WDFW Announces 2023-2024 Coastal Steelhead Season

Bobber dogging can put steelhead in the net

We’ve finally received the much anticipated 2023-2024 Coastal Steelhead season announcement. Or at least we’ve heard the first part of the season…

OLYMPIA – Fishery managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced this week regulations for the state’s 2023-2024 coastal steelhead fishing season. Included are special rules allowing fishing from a floating device on two sections of the Hoh River during certain days of the week to help determine impacts to wild steelhead. 

“With a focus on the long-term decline of coastal steelhead, especially in the Queets and Quinault watersheds, the Region 6 team has designed recreational fishery regulations that support WDFW’s conservation goals while integrating what we’ve heard from the public,” said James Losee, WDFW Coastal Region fish program manager. “With this in mind, we are implementing a one-year study in the Hoh River to determine the wild steelhead impacts from fishing from a floating device to better inform future rule making.” 

Fishing is scheduled to be open from Dec. 1 through March 31 with some opportunities to fish from a floating device. Selective gear rules and single point barbless hooks will be required on all systems open to fishing. These include: 

  • Quillayute River System 
  • Hoh River 
  • Willapa Bay River System (select tributaries will close Feb. 28) 

WDFW fishery managers are continuing discussions with Quinault Indian Nation to secure agreements on fishery plans in Grays Harbor rivers and tributaries. 

In waters open to fishing, the bag limit is two hatchery steelhead, and anglers must release wild steelhead and rainbow trout. All anglers are advised that additional emergency Fishing Rule Changes could occur throughout the season. 

The Quillayute River System will follow similar rules as last year’s emergency regulations with some expanded boat fishing on the Sol Duc River. Fishing from a floating device will be allowed in the mainstem Quillayute, downstream of the concrete pump station at the Sol Duc Hatchery, below the Highway 101 bridge on the Calawah River, and downstream of the mouth of Mill Creek on the Bogachiel River (approximately 3/4 mile above the Bogachiel Hatchery). 

In the Hoh River, fishing from a floating device will be allowed Sunday through Tuesday only from the Morgan’s Crossing boat launch downstream to the Washington Department of Natural Resources Hoh Oxbow Campground boat launch, and Wednesday through Saturday only from the Hoh Oxbow boat launch downstream to the Olympic National Park boundary near the mouth. 

Fishing from a floating device will also be allowed in rivers that flow into Willapa Bay throughout the scheduled season (Dec. 1 through March 31). 

State-managed recreational fishing closes Nov. 30 in the Chehalis, Humptulips, Quinault, and Queets rivers due to chronic low wild steelhead abundance. WDFW is still pursuing agreement with tribal co-managers through signed fishery management plans in these systems.  

For more information on the Quinault and Queets fisheries, see the Olympic National Park news release. More on fishing in Olympic National Park can be found on the park’s fishing webpage

Final fishing regulations followed an extensive public engagement process, which included a two-part virtual town hall series this past fall and several WDFW staff updates to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.  

WDFW continues to operate under its Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, which requires the Department to prioritize the sustainability of wild coastal steelhead runs by focusing on healthy levels of abundance, productivity, diversity, and distribution. 

For more information about coastal steelhead management, the pre-season planning process, and recordings of prior public meetings, please visit WDFW’s website.  

I first wrote about the much anticipated coastal steelhead public process here. My primary concern, consistent with the values of the PNWBestLife brand, is to be able to harvest hatchery steelhead where abundant, and without impacting conservation objectives.

I did not have high hopes for a good outcome largely due to the opaqueness of the process last year. It had seemed very obvious to enable a hatchery steelhead targeted fishery below hatchery deadlines with good returns, but we weren’t given that in 2022, and we weren’t given satisfactory clarity about why that was.

So my primary goal and that of many others who were active in the process was to get that clarity this time around.

We wanted to understand exactly why these hatchery fish were not available for harvest, especially in rivers like the Skookumchuck River where the hatchery deadline literally dead-ends at a large concrete dam blocking any and all upstream migration of any wild steelhead.

Fast forward to the first Coastal Steelhead Town Hall, and things seemed similar with input being received and questions being answered, with slightly more thoroughness. The overall vibe felt similar though.

If you’ve been along for the ride for any amount of time though you would hardly blame me for being somewhat cynical about getting to a satisfactory outcome.

I put a ton of notes together from the presentation materials along with thoughts about that first town hall here.

Now, in the second town hall, it was very clear that WDFW had a proposal to open up the Humptulips, Wynoochee, and Skookumchuck Rivers for hatchery steelhead retention during the early return period of December – March 1st.

This is fantastic news and may not be clearly understood from the above press release, but that’s what was shared in the virtual town hall.

The key final hurdle will be negotiations with the tribal co-managers. The reality is the sport impact limits are still quite small in terms of protecting the wild steelhead returns.

I just really appreciate that we are trying to do the right thing this year, even if it ultimately fails.

If these three rivers do open up for fishing, they will be heavily creel monitored and I would highly encourage the sport fishing community to be on our game, including being honest about wild steelhead encounters to allow this monitoring strategy to continue to have credibility.

Losing monitoring credibility would be a terrible outcome as we’ve seen in Puget Sound fisheries.

I would expect to hear from WDFW again with another press release over the next 1-2 weeks on the status of these Grays Harbor tributaries. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, it might be time to plan a trip to the Forks area rivers to target the usually solid run of hatchery steelhead which should be loaded after this latest shot of rain.

I recently wrote a comprehensive article highlighting the Bogachiel River here.