Angler Science opportunities in Washington

In Science Friday, Washington by Nick Chambers

It is that time of year again where we all get the opportunity to become citizen scientists on the weekend (basically, we get to have fun playing in streams).


I am happy to inform you all that – like last year – TU and Wild Steelheaders United will be conducting steelhead redd surveys in Washington’s Hoh River and sharing the data collected with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), to help the agency fill gaps in coverage during February and to survey additional streams later in the season.



Photo: Copi Vojta

TU staff and volunteers will assist WDFW (and Mara Zimmerman, lead WDFW scientist) in locating both coho and steelhead redds this winter. The goal of these surveys is to develop new methods to assign unknown redds to a species in order to better understand fish populations in areas where there is overlap in timing and area of spawning. We will measure physical attributes of redds which have been identified as to species through presence of fish. The goal is to determine if there are consistent differences in the structure and placement of coho and steelhead redds. A subset of measured redds will then be sampled using a new eDNA protocol developed by the state — this is to ascertain whether it is possible to identify what species created a redd by taking a water sample from within the redd. eDNA sampling is a relatively new method which is still being refined; a similar study was done with limited success but we are hoping for better results with a new modified protocol.


It may be possible for surveyors to accurately identify the species which excavated an unknown redd simply by measuring the same attributes we measure (such as length, width, substrate size and its location within the stream channel). Similarly and perhaps more exciting, it may be possible to determine species by taking a quick water sample. DNA sequencing technology is reaching the point where it is near instantaneous and can be done with hand held units. As the price for such technology comes down and protocols, such as the one we are helping to develop, become more accurate there is significant potential to better understand steelhead populations, which in turn should lead to better management.


Surveys will be conducted in two major watersheds, the Skagit and Hoh Rivers. For the Hoh we are hoping to have two survey crews, one which can attend weekend events (primarily hiking next to creeks looking for spawning fish and redds). Last season this proved difficult as water conditions were too high to survey nearly every weekend. This year we are planning to have a second “Seal Team” crew who can come out mid-week or on 24 hours’ notice to conduct surveys when conditions allow. The eDNA sampling is being led by WDFW and will primarily take place on weekdays. We anticipate that our Seal Team (or would it be Steel Team?) crew will provide most of the labor for this effort. Weather permitting, some of the eDNA sampling will take place on weekends in order for volunteers to attend and help with the process. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather this year.


Hoh River surveys will take place in February, on four lower river tributaries prior to WDFW surveys. Surveys will then move to other tributaries in order to expand coverage during the peak spawning period.






In addition we will conduct surveys on four Skagit River tributaries beginning in mid-February. The same protocol will be used to measure redds as in the Hoh — but we will not do eDNA sampling. Any redds measures by volunteers will increase the sample size over what we are able to collect in the Hoh, making conclusions more robust.


TU’s North Sound Chapter and the local Fourth Corner Fly Fishers club has purchased four temperature loggers which will be placed into the Skagit tributaries we will survey. There is consensus among fisheries biologist now that temperature is a driver of steelhead spawn timing, but relationships between temperature and spawn timing can vary substantially among populations and such an association has not been fully measured in the Skagit. Water temperature models are predicting big changes for the future in much of the Northwest and this has implications for wild steelhead populations. Understanding the mechanisms by which water temperature influences steelhead populations will be vital to protecting wild steelhead populations and their diversity and resilience.


In both the Hoh and Skagit watersheds early timed steelhead are the most depleted portion of the run and therefore of greatest conservation concern. Increasing the knowledge base of this portion of the run will enable managers to more effectively protect and restore the early timed life history.


Below are the current dates for angler science this winter and spring:


Skagit River

Where: TBD (however, the Cook Rd. and South Skagit/Hwy 9 park-and-rides made good meeting points last year).

When: 10:00 am

Sunday Feb 19th

Saturday March 4th

Saturday March 18th

Saturday April 1st

Saturday April 15th

Saturday April 29th

*We anticipate surveys continuing beyond this point but we will evaluate as the season progresses based on fish activity and data needs. To capture the breadth of spawn timing in upriver tributaries surveys may extend into July, however our primary goals are to determine the bounds of spawning so survey interval may drop during the peak time.


Hoh River

Where: Meet at Oxbow park

When:  10:00 am

Saturday Feb. 11th

Saturday Feb. 25th

Saturday Mar. 11th

Saturday Mar. 25th

Saturday April 8th

Saturday April 22nd

*We anticipate surveys continuing beyond this point but we will evaluate as the season progresses based on fish activity and data needs.

This schedule is dependent on water levels, for obvious reasons. We will do our best to give you ample notice of any changes. You may attend for any, one, or all of the surveys in either location.

Please RSVP to if you would like to be included on our e-mail alerts to organize crews for the survey days. We will send out weekly emails prior to surveys with updates on stream conditions and any changes in meeting times and places.