Famed Skykomish Steelhead Access Trashed

Lewis Street has a special place in this steelheader’s heart, so it pains me to see how trashed part of this legendary fishing access on the Skykomish River has become.

A minute-and-a-half-long video shot and posted yesterday by Get with the Program Monroe shows piles and piles of clothes, bedding, trash, propane bottles, bicycle parts and more — the cast-offs of an encampment along the Highway 203 bridge south of Monroe.

A SCREEN SHOT SHOWS A FACEBOOK POST BY GET WITH THE PROGRAM MONROE THAT INCLUDES A VIDEO TOUR OF AN ENCAMPMENT ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF LEWIS STREET BRIDGE. (FACEBOOK)

I feel bad that in this day and age people have to live outdoors, especially in this winter climate. And while I will quickly acknowledge that there’s not exactly weekly garbage service at camps like this, I am still repulsed by the mess they’ve made here.

It sounds like as many as 80 squatters may have lived here until the county sheriff last week apparently served notice to vacate the area.

WITH ITS STATE BOAT LAUNCH and large parking lot, over the decades many a sled has been put in at Lewis Street and many a drift boat float has come to an end here.

But even as a bastion of boaters, the waters below the bridge have a long-standing special regulation that gives bank anglers fishing priority.

It’s here that I caught my first steelhead, somewhere in early 1989. It was downstream a couple hundred yards, on the south shore, back when there was a nice little riffle here.

Two fish in three casts.

Watermelon Corky, if I recall, though I don’t remember whether I was running it with eggs or scented yarn.

Greg and I hit that spot a lot over the years, and when guys beat us to it, we’d head upstream, through the woods then old wooden pilings to fish the island below where the old railroad trestle was.

After the 2002 season ended, I spent most of a day cleaning up the banks on both sides of the Sky.

A SLIDE SHOT I TOOK ON THE WINTER 2001–02 DAY I COLLECTED A PICKUP LOAD OF TRASH AROUND LEWIS STREET. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I filled the back of my Chevy with a mix of fishermen’s junk, stuff that had floated downriver, and a stray tire or two that I hauled off to the dump.

Today I’d need several dump trucks.

And a couple front-end loaders.

LOOKING BACK, I SEE THE SIGNS OF A problem in the making.

With a switch in steelhead release strategies then shortened seasons, as well as changes to the river bed and declining wild runs, the Lewis Street drift became less productive, leading to fewer anglers visiting the water here.

Even so, I’m one of those folks who will keep fishing a spot they merely think they once had a bite at, so two Januaries ago I began a day on the Sky here.

Initially my plan was to go below the bridge deck and make my way downstream on the trails of old, but when I came across a few tents and scattered belongings, I backed out and decided to go upstream instead.

A TENT AND OTHER BELONGINGS UNDERNEATH LEWIS STREET BRIDGE IN JANUARY 2015. AN ENCAMPMENT HERE HAS SINCE SPREAD NORTH AND SOUTH OF THE HIGHWAY 203 OVER THE SKYKOMISH RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Eventually I ended up on the island opposite Al Borlin Park and fished the top couple hundred yards of that run, a good spot in the day, then the deeper part at the top end of the side channel on the south side of the island because it kinda looked a little fishy.

I didn’t hook anything, of course, so decided it was time to drive upstream to Gold Bar. As I made my way back to my rig on a long, skinny island overgrown with invasive knotweed and blackberries I stumbled upon a tent.

It was surprising — and a little bit unnerving. Why the hell was someone here? And were they home?

Bloodied and dripping with sweat after a battle through a replanted forest that eventually became part of the encampment, I returned to my car.

With steelhead season on the lower mainstem Sky once again coming to an end, I had been considering making a run out to Lewis Street this weekend.

Then I saw that video.

And a few more, plus pics that Get With the Program Monroe has posted in recent weeks.

I’ll go elsewhere.

AGAIN, I FEEL BAD FOR THOSE who have to live like this. And I guess I can understand why they’re here.

It’s just outside city limits, there are very few neighbors close by, the bridge allows for access into Monroe where presumably they can get fresh clothing every few days (judging by all the discarded garb) from charities, and there must be some homeless services in town.

Some, maybe most, truly need help. Others have surely simply found a way to support their addictions and can cope with longterm outdoor living.

Either way, they’ve left a colossal mess.

According to the county parcel viewer, the land here is in a mix of ownerships — a family trust, state right-of-ways, local farmers and no-man’s ground where the Skykomish has shifted away from old property lines.

By happenstance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering buying land that appears to include part of the encampment, as mitigation for lost hunting ground elsewhere in the watershed.

Before that deal is signed, someone needs to make sure there’s no trash on the ground, or squatters living there, and that the problem won’t return.

According to Get With the Program Monroe, operated by someone who identifies themselves as a resident of the immediate area, the landowner on whose property many of the squatters have sullied the ground must pay for the cleanup. Because of the nature of the trash, volunteers are not being sought. They cite the support of Sen. Kirk Pearson and his legislative aide Cameron Bailey as instrumental in getting something done about it.

Thumbs up to FWTPM for hard work bringing this problem to the forefront and to the senator for his interest.

As someone with long associations to that spot, I appreciate it, even if I won’t be fishing there this weekend.


Originally published at nwsportsmanmag.com on January 25, 2017.