where they are going," said Chris Gleizes, WDFW. "We're interested to see if the stay in the lower river where we drop them off, shoot straight back up here, wander into some of the other tributaries or even head back downstream."

Eleven sites, each set up with radio receivers and solar power panels, have been placed along the river between the hatchery and Longview.
“Through the receivers we can track exactly where each radio tagged fish is in the system,” said Gleizes. “Last week we followed a fish as he was hauled up the boat launch at Blue Creek — probably from inside a boat.”

Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle. Missy Baier, a fish technician for Tacoma Power, separates the Chinook salmon from the summer-run steelhead Monday morning at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery in Salkum. Baier pushes good spring salmon broodstock into one tank, then sends steelhead down to the trough for the USGS and WDFW crew for tagging.

The Floy tagged fish, as they are harvested by anglers, will also help the researchers to determine where the steelhead are going after they are dropped off downstream.
So far, 68 steelhead have been recycled and five tagged fish have already been harvested in the first two weeks of the study — one was caught right below the Barrier Dam.
“We want to see whether the fish shoot right back up the river and into the hatchery, whether they stay low in the system, or move into other tributaries, head further downstream or even just hang around in the system all summer long,” Gleizes said.
If you catch a tagged steelhead, note the tag number and the location where the fish was caught and call Chris Gleizes at 864-6133 with the information.
Returned radio tags can be reused and placed in another fish, so please, make the call and return the tag if you find one.