Combat Skook: Skookumchuck Steelies Draw a Crowd


    A late winter steelhead run on the Skookumchuck River — and the crowds that fought for a place on the bank to catch them the first week in February — has tapered off. The Chronicle caught up with some diehards last week near the Skookumchuck Dam. Although a couple of 8 to 10-pounders were landed, the fishing was nothing like it the previous week when “hundreds” of angler’s fought for a place on the shore of the river.

    Dennis Matsuda, a hatchery specialist at the Skookumchuck hatchery, said there were lots of cars and “elbow to elbow” anglers two weeks ago. It gets so bad when there is a fish run, Jim Cline of Tenino avoids fishing on certain days.

    “I try not to come out on the weekends,” Cline said Wednesday while fishing the Corner Hole. “There will be 70 to 80 people up here at least. ... I don’t know where they come from.”

    Cline and five other locals were casting to the far side of the Corner Hole below the dam, hoping one of the few remaining hungry steelhead would take their bait. Only two anglers had managed to land a fish Wednesday morning. Travis Bruhn of Tenino was fishing with Bethany Hoover of Olympia without any luck, although Bruhn said he had successfully landed a 10-pounder the day before.

    The Feb. 3 escapement report for the Skookumchuck hatchery showed a strong increase in late winter steelhead from the previous week.

    “This year this first push has been large, at least twice as large as it historically is,” Skookumchuck hatchery Manager Jim Dills said. “Normally a good run would be 200, but we’ve had twice that. We’re already up to 500 steelhead.”

    It was a trend Dills has seen for all species this year on the Skook.

    “Overall it’s been good,” he said, although Matsuda disagreed.

    “Their returns varied from region to region,” he said. “Coastal had a great year, but not Puget Sound.”

    Neither cared to speculate about the remaining season.

    “We don’t know how the steelhead runs will be,” Dills said. “It could be the best ever.”


    Lee Hughes: (360) 807-8239


Anglers Talk Trash

By Lee Hughes /

    Make a trip to the area below the Skookumchuck Dam and one thing stands out: garbage, and lots of it.

    The banks of the river are lined with trash. Although some trash bags are evidence hanging from anything handy, all are full to overflowing. Debris ranging from Styrofoam containers to empty beer cans and what might be miles of discarded fishing line litter the area of the river between the dam and the hatchery.

    Hatchery Specialist Dennis Matsuda feels most of the trash is left by people from outside the area, noting that locals police themselves. He sometimes sees a woman who walks the stream with a trash bag she fills up as she goes.

    “The locals do their part,” Matsuda said. “But if this is not your backyard you don’t care.”

    Jim Dills, Skookumchuck hatchery manager, said the excessive trash is an all too common condition during fishing season. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can write a ticket, he said, but it’s hard to prove. Enforcement of issues like littering go to the wayside when budgets are tight and agents are forced to do more with less.

    “Dennis and I have picked up a lot of trash,” Dills said of the debris anglers leave behind. “We filled a 44-pound feed bag in 10 minutes.”

    Below the hatchery, Ken Downing of Olympia was collecting empty aluminum cans in bags as he prepared his tackle.

    “I made $28 picking up cans along the Skook,” he said. “It’s really pathetic that sportsmen bring their garbage out and don’t pick it up.”

    At current return rates that equates to about 15 pounds of aluminum cans.

    Downing places the blame squarely on anglers, noting that “it’s not just sight-seers, but the fishermen themselves.”

    Dills had a simple message for anglers: “People that come up here please police yourself — pack it in, pack it out.”