Klickitat Steelhead

Something to consider.  This fish was caught and released by Sam Sickles.  It measured 42″ long with a girth of 24″.  The standard formula for estimating weight puts this wild buck at slightly over 30 pounds.Sam Sickles 2008 PIGKlickitat steelhead are not “average Columbia summer steelhead”. The Klickitat is a small watershed that produces strong and large steelhead.  If you consider the Klickitat’s geomorphology you’ll understand why Klickitat wild steelhead are strong…the river demands strength. The Klickitat drops over 45′ per mlle from it’s sources so there is plenty of fast water and elevation gain as you go upriver, weak fish or weak genetics don’t reproduce here.

A quick geographic overview of the drainage, top to bottom.

The Klickitat source waters develop in the eastern Cascades near Cispus Pass. Cispus Pass constitutes the divide between the upper Klickitat and Cowlitz watersheds. The Klickitat begins south of Gilbert Peak where the Conrad and Meade Glaciers provide it’s initial summer flows.  Mt Adams northeast and eastern flanks add additional water to the system.  The Klickitat flows about 100 miles to it’s Columbia confluence.  Overall the Klickitat watershed drains approximately 1,350 square miles.

The Diamond Fork gathers water from the divides between the Tieton, Ahtanum and Simcoe Creeks (tribs of the Yakima R.) before entering the Klickitat just downstream of McCormick Meadows.  The Diamond Fork enters the Klickitat above Castile Falls

The Westfork drains the northeastern flank of Mt. Adams and forms from many small tributaries tumbling down the mountain.  It provides important summer flows.

Castile Falls is a set of 10 elevation drops where fish passage was deemed difficult but I’d argue steelhead could easily pass this section if discharge were in a the normal summer ranges.  Two tunnels were blasted through rock to create passage and a check dam was constructed to force water through the tunnels.  The check dam stops more passage then the 10 elevation drops ever did.

The Rusk and Klickitat glaciers drain the southeastern flank of Adams and form the Big Muddy at about 7,000 ft.  The Big Muddy is generally where we get the fine glacial till that can make the Klickitat unfishable during the highest temps of summer.

That’s my take as a fisherman who was blessed with the opportunity to play around in the upper watershed (closed area of the Yakama Reservation).

Here’s another description.

According to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website (2004), the mainstem Klickitat River arises from the Cascades below Cispus Pass at approximately 5,000 feet elevation and flows 95 miles to its confluence with the Columbia River and the reservoir behind the Bonneville Dam. Major tributaries to the mainstem Klickitat include Swale Creek, Little Klickitat River, Outlet Creek, Big Muddy Creek, West Fork Klickitat River, and Diamond Fork. The geology of the Klickitat drainage is dominated by extensive basalt strata having a total thickness of several thousand feet. Volcanic rocks of four distinct age groups underlie the basin. The Cascade crest is dominated by Mount Adams, a 12,000-foot dormant volcano with an extensive glacier system that drains into the Klickitat River. At the northwest corner of the basin lie the Goat Rocks, the deeply eroded remnants of an extinct volcano, that reach to about 8,000 feet. The northern boundary is the Klickton Divide, a 7,000-foot ridge of Columbia River Basalt that separates the Klickitat from the watershed of the Tieton River, a tributary to the Yakima. The Lost Horse and Lincoln plateaus, 5,000 to 6,000-foot-high plateaus underlain by Columbia River basalts, separate the Klickitat from the Ahtanum and Toppenish basins, which drain east to the Yakima River. In the southeast part of the basin, younger volcanic rocks, including many cinder cones, cover the older basalts on the divide separating the Klickitat from the Satus Basin.

That’s it for now but I still have more to say about Klickitat Steelhead and this time I’ll add Spring Chinook, the only endemic anadromous fish that belong to the Klickitat are steelhead and spring chinook..

Steelhead enter the Klickitat 12 months of the year…