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Steelhead Fishery to Open on Skagit and Sauk Rivers

Plus new Spey gear, Michigan regs, Christmas-tree recycling, Idaho steelhead recovery, books, ponds, the Fly Fishing Show, and more in Fly Fisherman's News Briefs for January 24, 2024.

Steelhead Fishery to Open on Skagit and Sauk Rivers

A wild steelhead caught and released on the Skagit River. (Photo courtesy Greg Fitz)

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For those fly anglers with plenty of merino wool stashed away, there’s some wintertime midge fishing opportunity right now, and we’re all dreaming of skwala stoneflies, right? With that, here’s a new edition of Fly Fisherman News Briefs:

Steelhead Fishery to Open on Skagit and Sauk Rivers

Enough steelhead have been forecast to meet the management plan minimums on the Skagit and Sauk rivers to open the rivers to recreational fishing. Steelhead fishing will open February 3 through April 17 for five days a week (Saturdays through Wednesdays only, closed Thursdays and Fridays) on portions of the Skagit and its tributary the Sauk. These fisheries will be open under catch and release regulations, except up to two hatchery steelhead may be retained. Wild steelhead must be released immediately and may not be removed from the water. Fishing for all other species–including targeting bull trout–remains closed during this fishery.

“Fishing for steelhead is part of both tribal and non-tribal culture in Washington state,” Edward Eleazer, WDFW’s North Puget Sound Region Fish Program Manager said in a press release. “This fishery is a model for co-management, and as one component of WDFW’s Quicksilver Portfolio for Restoring Puget Sound Steelhead and Fisheries, for managing steelhead guided by science and careful monitoring. We ask recreational anglers to give tribal fishers space and respect if they encounter each other on the Skagit or Sauk during this fishery.”

On the Skagit River, steelhead fishing will be allowed from the Dalles Bridge at Concrete upstream to Cascade River Road (Marblemount Bridge). On the Sauk River, steelhead fishing will be open from the mouth upstream to Darrington Bridge (Sauk Prairie Road).

Click here for more information. 

Michigan Amends Steelhead Regs on Select Rivers

In an effort to help the state regain some of its steelhead glory, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission has adopted some regulation changes on select rivers this year that will establish a year-round daily possession limit of one rainbow trout 20-inches or greater on a variety of Type 3 and Type 4 waters

The side and tail of a steelhead underwater, swimming on gravelly rocks.
Michigan anglers expressed support for lower bag limits on steelhead, in an effort to increase catch-and-release opportunities in rivers that have natural reproduction. (Photo courtesy USFWS, Ryan Hagerty)

That amendment, which came about after a public comment period in which anglers expressed support for lower bag limits on steelhead, is all part of an effort to increase catch-and-release opportunities in rivers that have natural reproduction of steelhead. The new amendment is part of the current daily possession limit regulation package that covers Type 3 and 4 waters and will be updated in both the Michigan DNR’s online regs and the state’s printed regs. The new amendment goes into effect on April 1 according to the DNR.

YETI Christmas Tree Recycling Push

While the number of cut evergreen trees used to celebrate the holidays might not be what it once was as the song “Oh Christmas Tree” played on the radio, there are still plenty who venture to a Christmas tree farm or get a Forest Service permit to cut their own.




Underwater photo of panfish and bass swimming around sunken Christmas trees.
Old Christmas trees, when anchored with a cinder block, can be easily sunk and turned into instant habitat as the nation's reservoirs age and need a habitat improvement boost. But check local regulations first. (Photo courtesy of YETI)

And because of that, Austin-based YETI Coolers is urging such real-tree users to consider something other than simply throwing the tired old evergreen out. Instead, recycle it into valuable fish habitat.

The reason for the Fish-Fir idea is biologically sound according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) inland fisheries biologists John Findeisen and Mike Homer, Jr. is because the trees—when anchored with a cinder block—can be easily sunk and turned into instant habitat as the nation's reservoirs age and need a habitat improvement boost.

“Revegetation projects are underway, but a fir tree in the water provides an immediate habitat for the fish,” said Findeisen, who leads a team within TPWD's Aquatic Vegetation Management division.

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Findeisen says that sunken brush—like fir, pine, or spruce Christmas trees—offers cover and foraging areas for a variety of fish. When those trees are sunk, bait fish and panfish will use the smaller spaces in the branches for protection from larger predator fish like largemouth bass. And larger brush piles allow for the creation of honey-holes that may be used by those bigger predatory fish like largemouth, catfish, and more.

