With our Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead fly fishing on hold during this period of high water, though there may be a few smaller areas to fish here and there, most of us are waiting for the bigger rivers to come back into shape; the Hoh, Bogachiele and Sol Duc in particular. Thanksgiving day was pretty rough around here for wind, and the bay was white capped and blowing, by evening it was a full on gale. So the hoped for alternative of a sea run Cutthroat fishing Thanksgiving day morning was out of the question. This morning was not too bad, and by mid day it had softened considerably, so a few hours at most would be possible in some locations. Overall the weekend forecast is kind of rough, making planning very hard. But this coming Monday looks like the perfect brief window for weather, wind and sea conditions, tides etc, and I am hoping to be on a beach by then, soothing my fishing starved nerves. With the "Olympic Mountain Rainshadow" being what it is around here, many forecasts do not have as much impact on us locally as much as they do on places just outside of that protection. So one thing we have learned around here is to watch local conditions closely. Often we have a decent fishing day when everyone else is blown off of the water. This offers us a respite from the winter storms that have torn up our rivers.
One thing that saltwater fishers do not seem to talk about much is the hazards of water pollution, especially in the less developed shoreline areas around Puget Sound. But there are some significant health risks associated with surf and wade fishing our beaches- the same dangers that threaten surfers, divers, shellfishers, crabbers and swimmers. Most often we hear of Public Health warnings and Beach Closures during the warmer months, and these are often Red Tide warnings, Shellfish Poisoning and fecal coliform hazards, and oil, fuel or other possible chemical spills. Even wearing modern fabric waders and protective clothing, you can be exposed to unhealthy levels of contaminants at times. Someone enjoying a mild winter day on the beaches, maybe because the rivers are too high to fish for now, fly fishing for sea run Cutthroat or Chum salmon, probably does not give water pollution dangers a second thought.
Of course our winters are rainy here in western Washington- especially during November- the wettest month. And this gets our rivers running high, sometimes flooding etc, and this can happen repeatedly throughout the entire winter. Storm water runoff from streets, parking lots, rooftops etc is one hazard of toxicity, and we know now that this can be a significant danger to shellfish, marine life, fish and wildlife. Additionally there can be combined outflows and overflows of treated and untreated sewerage and storm water from many sources. And obviously more urban or developed areas may be at greater risk for this. But even in rural areas this can be an issue, especially with regard to agricultural runoff, regional airports, highways, shopping areas, housing developments etc. And some rural areas are less financially able to upgrade or reconfigure their sewerage systems to avoid the impacts of very high storm water flows. During the winter months the ground can become saturated with water and older, defective or less effective private septic systems can simply leak out raw untreated contamination directly into the groundwater, the streams and marine waters. This can create unhealthy conditions for beach fishing.
A good resource for staying abreast of regional beach fishing health and safety hazards is via the Washington Department of Ecology Beach Blog, which can also provide you with an email notification of warnings and closures on regional beaches and shorelines as they are discovered. People actually sample water quality all year round here. And there are some pretty ugly events during the wintertime, usually during periods of high water in the rivers due to heavy rains. And this is usually our same time to go beach fishing. It only takes a moment to check in on the Beach Blog for recent notifications, or you may get an email subscription for free. The blog is updated often and they also have an active Facebook page. In either case there is a wealth of information there that many beach fishermen will benefit from studying. Those of you who may be familiar with the Surfrider Foundation will appreciate the value of this kind of real-time information.
Washington Dept of Ecology Beach Blog
Wa Dept of Ecology Beach Program on Facebook