Steelhead - Our Fickle Mistress!

I'm a ruined man. Don't know when and how it happened but I've become a junky and a liar. Yes, I'm talking about Steelhead. You guys can identify; calling in sick to work because you've got "that feeling" that the day may be that special day for you. Worse yet, my wife called me socially inept since I started bailing out on friends that don't share the passion. It's only recently that I realized she was right. A couple month ago I was at party and asked by a couple x-friends why I was late to show. I told them, and as always they came back with the usual questions of "did you catch anything" or why "didn't you keep it." Needless to say, they were confused with my response. I'm pretty sure these same people deleted my email about SB 5127. F’em.

I was told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. No way does this capture what Steelheading is all about. I prefer to think of it as a fickle mistress. She'll ruin us but damn it's worth it.

Just needed to write this out. Thanks for your time.

~ CF

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Definition of insanity for sure. I even have occasion to fish with my friend who is a psychiatrist. He fishes gear and says I'm crazy for fishing for steelhead with a fly rod. He should know, it is his profession. He also acknowledges that I'm just stubborn enough to keep doing it, catching one merely strengthens that resolve. Great post, thanks for writing it out.
As one who began steelhead fishing in Washington some sixty (60!) years ago I believe that I view the sport (passion, desperation, insanity, whatever) from a different prospective than some who may have been pursuing steelhead beginning more recently (less than sixty years ago). It seems to me that some contemporary anglers (a population that has grown), fishing for steelhead, with a fly or conventional tackle, have become increasingly driven to catch a steelhead (a population that has declined in the extreme during the same period) to a point that they do become pretty frazzled about it all.
To this end the steelhead has truly become the Holy Grail of fishing where the chase has indeed become frenetic and the prize increasingly more difficult to realize . this makes one's frustration clearly understandable. The steelhead is a storied gamefish; the subject of many fine books and God knows how many magazine articles (a few of which I am guilty of writing). Back when there were good numbers of steelhead and far fewer anglers; we expected to catch a steelhead or two when we went out. And many among us invariably punched out their cards. A way back in those years the catch card carried 24 punches and a fair number of steelhead we caught from Puget Sound rivers, even then, were hatchery fish. Most of us didn't know it (or at least admit it) at the time but the steelhead stocks were already in alarming decline.
I don't expect our steelhead populations to rebound in the near term; probably not in my lifetime anyway. There is too much work to be done and too much going against them; mismanaged hatchery production, tribal netting and terrific pressure from a growing cadre of fishermen armed with better and better gear and techniques pursuing them. However, I absolutely do believe that the steelhead can be brought back, at least to the limits of their available habitat, if we are patient and each do our part to support the efforts that will lead to their recovery, and I would guess that this support will be realized in a wide variety of ways. I for one have backed off considerably from my once passionate days as a steelheader. This may be as much the effect of advancing years as it is conservation. However, I have always tried to do my bit on the conservation front -- and belong to several clubs that work for the recovery of our steelhead populations. It all helps, even if it won't immediatley remove the frustrations, mood swings and sometimes bouts of hard drinking that come from the difficulty of ones quest for steelhead. Keep in mind though, that even in the halycon days of steelhead fishing it has always been a challenging game. And in my view, that is how it should remain.

Old Man

Just an Old Man
I agree also. In fact I have moved away so I don't harass them anymore. I do remember that the fish swam in schools in the rivers that I fished for them in. There were alot of fish in the rivers back 50 years ago. Now you are lucky to see one or two in the same rivers.

After I said 50 years ago, it got me to thinking of how I fished for them and how they evaded my lures. Yes, when I first fish for steelhead I used spinners and spoons.

I got three on the fly and that was enough for me.



I wonder if we won't be saying..."Chum salmon, the fickle mistress" soon as well...

Steelhead are not a mysterious mythical creature, they will hit just about anything if you put it in the right spot in front of them...(how many stories have you heard of cigarette butts etc in their stomachs etc.)..

They can be one of the most amazing fish you've ever caught and just as easily if it's a winter run...come in like a wet noodle and make you stop and wonder why your out freezing your ass off for this?

A big summer run will totally blow you away and give you the fever for sure..but this winter stuff...I love it for what used to be the solitude it offered, the cold day, the rain...sometimes the worse it would get made you laugh and enjoy it more...mostly though as fishless days follow one another it just sucks!!!

It seems that just about the time I decide I've had enough and start to bring my single hand out and search for early trout, cutties and bulls....I've been lucky enough to get that tug again and rekindle the flame....

Sadly the days of having competitions to see who can get their fly through a run of chum without hooking one seem to be over...(Clousers were my secret fly for that)...pound of pound a dime bright chum ripping you into your backing is still one of my favorite fish on the fly...(though I'm starting to learn the salt might change all that)

Hope I don't live to see the day when we hear how fickle the chum or coho mistress is too...


"Ride'n Dirty."
I don't know shit about steelhead. I've caught 4 in a couple of years with a fly rod, the best being the first and the one I caught on my birthday. The later turned out to be one unforgettable day as I started out fishing and caught a steelhead, to being almost fired from work over a miscommunication with the boss.
Having caught one now, the skunk is off and if I get one cool, otherwise, another day. I feel like I still suck at it because I miss so many strikes. I was hoping to go to the Hoh down and take in what I could from the veterns.
Les, and (Leland for that matter) thanks so much for your contribution to the area (western wa) in regards to wild steelhead, i'm learning a lot
I still think tribal netting is the biggest problem are fisheries face, but like I said, I don't know shit about steelhead.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Buck, if I had typed your last post (not from your experiences, but from mine) I would have stopped:

I don't know shit about steelhead.

It could have been my most information filled post to date. I've caught one (plus a fin clipped rainbow that I'm told by the masses here that I can't count).

Old Man

Just an Old Man
Bullshit. A Steelhead is a Steelhead. After they are put in the river they go thru the same shit as a wild one. They go out to sea and come back just like the wild ones. So tell them all to stick it where the sun does't shine.

It feels wonderful being a grouch again.


Jeremy Floyd

fly fishing my way through life
Steelhead are still fairly abundant in various spots in the world. Washington isn't one of those spots.

I have always been under the impression that Washington steelheading was mediocre since the 70's, and as late as the 80's in a couple spots.
Buck, if you're averaging about two steelhead a year, you may have reached your long-term norm. Congrats, you're a steeelheader, and this may be as good as it will ever get.:mad:

And the next time I hear that "steelhead are actually easy to catch-" I may throw him in the river and not let him out until he catches one with his hands:rolleyes:... OK, I won't really, but it's something to while away the time until the next one strikes.
My fiancée has been saying this for about two years now. My normal response too her is -honey, your crazy - I hardly fish anymore since I met you. Shoot- I only went on two weekend trips this month and those three or four day trips but, you can’t count those because I didn’t stay over night. Then I read your post. Losing or choosing friends that swing for steel and or understand that it's more than just fishin. Being asked the same questions “why didn’t you keep it” – “you drove how far for that fish” and I’m always late for a party or I skip it beacuse I was fishing all day. However, I’ll be on the river anytime, anywhere and on-time. Now - my latest quest is to find a fishing buddy that can fish more often than my current ones. I guess tonight I’ll go home and tell her she’s been right this whole time. I hate that 