The TPWD biologist says that it really doesn't take much time before seeing the benefits: "Even within 10-15 minutes of sinking the tree, we see fish utilizing it as habitat.”

Do such fish-fir habitat efforts—which can last anywhere from one to five-years—really work?

“Two of the biggest projects we did were at Lake Brownwood and Lake Proctor in central Texas in 2016,” said Homer Jr. "The brush pile projects at these reservoirs used about 600 trees. While the feedback we receive on the fishing is anecdotal, we know the bass clubs had a lot of success fishing these locations."

In addition to encouraging individuals to work with local officials on such efforts at individual waterbodies, both YETI and TPWD recently partnered to place these Fish-Firs into Granger Lake in a bigger, collaborative effort. That effort utilized more than 160 donated Christmas trees dropped off at YETI's flagship store in downtown Austin, allowing the installation of habitat reefs to provide fish habitat. 

“The trees were installed as part of a large reef that will serve as habitat for fish in Granger Lake in the coming years and as an area for anglers to target,” said Patrick Ireland, TPWD Inland Fisheries Division San Marcos and Austin District Supervisor. “Granger is known for crappie and this reef should benefit both the anglers and the fish at this lake, which otherwise has limited natural fish habitat.” 

If you’ve already thrown your tree out for this year, keep this idea in mind for next year. Also keep in mind that stores and tree lots that sold trees only a few weeks ago may have a tree pile of dried-up evergreens sitting out back awaiting disposal. And if you have a few too many cedar trees on your property, clearing some out and turning them into fish condos is a great springtime project.

Always check local regulations as this is illegal in some jurisdictions.

YETI Tarpon Book

And in case you missed out on getting a copy of YETI’s wildly popular Tarpon coffee table book when it was first printed in 2019, here’s your chance to grab a copy of a classic tome that quickly sold out a few years ago. 

The opening spread of a book about tarpon fishing.
YETI's Tarpon book was brought back with a new printing just before Christmas.

As the first of YETI’s four coffee table book series (also including Wild Sheep, White Water, and Ducks), the Tarpon book was brought back with a new printing just before Christmas. With more than 130 pages of epic photography—some of the best photos possibly ever taken of tarpon fly fishing are in this book alongside essays by the likes of Thomas McGuane, Diana Rudolph, and Randy Wayne White—this book was put together by renowned Florida tarpon fly-fishing guide David Mangum.

It’s a must-own volume if you are a card-carrying member of the tarpon cult. 

Montana Community Pond Program Grants

The clock is ticking before a February 1 application deadline for the Community Pond Program Grants given out annually by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP).

Designed to enhance fishing opportunities in Big Sky State communities, this grant funding—where awards program totals are as much as $150,000 per year and can be allocated in individual grants ranging between $1,000 and $40,000—can be used to construct or improve public fishing ponds. 

There are some MFWP administrative rules and such, so familiarize yourself with the program and its guidelines. And remember that the agency notes that preference is given to projects that create or enhance family and youth angling opportunities, the education of anglers, and improving amenities for anglers with disabilities.

2024 Fly Fishing Show Season Arrives

There may be a bit of meteorological roulette involved, but it’s time to attend one of the numerous fly fishing shows scattered across the calendar in the next several weeks.

The popular Fly Fishing Show has already had its debut show for 2024 with the January 5-7 event in Marlborough, Massachusetts and the January 19-21 in Denver.

After that, the FFS will head east, visiting the New Jersey Convention & Expo Center in Edison, New Jersey for a January 26-28 run. Then the show heads to the southeast with a February 2-4 visit to Atlanta's GAS South Convention Center. That visit to the land of pork barbecue and some of the nation's top tailwater trout streams will be followed by a cross-country move to the steelhead and trout country of the Pacific Northwest and West Coast with visits to the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Washington from Feb. 17-18 and Pleasanton, California's Alameda County Fairgrounds from February 23-25. 

The Fly Fishing Show tour for 2024 will wrap up with a March 2-3 stop at Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Lancaster County Convention Center.

If you can't make any of those, don't forget the Lone Star State as the 6th annual Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival arrives the weekend of February 24-25 when the show visits the Mesquite Convention Center once again a few miles northeast of downtown Dallas. Also in the DFW area, there's the Trinity FlyFest happening again near downtown Fort Worth on March 9. The Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo takes place from March 15-17 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and many other shows and festivals are occurring nationwide. And just in time for the big 2024 solar eclipses in the Ozarks on April 8—not to mention the periodical cicada Brood XIX arriving in the White River region shortly thereafter—the 2024 Sowbug Roundup in Mountain Home, Arkansas is going down from March 21-23.

