24 inch Yak rainbow?

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by BDD, Jan 22, 2008.

  1. BDD Active Member

    Posts: 2,219
    Ellensburg, WA
    Ratings: +197 / 2
    What is the possiblility of catching a Yakima resident rainbow measuring 24 inches? I measured a fish of this size for a friend last Saturday. After releasing it, the thought came to me, could it have been a steelhead (technically speaking it was since it was over 20 inches)? As we sat back and contemplated the event, I was sure it was a steelhead whereas he claimed it to be non-anadromous. Granted he is a guide and has seen a thousand Yakima trout where I have only seen several dozen. I know WDFW shocks the river and they find 20+ inch trout. I also know there is a small run of steelhead. The interesting point was the fish was missing the eye on the left side. Another example of how tough fish can be if they get a chance to do their thing.

    I took some pics before we measured it, assuming it was a large trout as we had caught and released many trout and whitefish before this last fish. We both thought it was around the 20 inch mark and we were surprised to see the results of the tape. Had we, at the time, considered it a steelhead, we wouldn't have taken pics. I currently don't have access to the pics but I wanted to discuss the potential of the Yakima growing 24 inch trout.
  2. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    everytime a fish is taped it ends up being to the exact whole inch. you never hear of someone who taped a fish being 24.25" or 23.75". :p

    i don't understand. by your logic it would be impossible to catch a trout over 20" as it would be considered a steelhead?

    also, pardon my ignorance but how could a guide on the yakima whose seen thousands of yakima trout not tell the difference between a trout and a steelhead?

    in massachusetts we didn't have steelhead. we had trout. it was possible to get a 24" trout. wouldn't a trout that grows over 20" still be a trout? why would it be considered a steelhead? do all trout in the yakima die when they hit the 20" mark thus making it only possible for the river to have steelhead that are above 20". i'm confused here... someone help me out.
  3. FT Active Member

    Posts: 1,239
    Burlington, WA
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    Chris,

    Because nearly all the endangered steelhead returning to the Yakima (an upper Columbia River tributary) are more than 20" long and most of the resident rainbow trout in the Yakima are 18" or under, the regulation calling all rainbows over 20" steelhead makes perfect sense. The same is true of the other rivers in WA.

    Keep in mind the Yakima River in Washington is very different from your rivers in MA. The Yakima has had summer steelhead in it for milenia, the rivers of MA don't and never did; therefore, having a rainbow over 20" called a steelhead in MA rivers makes no sense since they never had steelhead.
  4. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    so all the fish i caught over 18" on the yakima were steelhead? what about all the smaller fish that grow to over 18"? what are they called? steelhead?

    theoretically you could have a resident rainbow above 18" which is still technically called a steelhead by law?
  5. WPEB member

    Posts: 123
    Bothell, WA
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    I don't know if that is law or not on the yakima, but if it is, it is only in effect to prevent too much handling of the "steelhead," whether it is one or not. WDFW is just staying on the safe side. I think the only real message is: don't handle such large fish too much. It isn't literally meant to say that as soon as a trout passes the 20in. mark, it is a steelhead.

    As for a guide being able to tell the difference between a 24" trout and a 24" steelhead on the yakima, I find that unlikely. They are too similar.
  6. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    sorry for hijacking your thread BDD but now i'm ridiculously confused.

    if there is no way to tell the difference between a 24" inch steelhead and 24" rainbow how can they tell the resident rainbow population from the steelhead population? this seems a little absurd to me... i understand wanting to safeguard but i can't see some saying that they had an awesome day on the yakima catching steelhead on bwo emergers. am i looking at this all wrong?

    didn't Reds have a video of someone catching a huge "rainbow" which was housted out of the water? wouldn't that be considered a steelhead? isn't it illegal to remove a wild steelhead from the water?
  7. Mark Bové Chasin tail

    Posts: 520
    Spokane
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    Steelhead are just big sexually frustrated trout.
  8. Les Johnson Les Johnson

