20 lb Steelhead


Hmmm - i get a kick out of the obsession with 20lbers. I've been very lucky and caught two that were in that range. Both were summer steelhead caught with two-handed rods on big desert rivers. One was a wild 38" buck that redefined for me what a steelhead could do. 3 runs deep into the backing, multiple cartwheeling leaps, and even a funny moment where the gear guys 300' away on the other side of the river were asking each other who'd hooked it. I'm still in awe of that fish - the adrenaline overload was unreal.

The second was 40" hatchery fish of substantial girth. It was hooked on a cold November day with snow on the banks and the water temp in the upper 30s. It was a slow, wallowing battle between me trying to get it to shore and it attempting to go find a rock to hide behind. In between it rolled around and swam in slow motion like a grudgingly compliant dog that hasn't yet been trained to heel.

The first was sheer ecstacy. The second was all downhill after the excitement of the take. Yes, it was the largest steelhead I've ever landed. But there's a lot more to Steelhead than just size.

My 02,


James Mello

Inventor of the "closed eye conjecture"
Biggest fish to date for me is a 17lb hen caught on gear. I've caught one fish around 11lb on the fly. Now I've seen lots (maybe a six or so) legitimate 20lb fish in the last 5 years. All of them were gear caught on the Sol Duc, and all of them were kept. It seems to me that fishing specific watersheds are what give you the best odds of catching big fish...

Will Atlas

just look at bob ball's website...nets dont help but the fish are there. it also depends how/when you fish. Some peoples angling effort is concentrated during hatchery season, which significantly lowers your odds. Also larger fish tend to displace smaller in the deeper parts of runs and some angling approaches are less sucessful at reaching those places.
I caught a 23# native last winter,on the Snohomish,well according to the length and girth, but I was using gear, I think that the big ones don't take fly's as much as bottom bait such as shrimp, and eggs, that is why I love that river so much, whether you fish the Sky or the Snoqualmie, they all have to pass by me first, that is why I am getting into flyfishing, I have never caught a steelhead I could keep, the hatchery fish don't like mebawling:


I've caught a few that taped between 39.5" and 41". All of them I estimatated to be 20 plus. They had big shoulders and were taken from rivers known to have the plump gene in them. I've also just slipped the hook out of the mouths of a couple that I know were just as big.

My experience with the largest fish I've landed was much like doublespey's. The fish was caught on a real cold day and was probably close to 23 or 24#. It did nothing but hold about 20 feet out from shore and when I realized it wasn't going to do anything I just clamped down on my reel and started walking backward. I just pulled it up in the shallows, it layed on it side so I grabbed the hook and pulled it out of the fishes mouth. All over in probably 3 or 4 minutes. The only thing exciting about that fish was the take and it's size.

About 3 weeks later my buddy caught what appeared to be the same fish. It looked identical to the one I landed but had some color to it rather than the chromer I'd caught.


Active Member
Kevin J. Burnham said:
I have not come close. My late fishing partner got one that was 21 on a trip to Alaska in 97 Which was the biggest I've seen.
Alaska huh? A state not known to produce large numbers of fish or large fish, with the exception of the world record, which undoubtedly was headed for the Skeena. There are just a handful of rivers that offer populations of more than 1,000 fish annually and most are just moderately sized. Good for him.


Active Member
Smalma said:
Thewaker -
Based on the angler reports I have been seeing from the north Puget Sound region there has been an explosion in the last 10 or 15 years in the number of 20# steelhead being caught (nearly all released). It seems that 20 pounders are as common today as fish in the upper teens were 20 years ago.

So do you think there is any correlation between that and the recent quest to land a 20 pounder and now all of a sudden those mid to high teen fish are suddenly "assumed" to be 20 lbers?

My personal best is a 17 from the Thompson in 97.


Active Member
BDD-pretty big assertion to assume that the world record was headed for the skeena....did they do genetic work or are you making that up
BDD, The river he caught the Steelhead in averages about 8 to 10 times that 1,000 number. There are a couple of very good rivers in Alaska and they see alot of pressure these days.

Rob Zelk

I swing, therefore i am.
I spoke with a comrade of Ed Ward's on the river one day. I asked about fish over 20lbs... He said, that Ed gets one about every 6 years. Considering how much Ed gets to fish, its not easy to catch one. But I know another good fisherman who has got one every season for the last 5 seasons, besides last year, so i think its largely being in the right place at the right time and putting in mucho hours on the river with a bit of luck in the mix aswell. Also as for estimating the weight of a fish, many many fish i see on websites have photos labeled "20lb. steelhead", or "20lb. atlantic" when there is no way the fish is that big. Overestimating by overly excited fishermen is a common occurance. It may depend on strain, but I'd say most would have a bit of trouble getting their hand to grip around the tail of most 20lb steelhead they are lucky enough to encounter, unless the fishermen is just a big dude.
BDD-pretty big assertion to assume that the world record was headed for the skeena....did they do genetic work or are you making that up
Today 04:26 PM

Tom I think he may be talking about fly caught steelhead, you may know about the Kispiox river. In the late 80's early 90's a man from ID caught a buck that was determined to be 37 lbs. The photo is on page 262 of your Trey Combs Steelhead Fly Fishing book. Many experts believe that the Kispiox has the largest race of steelhead in the world.

Something to debate I guess



Ah, Lets not forget about Mr. Clay Sharp and all the 20+ lb summer runs he catches in just about every river he wets a line:ray1: :ray1:

Let us not forget!

:rofl: :rofl: .


Active Member

Yes you are right, there are a couple of Alaskan rivers that get substantially more but I chose, as did you, not to name them although most can probably guess which one. However, they are the exception rather than the rule as most Alaskan streams receive several hundred fish at most. I'm glad your late friend was able to hook and land a 20+ pound fish.


I can't say for sure whether there was any genetics work done on the world record fish but an article was written on it years ago and I believe they did take a scale sample. If I recall correctly, they interviewed the ADFG employee who certified the fish and there was some speculation that it was Skeena origin (based on size, location of capture, and timing). Another interesting note was the fish had an injured eye and there was some speculation that the injury caused the fish to exhibit a long ocean residence. The fish was so large that even the state employee misidentifed the steelhead as a chinook salmon...at first. That idea, coupled with the fact that based on the results of Steelhead Flyfishing by Trey Combs, it was identified that there were several populations within the Skeena watershed that had been determined to hold the genetic material to grow some of the largest steelhead ever documented (life histories from scale samples). As DeLe pointed out, one population is from the Kispiox. So Tom, you may be correct in that it perhaps is a big assertion for me to make. The statement was my opinion but not necessarily made up either.