Costa Steps Up Again for B&TT

More than a decade into the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Project Permit research initiative, Costa Sunglasses has stepped up and gone to bat as a financial supporter once again. 

Results from the Project Permit initiative include a dart-and-acoustic-tagging program that has helped provide valuable data used in identifying the vital Western Dry Rocks permit spawning flats in the Lower Keys, along with spurring efforts to protect that area’s spawning potential with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission no-fishing closures as permit and other species go through the breeding process.

“When you love something, you want to protect it," said Jed Larkin, Brand Director for Costa Sunglasses, in a news release. "That was the motivation behind Costa’s partnership with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust for Project Permit more than 10 years ago, and it’s the same reason we continue our legacy partnership today. The findings from this project have been remarkable, and seeing those play a role in effective management to protect this iconic permit fishery is something we’re really proud of.”

“We thank Costa for its continued partnership and support of Project Permit,” said Bonefish & Tarpon Trust President and CEO Jim McDuffie. “This study has expanded our knowledge of permit movement and habitat uses and made a lasting impact on permit conservation in Florida waters. We look forward to continuing to work with Costa and the Keys guide community to ensure effective management of this iconic permit fishery.”

More Idaho Steelhead Restoration Efforts on Potlatch River

Last month, we told you about two videos released by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) concerning what the agency is doing for steelhead habitat restoration in the Gem State's East Fork of the Potlatch River.

Located north of Lewiston, Idaho, the Potlatch was historically a productive stream for steelhead and salmon, which is why work is underway on private land to restore the river to its former glory. That work is shown through a series of videos, including Part 1 and Part 2 that were introduced to readers prior to Christmas.

The work continues to return this once-time meandering stream back to the complex habitat that juvenile steelhead need to have as they go through their life cycle. The video series continues to show efforts to help the stream overcome previous land use practices that have negatively changed the stream's productivity.

In Part 3, the video shows efforts that IDFG is undertaking to partner with private landowners, while Part 4 shows the monitoring efforts underway, things that include snorkel surveys, electrofishing, and even trap boxes that show IDFG biologists how steelhead are responding to the restoration efforts. Over time, and as the program matures, it is hoped that the Potlatch will once again be helping steelhead spawning efforts, the rearing of those steelhead, and the eventual return of juveniles to the Pacific Ocean.

Sage Introduces New R8 Spey Fly Rod and Reel

Sage has recently introduced the company's SPEY R8 rod family and the SPEY Reel series, both designed to be the next evolution in double-handed fly rod and reel technology.

Two Sage fly rods leaning up against a tree.
Sage's SPEY R8 rod series contains several models that utilize Sage's proprietary Revolution 8 graphite. (Photo courtesy of Sage/Farbank)

Relying on its lengthy history in designing and building such rods since the late 1980s, the company's new SPEY R8 rod series contains several models that utilize Sage's proprietary Revolution 8 graphite for construction, heightening smooth energy transfer in the three key parts of the Spey cast that include the lift, load, and delivery of the fly. 

“In designing our new SPEY R8 rods, we recognized there isn’t a single rod action appropriate for the wide variety of Spey fishing applications found around the globe," said Sage Rod Designer Paul Schmierer, in a news release. "We identified four distinct Spey rod applications, each with its own unique set of requirements. This new approach matches rod action to application, ensuring anglers have the most fine-tuned Spey rod for their fishing. Across the family, our Revolution 8 Technology ensures a remarkably smooth and intuitive feel, (no) matter the line configuration.”

A spey rod butt section with a Sage R8 Spey reel being used by a fly angler.
The SPEY Reel series utilizes what the company says is a redesigned sealed carbon fiber disc and dual-clicker drag system that ensures dependability. (Photo courtesy of Sage/Farbank)

The SPEY Reel series utilizes what the company says is a redesigned sealed carbon fiber disc and dual-clicker drag system that ensures dependability, while eliminating unwarranted spool rotation and offering exceptional performance, feel and resonance with a healthy supply of timeless good looks sprinkled in.

In terms of their design features, balance and appearance, the new SPEY Reels series perfectly complements the recently launched SPEY 8 Rod Series according to Sage Reel Designer Joseph Conrad.

"The SPEY Reel aesthetic is an amalgam of influences from the past and present, a nod to Spey traditions and innovations of our own making as well as those from the greater anadromous angling community," said Conrad, while also noting that "Our new SPEY Reels are the result of 40 years of designing, fishing, and tinkering combined with our enduring passions of Spey fishing for anadromous species."

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