No offense to anyone, but the Internet and all of us who have had success with Steelhead and then post about how glorious it is have only to look in the mirror.
Steelheading is the pinnacle of flyfishing, they're so incredible, BLAH BLAH BLAH Post pictures of big bright chrome steelies, brag about how well they fight, and then talk about the wonderful pristine wilderness you caught them in.
Yeah Bob, it ~is~ advertising. And we've all done a very good job. This while runs are declining and whole systems are closing for the very seasons that made them famous (Thompson in the fall, Skagit/Sauk in the winter,etc).
There are still a few spots and a few times of the year when you can find good steelhead flyfishing in the continental USA. They're getting fewer and more crowded every year. And the advertising continues . . .
because a-holes pimp it out and want to make $$$$$ off of it. seen it here in the great lakes, pere marquette river used to be a nice place to fish and get away, now no f'in way, more drift boats on it than a normandy landing, guys fish it 24x7 during the runs, mostly within the 7 mile section of flies only water. havent fished her in years (8-9, and may never fish her again)
Because of the internet, the prolification of media pimping it (mostly compliments of the internet), the ability to get reports and way more info. The shortened learning curve because of the internet. The acceptance of ways to make it easier to catch them--and yes I mean nymphing. Not slamming it, but let's call it for what is: way the hell more effective, and when you're talking about something that could take untold hours--dozens and dozens--to catch even one, lopping that in half or a third makes it a wee bit more accessible to the masses. The influx of much more and much more affordable gear. The advertising and pimping that goes on because of that gear. And because many fly fishers, after a decade or two of trout fishing, finally really do want something else to do. (One of the same reason carp are more popular.) We had an influx of fisherman a while ago. They're evolving.
When I first got into flyfishing, the guy who taught me said two things: "I wouldn't even think of taking you steelheading for three years (basically, until you can cast decently). And, you got to want to." And I didn't. I didn't see what the fuss was about. This was back in one-hander days and everyone only ever swung, or at least that's all they admitted to. People talked far more about the 1000 casts than they did about the fish. Now all you ever see and grip-n-grin and hero shots. I get it, but back then that wasn't how steelheading was explained. People only got into because they'd caught them before (on gear), or because they got to know a steelheader well enough to know that they weren't completely crazy, and therefore steelheading must not be either.
Now it's uber-prolific photos, internet posts, 4-page photo spreads, and so on. It's no fucking wonder everyone thinks they got to do it. You can check the fish counts, see graphs of the runs, check the weather half a state or half a country away. You can buy or rent any of a gajillion videos/DVDs on it. You don't have to know someone who does it, have the wisdom passed down one trip at a time, etc. A newbie steelheader can walk out to the river--minus the one critical bit of knowledge/experience about understanding holding water and being able to read it--and before he's even made a cast he knows more than guys five years into knew 20 and 30 years ago. Who the hell wouldn't want to catch big, powerful fish? Sure the cold will keep a few away. But the reason so many more are trying is because the entry barrier is what used to keep them out. And that barrier is simply a lot lower.
It's seemingly more popular because humans won't stop breeding. It's not just steelheading, you'll find more people on your hikes, at your ski hill, at the beach, on your bike trails and at the campground.
99% of todays humans can be found w/in 100 yards of a road and will not or cannot go much further. Hence, if you are willing to hike into roadless for your steelhead (mule deer, trout, chukar, etc.) you can still have a solitary experience (Less of course, motorheads can get 4 wheelers, snow machines or jet boats into hypothetical roadless area... then you will still have company).
i recognize the internet and most every sole on this site and others like it, with regards to flyfishing for steelhead, as the number one cause for the increase. its just more attractive now. its being part of something, and frankly many dont even seem to mind not catching anything, its been romanticized and many have fallen in love with it. with regards to gearheads, its always been crowded, the only increase in the steelhead community appears to be flyfishermen. i have fished the ronde for example since 92 i think. if anything the gearhead number is down, but simply replaced with bug rods, it just is, what it is, simple evolution. ya cant blame anybody or identify a bad guy. i gotta put a little blame on seasons of the fly too, man, they put that show together good. i just start salivating everytime its on, lol.
