Editor’s Note: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been enacting restrictions on coastal steelhead fishing due to very low returns. Watch for updates to regulations prior to fishing.
This major tributary of the Chehalis River offers good late-winter steelhead fishing a short drive from Olympia and Tacoma.
The Skookumchuck (a.k.a. the “Skook”) also has some opportunities for trout and coho salmon fishing.
The Skookumchuck enters the Chehalis River next to the city of Centralia in Lewis County, but a good bit of it flows through Thurston County and many of the steelhead especially are caught below the Skookumchuck Dam east of Bucoda.
Winter Steelhead Fishing
Most anglers will focus on the Skookumchuck during the late winter, when steelhead arrive back at the state hatchery facility below the dam.
The first reasonable catches might happen as early as January and certainly February, but March is usually the very best time to catch steelhead on the Skook.
The dam is located along Skookumchuck Road SE, only about 15 or so minutes driving from Highway 507 between Tenino and Bucoda.
While most of the stream flows through private property and is difficult to access, anglers can get to the most productive spots immediately below the hatchery, where the steelhead are the most concentrated.
Of course, the steelhead anglers also will be the most concentrated, and the prime spots within this short stretch of river can be elbow-to-elbow when the fish are here in numbers.
There is a fishing deadline right below the hatchery outlet. The main access points are right along Skookumchuck Road in an area less than a mile in length, from a spot known as Hike End up to the hatchery. There are several vehicle pull-outs and trails to the stream.
Coho Salmon Fishing
The Skook also is a modest producer of coho salmon.
Coho are a fall-run fish and typically reach the Skookumchuck in mid-fall. It currently is open to coho salmon fishing during the second half of October through the end of December. Chinook salmon is closed.
In recent years, the coho catches have been modest, counted in the dozens or low hundreds for the season.
Coho can be a frustrating fish to catch in freshwater, where they often have a serious case of lockjaw, but when they do decide to bite it can be fast and furious for short periods. Drifting bait and bright yarns and attractors can work, as can casting brightly colored spinners, spoons, jigs and even flies.
Note that during the fall and winter seasons the Skookumchuck is a “flashy” stream that can blow out quickly with a good rainfall. It’s also a fairly small stream, so very low-water conditions likely will result in easily spooked steelhead and salmon.
It’s best to time your trips when recent rainfall has been in that Goldilocks range, not too much or too little.
The Skookumchuck also is home to trout, including some rainbow as well as both sea-run and resident cutthroat trout.
The sea-run cutts will be found from the mouth near Chehalis up to below the dam, where upriver migration is blocked.
Above the reservoir (which doesn’t have good fishing access), the river is home to resident rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Anglers report limited access in private lands and, frankly, smallish trout in the upper river, so it’s somewhat lightly fished. Explorers may appreciate that, but it’s not the best place to go if you’re looking for keeper-sized fish.
Be sure to carefully read up on the Skookumchuck’s current regulations before fishing, taking note of size requirements, deadline areas and open seasons.
Where is the Skookumchuck River?
One reason that makes the Skookumchuck River popular, especially for the main attraction of its winter steelhead run, is that it’s close to home for a lot of anglers.
The prime area below the dam is only about a 25-minute drive from Centralia, 40 minutes from Olympia, and just over an hour from Tacoma.