A row of anglers whipped their lines into the waters of the Skagit River at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport, their dogs wading in behind them. But no fish were being caught because their lines had no hooks.
The group was protesting fishing laws they feel are unnecessary and hurt the local economy. They are calling for a return of the spring catch-and-release season, which they believe would not have a negative effect on the recovery of wild winter steelhead.
“Where else can you go? Where else can you find beautiful, bright chrome, wild steelhead?” said Leland Miyawaki as he walked the banks. “It hurts because it (the river) is steelhead green. Look at it, it is in great shape, this would be the time to fish.”
Others carried signs that said “Open Skagit Sauk now,” “Catch and release is not a crime” and “Let the people fish.” The group was at the river last year protesting the restrictions.
The Skagit and Sauk rivers have been closed to wild steelhead fishing in the late winter and early spring season since 2010. Fishers can fish in December and January when the hatchery fish come through. But many anglers would rather try for wild aggressive steelhead for a more fun experience.
Curt Kraemer, a retired state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, said they have been connecting with the the state fish and wildlife commission and raising the profile of the catch-and-release issue in the public. The fish numbers in the Skagit are more than enough to handle anglers, he said.
Kraemer said the group’s next step will be to bring in non-fishing parties. And, he encouraged anglers to contact their legislative representatives and ask them to address the issue.
“There was a time when people came from all over the world to fish here,” he said, noting the empty campground.
Kraemer said businesses along Highway 20 are hurt as well. In the past, the crush of fishermen would spend money on gas, food, lodging, supplies and more. But with the restricted fishing season, those dollars are gone, he said.
The group’s organizers are optimistic that eventually the restrictions will be lifted, but believe it will take several years, a lot of hard work and lots of paperwork.
Wayne Cline, one of the group’s organizers who waded out into the river to “fish” Saturday, said he moved to the Skagit in 1990 to indulge in his passion — fishing for steelhead. But now, like many others, he has to drive to the Olympic Peninsula to cast his rod. Some of the anglers at the protest said they feel the restrictions are funneling many fishermen to the peninsula, putting a strain on its resources.
“It seems silly when I can stand on the bank of the Skagit where I live and watch thousands of fish swim by,” Cline said.