OUTDOORS: Peninsula fishing guide groups alarmed by steelhead proposals

FISHING GUIDES UP and down the Olympic Peninsula have come together to alternately express concern over what they see as overreaching restrictions on in-progress steelheading seasons on coastal rivers offered by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and provide livable options for this season.

Opposed to potential changes that could outlaw fishing from a floating device or even potentially close down winter steelhead fishing in the near future, members of the Northwest Olympic Peninsula Sportfishing Coalition, the Olympic Peninsula Guides Association, the Grays Harbor Sport Fishing Coalition and the Grays Harbor Guide Association have reached out to Fish and Wildlife and state lawmakers, hoping to have their voices heard.

Forks’ Bob Kratzer, a guide with 36 years of experience on West End rivers, outlined the impacts of these proposed alterations and discussed the concessions in season length and scope that these groups have agreed upon and presented to the state for North Coast rivers stretching from the Quinault up to the Quillayute River system and for South Coast rivers such as the Humptulips and Chehalis River system.

Kratzer serves as president of the Northwest Olympic Peninsula Sportfishing Coalition and is a board member for the Olympic Peninsula Guide’s Association.

With escapement goals projected to be met by 3,376 wild steelhead on the Quillayute River system, Kratzer said tribal and recreational fisheries could easily be held this winter on the Bogachiel, Calawah and Sol Duc, the three main tributaries of the Quillayute.

Kratzer added that the economic loss of a full winter steelheading season would be in the millions of dollars for rural communities such as Forks, Elma and Montesano — communities already stretched thin economically as the pandemic continues.

During the winter time, one of their sole incomes is fishermen coming to town, staying the night and the subsequent impact to lodging, restaurants, gas stations, tackle stores and other commercial outlets.

Kratzer estimated he would lose 85 percent of his guiding business if a floating device prohibition was implemented.

“A lot of my clientele has been fishing with me for decades and are in their 60s and 70s,” Kratzer said. “They aren’t disabled, but they are up in years, and they don’t have the stability to wade rivers or fight currents.”

West End rivers, besides beach-like spots such as the Richwine Bar, don’t offer a ton of bank real estate, either.

“If you are familiar with the Sol Duc or Calawah rivers, there’s water from bank to bank and very little wading access. High water periods, you can fish those from a boat and still have successful fishing trips. It’s not possible or safe to wade those rivers during high flows. We would have to cancel trip after trip when water conditions are not just right,” he said.

The guiding groups’ concessions on the Quillayute River include closing the Bogachiel River above the U.S. Highway 101 bridge to all fishing starting March 1, with the section below the bridge remaining open to all fishing.

The Calawah River above the U.S. Highway 101 bridge also would close March 1, with the stretch below the bridge remaining open to all fishing.

The upper Sol Duc, above the Sol Duc Salmon Hatchery intake diversion, would close to all fishing March 1, while the Sol Duc would remain open to all fishing.

On the Hoh, which is expected to meet escapement goals by 500 wild steelhead, the anglers’ groups are OK with a full closure if the Hoh Tribe and Fish and Wildlife can negotiate an agreement as co-managers for no tribal or non-tribal fishing.

If such an agreement could not be made, the anglers’ groups are willing to fish the lower portion of the river downstream of the Morgan’s Crossing Access with selective gear rules in effect two days a week until a March 31 closure.

Kratzer is left to wonder why these proposed changes weren’t brought up months ago, well in advance of steelhead season and before reservations were made and guided trips booked.

“We are in the 19th hour; steelhead season started two days ago, so why are we having this conversation now?” Kratzer said. “Why not months ago? It’s pretty upsetting for all the people who love steelhead and are some of the biggest supporters of conservation of this species, like these guiding groups here on the Peninsula.”

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].

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