When you bring a wild steelhead to hand, it’s up to you to take care of that fish until it’s rested and ready to continue on its long journey. There are dos and don’ts to make sure fish are treated properly.
Haul the fish into your boat with a net and set it down in the bottom of the boat. Fish flopping against hard surfaces beat themselves up just like they do on land.
Beach a wild fish for the same reason you don’t lay it in the boat. A flailing fish is in trouble.
Stick your fingers in its gills. Don’t lip steelhead; they’re not bass.
Get into knee-deep water and tail the fish when it comes near. It may take a couple of tries and you don’t need a glove, which removes protective slime from the fish’s skin.
Support a fish’s body (not in its gills) and hold the tail while you rest it before releasing. If you’re taking a photo, keep the fish in the water and only lift for a few seconds if you must.
Handle them carefully and let them go when they show signs that they’ve regained their strength.
For more detail on what to do with beautiful wild steelhead once you’ve brought them close, check out our post on landing big fish.
OPB radio recently provided a look into the research conducted by Megan Moore (NWFSC – NOAA) and colleagues on an early marine survival project. If you didn’t catch the program, it describes the sources and locations of steelhead smolt mortality upon leaving their natal river. The researchers are tagging wild and hatchery smolts, then tracking their movements (and survival) through Hood Canal in Washington to study where mortality is occurring and if differences between hatchery and wild fish are present.
Continue Reading “What’s up with the steelhead stalkers?”→
From Judge Haggerty: “It is undisputed that hatchery operations can pose a host of risks to wild fish…it is clear that the Sandy River Basin is of particular importance to the recovery of the four [Endangered Species Act] listed species and is an ecologically critical area.” He said that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policies Act when it approved the State of Oregon’s management of the Sandy River Hatchery.”
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comment on a proposal to eliminate hatchery steelhead plants as early as next year in three Lower Columbia River tributaries (EF Lewis, Green/NF Toutle and Wind Rivers) to support the recovery of wild fish. These three watersheds would join the Sol Duc River as Washington State Wild Steelhead Gene Banks.
The elimination of hatchery plantings in these three watersheds is the recommendation of three stakeholder groups convened by WDFW over the past two years. Gene Banks are part of actions endorsed by the state of Washington’s 2008 Statewide Steelhead Management Plan and were mandated by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to protect wild steelhead in the Lower Columbia.
Wild Steelhead Gene Bank designation does not close a watershed to angling, but does create restrictions placing the priority on the health of the wild populations, not angling opportunity. Establishing Gene Banks would be a solid first step toward limiting the negative impacts of hatchery fish on threatened wild populations in the Lower Columbia.
Comments and suggestions collected during this public process will eventually be submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service who oversee the recovery of threatened salmon and steelhead populations.
We ask that you let WDFW and NMFS know that you support management actions that implement the best-available science and recover threatened wild steelhead populations in Washington. Read and alter the comments below as you wish, but please make your voice heard in support of protections for wild steelhead.
One thing I have often seen while guiding spey fisherman is that they just wont move. I’m not talking two-stepping here but simply working a run in a methodical and timely manner. Under most conditions I prefer to move three to four feet between casts which has several benefits.
1) By steadily working your way through a run you will cover more water throughout your day than the person who only moves a couple feet every few casts. Remember, we are looking for players, the fish who are aggressive enough to eat your fly on the first pass.
2) Constantly fishing new water it is simply more interesting and I tend to stay more focused as I move though a run.
3) We are not trout fishing – you will not find a steelhead river with 2-6 thousand fish per river mile, so covering water is the key to finding fish.
I do slow down for several reasons.
1) If I know fish are in a certain area and I feel that they are not willing to move far to a fly, I will slow down my pace and work the fly with different presentations.
2) If I feel a grab but don’t hook up I will cast back to the fish, trying a couple of presentations. If this does not work I will mentally note where the fish was holding and make another pass with a new, smaller fly.
By maximizing the amount of water you cover in a day you will swim your flies through more holding lies. When searching for winter steelhead covering water can make the difference, it only takes one fish to turn your day around.
There has been a lot of talk around here lately about how to properly land and handle large fish – see Gink and Gasoline’s recent post on catch and release mortality and you’ll see why this is important.
Safely landing and releasing can be particularly challenging when using a spey rod so this is how we like to do it to make sure that wild fish we release have a chance to spawn and hatchery fish make it to the smoker. Generally when swinging flies you will already be wading in the river, which is ideal because you want to land your fish in knee deep water.
The method: When I feel the fish is tired out enough to handle, I pull the fish up near the surface and grab the leader as it moves by me. The key is to not reel in too much line, try to have more line out than the length of your rod. Once you have the leader in your hand tail the fish and tuck the rod under your arm. You should have slack in your line at this point so pull some line off the reel if you need to. You can then unhook the fish, revive it if necessary and let it go without ever taking it out of the water. This is easiest in knee deep water so you don’t have to bend over as far. I have landed kings by myself this way and it works great, but may take a few tries and a bit of practice.