Chehalis System Closure Update

WSGA Members


I want to take a moment to address the recent Chehalis system closure by WDFW.  As you can imagine several Executive Board members received many phone calls and emails over the past couple weeks regarding this potential closure which occurred this past Sunday night at midnight.

This closure is a difficult one for many guides and anglers to process.  We have heard from many guides and sport anglers who have stated the fishing has not been this good in a very long time. We have seen situations like this in the recent past. As an example, the closure of the Snohomish River system in 2018 when Coho fishing was as good as we had seen in many years.

Several board members have been talking to key decision makers with WDFW and yesterday, that leadership asked to meet with the Guide Advisory Committee on Wednesday this week, which many of your Executive Board and Advisory members are part of.

The closures of both the Snohomish system and the Chehalis system, have the same theme, “escapement.” Fortunately, we barely made escapement on the Snohomish system in 2018. So ultimately it was a good decision. Will the Chehalis system make escapement?  No one knows, because we are not at the end of this run. They are “projected” to be 2,000 fish short.

One concern by the department, is that the hatchery run coincides with the wild run.  Reaching escapement for the wild fish is the primary concern, but the department was very interested in hearing recommendations from the Guide Advisory Committee on what could be done to protect the run, but still provide opportunity.

Input from several guides was provided to the department.  Here are some of those recommendations provided;

Shift closures to better protect wild steelhead and provide opportunity in lower risk areas

  • Leave Chehalis open from Skookumchuck down to Galvin RD Bridge for the opportunity to catch Skookumchuck hatchery fish.  
  • Open up the Skookumchuck from dam down a couple miles to access hatchery returning fish.
  • Open Wynoochee up to 7400 line, close Wynoochee from 7400 up river.
  • Open mainstem Satsop, including East fork which has a hatchery on it and close West fork Satsop.
  • Close Turnow Branch.
  • Close Nawaukum.
  • Close Wishkah.
  • Look at redd surveys to see where higher volume of spawners are, in order to assess high-risk areas.
  • If considering closures to the Humptulips and Clearwater due to increased pressure due to Chehalis closure – make sure there’s factual data on angler pressure to support it.

Look at regulations changes to lower exploitation rates

  • Move to select gear everywhere
  • No Bait
  • Single Barbless hooks
  • One hatchery Steelhead per day so people get off the water quicker
  • Open rivers sections on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays only

We all recognize it is not good we are in this position to implement these types of restrictions on a fishery.  That said, the department is open to hearing and evaluating the possibility of re-opening portions of the Chehalis system to provide opportunity to everyone.

WDFW leadership will have a couple more meetings over the next day or so and make a determination. It is not the news you are probably looking for, but it is better than where we stand as of right now.

While this might be promising, I want you to be prepared for the worst case scenario. 

WSGA is hesitant to support “day of the week” closures.  This creates a limited opening and what we term a “Gold Rush” fishery.  We are aware there is some pressure from the angling community to also close the Humptulips and Clearwater Rivers.  WSGA does not support this.  We believe our fisheries should be managed with factual data and not emotions or feel good decisions.  If factual data shows a fishery should be closed, we will be supportive. 

WSGA promotes fair access to the resource. To this end, we do not want to see excessive  pressure on other fisheries due to closures in adjacent areas.

I also want to encourage you to speak to other guides and ask them to join WSGA.  Fishing guides in Washington State do not have representation.  Think of it like this, Unions represent the workers in their particular industry or workplace.  This is what WSGA does for fishing guides in Washington State.

As soon as we know something about this, we will let you know.