8 hours ago
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Summer Steelhead in the Winter
Well there is no doubt that there was a lot of steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River System this year. At over six hundred thousand total steelhead over Bonneville Dam there is no doubt there was a lot of fun had at the expense of this years return. Many anglers out there had a banner season and there is no doubt that a lot of rookie fishermen out there caught their first if not many steelhead. But we have to remember that the vast majority of these fish were not of native origin. Only one hundred and seventy-two thousand of those six hundred thousand fish were of native origin. Many of those hatchery fish are still alive and either swimming up still or holding for warmer flows to move farther up into the upper reaches of there native streams. These hatchery fish in a few months will be competing with our precious natives and thus aiding in the slow process of watering down the gene pool.
Many people stop fishing for these fish because the quality of their meat are no longer the quality of just a few months ago, not to mention the increased difficulty to swing these fish up in the current cold conditions of winter. The ethical issues of catching native fish that are getting ready to spawn, is yet another thing to take into consideration. In only a few months these fish will be on their spawning beds and any harassment of these fish should be prevented. However like mentioned before so will hatchery fish and the only way to prevent these fish from spawning together is to remove them.
Modern scientific studies have showed that the likelihood of offspring from native steelhead that have spawned with hatchery steelhead returning as adults is very low. Hell, the chances of offspring of native fish returning dealing with the harsh environment of their native streams during their adolescent development, competition with other species and hatchery fish, downstream migration through dams, predators in freshwater and salt then ocean conditions is low. This is part of the argument that we face when fighting against hatchery plants. As part of this equation we must aide our native fish by removing these hatchery adults regardless of quality of meat. In rivers such as the Methow in Washington, it is unlawful to release hatchery fish. We must carry this over to all drainages that have hatchery fish and continue to harvest these fish despite the condition of their table fare. Smoke them, freeze then for crab meat, fertilize you garden in the spring or return them to the ecosystem for biomass. By doing so, you will be aiding your ecosystem and help out our native fish. If you end up catching a native fish, please take all the necessary measures to release it without harm.
Is there a time to stop fishing for summer steelhead? Off course there is, but you must find that within your own realm of ethics and the reality that most of these fish are of hatchery origin and need to be removed. Us guys on the wet side of the state need to remember that those who fish these summer steelhead rivers in the winter are for the most part live in that neck of the woods and are removing hatchery fish from their rivers. Many rivers of which are still seeing fresh pushes of fish from the Columbia and Snake throughout the winter.
Recently I got news from my homie Mike Gamby that while trout fishing he was not only able to fight the ice and cold, but also several steelhead with his trusty Echo Carbon six weight and Vosseler DC. Apparently his Vosseler didn't freeze up in the cold. I was pleased to see he made sure to bonk his limit and I am sure they will cook up just fine. Props to a great day on the water.