I've only been fishing for steelies since '99, but I started because I wanted a different challenge. And yes, it makes me happy too!
However, it seems to me that most guys (whether they admit it or not) are getting into it cause it's the latest "trend". Somehow, it makes you seem cooler or more of a real fly fisherman if you're catching steelies on a fly rod. Throw in the spey ordeal, and then it gets even more elitist. That's been my experience anyway. I fly fish for steelies, cause like many of you, that's the only way I'll fish. Yes, that is narrow minded, but that's what makes me happy.
The same could be said about hunting. Bow hunting has gone through the roof over the same period of time, and the reasons are the same there too I think. That doesn't mean though that there aren't many who do either one with pure intentions at heart, but the trend will fade. Craigslist and ebay will be loaded with killer deals, as it is already beginning to happen.
There is no doubt that massive amount imformation available via the internet and other sources played an big role in the increased steelhead interest. However a couple other factors also were in play (especially for winter fish here in western Washington).
The first of course is quamtum leaps in gear available to the angler. 30 or more years ago casting and line control were very important and they help limit winter steelhead to a "niche" sport. The huge advancements in lines, rod design, increased use dof two handed rods, etc. opened the "sport" to more and more anglers. Anglers were not only more efficient achieving adequate presentation no longer required as much investment in time and practice.
The other factor that is rarely talked about is changes in steelhead management in the early 1980s. With increased emphasis on wild steelhead management and the establishment of spring CnR season anglers sudden found rivers with good numbers of aggressive fish willing to move to reasonably presented fly. Initially those season were not very popular with anglers with some hard core fly anglers anomg the first take advance of the new opportunities. Word quickly spread and within a decade the rivers were populated with "experts" and the sport has never looked back.
Irony in that on those Souond "S" rivers that spawned so much interest steelhead fishing is fast fading and within a few years will be largely a thing of the past.
Curt it wont be a "few years" - You will not see the CnR reg/season in this years regs for the Skagit. They had just under 5500 fish come back to the mighty Skagit last year and they guess that it will hover around the 4500 to 5500 mark for the next five to six years. We will not be able to even think about fishing the Skagit until 2015 or 2016. To get that fishery back we will have to see consistant numbers well above the 6000 mark closer to 7000 for a number of years. As we have discussed NOAA wants a 4% mortality on the PS wild Steelhead fishery - so with the tribs getting their share/percentage and the standard of a CnR fishery mortality of 10% on the estimated run size - we as CnR anglers are out.
Even if the returns were 10,000 wild fish I don't see any CnR season until the managers get some NOAA approval for impacts greater than that 4% Puget Sound aggregate.
However with the push to end hatchery plants to create wild steelhead gene banks and/or budget cuts we are likely to see total winter long closures on many of the Puget Sound rivers (including the mighty Skagit) within a couple years.
With budget problems and man power shortages no one sees the State (or the tribes for that matter) doing the basic work needed to put forth a proposal to NOAA for addition impacts needed to support wild fish directed fishing (such as CnR) when wild numbers increase.
Maybe I can offer some insight from someone new to the sport. Steelhead are just awesome. The river may be to crowded for your liking, but that is a condition of being human so wake up earlier, camp over night, float, etc if you want your solitude. Its still possible. I would say about 3 percent of the people i know flyfish for steelhead. Is it really that popular?
My first steelhead rig would be valued at about 100 dollars new, retail. So I am sure that has a little to do with it. Also, anything that Patagonia reps is bound to become popular.
Then there is the internet and media, we have flyfishing film tours, a movie industry, and countless magazines to rehype the same thing every 6 years.
But even with all that, if you find a steelhead river and walk to a hard to access section, chances are you might have between 1 and 5 boats float buy while u eat lunch or nap. Might even have a nice cigar or beer with a fellow fisherman who has also put in some legwork.
Just doesnt seem all that popular to me. Out of people i graduated with (class of 700) I only can think of MAYBE 2 that flyfish for steelhead.
disclaimer : i dont have much experience in the matter.