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Originally published Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Winter steelhead fishing is off to a fair and promising start

The winter steelhead watch is on, and a surprisingly fair number of early arrivals have been hooked in westside rivers. "The winter-runs are starting...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Reel Time Northwest

Seattle native and lifelong angler Mark Yuasa blogs on fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

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The winter steelhead watch is on, and a surprisingly fair number of early arrivals have been hooked in westside rivers.

"The winter-runs are starting to show up, and the Cascade River in recent years is one place where they show up early," said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in LaConner.

"I've also been hearing from good sources of winter fish in the Stilly (Stillaguamish River) North Fork," Barkdull said. "The Skagit River is also producing a few fish."

More reports on how early winter steelhead fishing fared will come to light as Fortson Hole on Stillaguamish switched Saturday from a fly-only area to conventional gear like lures and bait.

The Stillaguamish North Fork saw a plant of 128,066 smolt in 2011 — they're defined as hatchery reared steelhead released at a minimum size of 10 fish per pound — and those that survived their migration are expected back this winter.

The Skagit River system received a healthy smolt plant with 210,000 in Cascade and 30,000 in Baker.

In the Snohomish River system, the Skykomish got a smolt plant of 145,955; Snoqualmie had 152,000; and the Wallace received 20,000. The Green River had a total of 116,056, and the Nooksack River got 99,999.

"We've already had a fairly good early winter steelhead season as far as the Skykomish River goes," said Mike Chamberlain, owner of Ted's Sports Center in Lynnwood. "Some were nice fish, and we know of a winter buck that weighed between 17 and 18 pounds, and those same guys had a 7-, 8- and 10-pounder."

The best steelhead reports were coming from Upper Skykomish at Reiter Ponds, Cable Hole and Proctor Creek areas off Highway 2.

Plunking anglers along the Snohomish River sandbars also have been catching some winter steelhead.

Hatchery steelhead smolt plants on the northern coast were reduced due to a disease outbreak that occurred in the Bogachiel Hatchery. No smolts went into the Hoh, Calawah and Sol Duc rivers, and Bogachiel got 80,293, which was substantially less than previous years.

Elsewhere on the coast, the Sooes got a smolt plant of 100,117; Quinault/Cook Creek, 404,027; Humptulips, 132,145; Wynoochee, 170,000; East Fork of Satsop, 58,800; Skookumchuck, 89,000; Naselle, 38,345; and Willapa, 61,500.

In Southwest Washington, the Cowlitz River is known as a winter steelhead hot bed, but in recent years has seen smolt production dwindle although some early arrivals have shown an uptick in catches this past week.

"We did a survey (this past week) and saw some steelhead caught around Blue Creek," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver.

State Fish and Wildlife will begin posting north coastal winter steelhead catch surveys at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/steelhead. For a look at the statewide steelhead smolt plants, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/steelhead/2011.html.

Mount Spokane Ski Area expansion moving onward

The Mount Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park expansion has taken another step forward in boosting the hillsides with more winter amenities.

Mount Spokane 2000, a nonprofit concessionaire that operates the ski concession at Mount Spokane, is looking to construct a new chairlift and seven additional ski runs on mountain's west side in an 850-acre area.

In the agreement signed by Washington State Parks Commission this past week, the concessionaire must provide plans for timber harvest and vegetation management, and grant a State Parks archaeological survey.

The next phase is the permitting process, which must to be completed before work can begin.

The proposal was submitted in 2010, and the concessionaire is hopeful work can begin by next summer. To view the plan, go to www.parks.wa.gov/plans/mtspokane2/.

The area just completed a 1,200-square foot addition to the main lodge boosting 100 seats and a new outdoor deck for this winter.

Another huge Eastern Washington expansion project was finished at 49 Degrees North where the new Angel Peak double chairlift will open this winter.

The lift located on the northwest summit of Chewelah Mountain covers 1,144 vertical feet, and will move 1,000 guests per hour to the top.

The Angel Peak expansion covers about 400 acres, and nine new trails with nice gladded areas and well spaced trees. Work on a new 4,000-foot mid-mountain lodge is expected to be completed by the next winter.

Eastside fisheries end

Steelhead fishing has closed on some Eastern Washington rivers after what turned out to be a fairly short, but sweet season that began in mid-October.

Steelhead closures — which also include whitefish — affects the Upper Columbia River from Wells Dam to Highway 173 Bridge at Brewster, and Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat and Methow.

About 18,000 steelhead were forecast, and fishing was closely monitored to protect steelhead listed on the Endangered Species Act.

This season's return was smaller than past years. That along with steady fishing pressure, and an increase in the number of wild fish crossing one's path lead to the closure.

Anglers were only allowed to keep hatchery-marked steelhead.

Closures don't affect steelhead and whitefish fishing in Columbia River mainstem from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam or from Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Fishing also remains open in Okanogan and Similkameen. All are open until further notice.

Only hatchery steelhead with an adipose clipped fin may be kept. There is a night closure and selective gear rules, but bait can be used in Columbia mainstem.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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