    Posts: 1,590
    .Redmond, WA
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    The Yakima was actually listed by the old Dept of Game as a steelhead stream in the 1960s and 70s, just like the Wenatchee or Methow. We fished it a lot in those days. The summer/fall arriving steelhead usually did run between 20 and about 26-inches, similar to other Columbia tributary summer-runs. They arrived fat, chrome bright and highly charged on the end of a line. By this time of year though they will be showing riverine rainbow trout coloration (around spawning time).
    This 24" trout could very well be a steelhead, or perhaps just a huge riverine rainbow.
    And yes, steelhead will take BWOs when they've readjusted to the river life.
    Les Johnson
  9. Wayne Jordan Active Member

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    You're from Mass, so it's natural for you to be confused...:p


  10. WPEB member

    Posts: 123
    Bothell, WA
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    I never said there was no way to tell the difference. i said that I have a hard time believing that a guide really has any clue. You can go and ask a guide, and while they may claim they know, if you give them a blind taste test most would think pepsi was coke, or vice versa.
    You must remember that trout and steelhead have the same beginnings. Some trout even become sea-run and some steelhead become residents. Most would argue that they are the same fish, some just swim a little further.
    Maybe Smalma will chime in?
  11. Richard Olmstead BigDog

    Posts: 2,479
    Seattle, WA
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    Resident trout in the Yakima over 20 inches are exceptionally rare. Yes, many other blue-ribbon trout streams produce rainbow trout over 20" and why the Yak does not, I don't know, but that seems to be the case.

    Since steelhead are sea-run rainbow trout it isn't such a simple matter as stating whether a fish is a 'rainbow' or 'steelhead.' What one is really talking about is whether the fish is a resident rainbow or a searun rainbow. In most steelhead streams in western Washington, resident rainbows rarely get above 12-16 inches and steelhead usually are in excess of 20", so the WDFW rule, arbitrary as it may be, that any rainbow over 20" is a steelhead usually is true. The Yakima probably is the only river in the state with a steelhead run where the possibility of catching resident rainbows over 20" is likely, so there the WDFW rule breaks down. However, the likelihood of catching a steelhead of any size on the Yak is so small that it is almost nonexistent.

    Dick
  12. BDD Active Member

    Posts: 2,219
    Ellensburg, WA
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    Chris,
    No worries as I don’t consider this hijacking at all. In fact, I've probably done worse :). Let’s see if I can help with some of your questions. Hopefully this doesn’t make it more confusing.

    There are a few ways to determine the origin of a steelhead: ad-clip (removing the adipose fin), dorsal fin wear, tag identity (elastomer, PIT, CWT), reading the scales/otoliths, and finally, to the trained eye, some may be able to reasonably deduce origin based on physical appearance.

    Some of the ways mentioned above would be impossible to do in the field (scale or otolith reading for example) or without specialized equipment used for detecting certain tags (PIT or CWT). The easiest way would be if a fish was missing the adipose fin, which would be readily apparent to most any angler that the fish was marked as a juvenile. An elastomer tag (small piece of colored rubber-like material inserted behind the eye) may or may not be visible. I didn't think to look for this as I was assuming it was a trout at the time and regardless of whether it was a trout or steelhead, we didn’t want to “possess” it any longer than needed. Finally, the physical appearance may give clues about origin such as the color, spotting, and physical features (tail). Physical appearance would not be accurate unless performed by a highly trained person and even then it may not be 100% correct. Most guides would not qualify.

    As far as the Yakima River and the 20 inch rule, it was explained by others but I’ll try to expand. WDFW considers fish over 20 inches to be steelhead when found in steelhead-accessible waters. Can rainbow trout grow larger in rivers? Certainly. Do steelhead return at lengths less than 20 inches? Yes. But the two examples are the exception rather than the rule in Washington waters. The rule is in place to provide additional protection for fish that may be steelhead. Again, distinguishing rainbow from steelhead cannot be readily apparent in all cases, especially on the east side where rivers are more fertile and trout grow relatively larger.

    I don’t understand your point of the BWO emergers but the point in my post was three-fold: ask others their respective opinion regarding the possibility of 24 inch rainbow in the Yakima, provide an example to the forum how impressed I was at nature in general (because of a one-eyed fish surviving to adulthood), and state that fishing can be good in the winter despite the cold weather/water temperature (I used nothing but traditional size 14 whitefish flies). Perhaps there was one other reason which I mention below (gray area of the fish handling rule in certain rivers).

    I don’t know anything about the video you mention but yes, it would be illegal to completely remove a wild steelhead from the water for a picture or any other purpose(except harvest). But it would be OK to remove a trout from the water for a picture. As you can imagine, my friend wanted a picture of the largest “trout” that he ever caught in the Yakima (his home guiding river). This final statement (gray area of the rule) was another reason for posting as most F&W Enforcement Officers would understand wanting to take a picture of a large trout taken in an area managed for large trout. However, the example I present is obviously not a daily occurrence and throws a twist into the no-handling rule on the Yakima River.
  13. PT Physhicist

    Posts: 3,531
    Edmonds, WA
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    Scale samples?
  14. Denny Active Member

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    Seattle, WA, USA.
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    And, to top it off, lives on Capital Hill. :p
  15. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    nevermind the bwo response. i'm not that knowledge about understanding the differences between trout & steelhead. especially not in this situation.

    I guess I was confused with your question:

    What is the possiblility of catching a Yakima resident rainbow measuring 24 inches?

    I'm getting a headache with this question:

    You could possibly catch a resident rainbow over 24 inches but who would know the difference? Thus, does it really matter if it's a steelhead or a trout?


    Don't get me wrong BDD, I don't have a problem with your original post. I made a comment which posed a question leaving me with a headache.
  16. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    ;)
  17. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,792
    Marysville, Washington
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    Some additional information/thoughts on large "rainbows" in our rivers.

    First this 20 inch business as a threshold for rainbow/steelhead goes back to having to "punch" a steelhead on ones card. It was decided years ago that the simplest way to clarify whether a kept fish needed to punched or not on our various steelhead rivers was the 20 inch rule. Yes some steelhead would not require beng punched (jacks and some small 1-salt summer fish) and some rainbows (over 20 inches) would be "punched". However the vast majority of fish being kept over 20 inches would have been steelhead and the vast majority of those under 20 inches would be rainbows. As always is the case there was a need for a black and white rule; grey is pretty hard to enforce. Of course in the years since many wild steelhead populations have all declined and we now know that the line between the resident and anadromous life histories of O. mykiss is even more blurred than thought.

    The reports that I have read would indicate that the folks doing the species studies on the Yakima have found very few rainbows over 20 inches. Of course some may exist ( have caguht 20 inch cutthroat so why not rainbows) and if the steelhead rebounds we may see such fish more commonly. I personally have caught several larger O. mykiss (20 to 22 inches) in the spring. At that time as pointed out by BBD without a scale sample it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between wild resident and steelhead - I certainly could not.

    I have based on scale information seen resident rainbows over 20 inches in a number of western Washington streams. The list includes Snoqualmie, Tolt, Skykomish, SF Skykomish, Pilchuck, North Fork Stillaguamish, Sauk, Skagit and SF Nooksack. Most of those large fish were 7 ot 8 years old with several as old as 10 years old (3 of which exceeded 24 inches). Should also add that at times it is possible to separate the resident and anadromous life histories by body conditions. The resident fish can be much "fatter" than a steelhead; examples would include lake run fish (think Cedar River) and fish that have been gorging on salmon eggs etc.

    Bottom line based on the available information on hand currently a 24 inch O. mykiss [/I]in the Yakima is a very rare critter and the odds are heavy in favor of any such fish being an anadromous fish.

    Tight lines
    Curt
  18. Jergens AKA Joe Willauer

    Posts: 2,141
    Twin Bridges, MT
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    That is an interesting way to classify steelhead, as there are a fair number of 20" plus trout caught in the river every year. i have spent a fair amount of time fishing the river and only witnessed one steelhead caught. so to confuse things a little bit more, what do you think this is?[IMG][/url][/IMG]
    and then what is this?

    http://www.washingtonflyfishing.com/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=21592&ppuser=3126

    Both are over 20" and have adipose fin, but i think its pretty easy to tell the difference. Also, every guide service on the river has had photos of "big yakima trout" out of the water in the past, so i wouldn't single out reds or any of the others.
  19. Chris Puma hates waking up early

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    i guess i singled out red's. i didn't mean to. i thought of the first example that came into my head. all i know was i showed the video to my friend and he said "that's no trout, that's a steelhead!". the title of the video was like big trout on the dry fly or something.
  20. Jergens AKA Joe Willauer

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    i wasnt trying to pick on you about it, i was trying to avoid a mass flaming.