Are we killing wild steelhead?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Tylerflies, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. Tylerflies

    Tylerflies New Member

    The disscussion brought up by Zen Piscator brings me to a question that I have had for some time and have received a range of answers for. Here it is..

    When we fight a steelhead in order to tire it enough to bring it to our hands without breaking our line, does this raise the lactic acid levels in the fish enough to affect it's post realease mortality? Does anybody have any numbers of the percentage (spectulative perhaps) of how many released fish survive? I understand that killing a fish causes a 100% mortaility rate, but what about a careful, quick release? If fish are indeed extremely sensitive to lactic acid buildup, then should we be fishing for wild fish at all? I have a desire, borderline obsession with winter steelhead, but if the very act of my hooking and landing a fish proves fatal on a regular basis, then I would happily save my efforts for strong hatchery runs. Even more important, should rivers with strongers than average wild runs, or wild runs at all be closed to ALL ANGLING, so that no fish are impacted by the sport fishery? This would certainly stop the "should we keep him" guys like in the video off the water and I would happily support this if my line has anything to do with unintentional mortality.

    I would appreciate you thoughts and information on this matter.

    Thank, you
  2. greyghost

    greyghost Member

    Yes we do, but there are a great number of variables in determing the rate at which we kill C&R'd fish. Lenght of fight, hook placement, water temperature, how the fish is landed, how long it's out of the water, and other factors all contribute to mortality. I think the studies I have read, C&R usually has a calculated mortality rate at about 5%. Obviously can be much higher with poor fish handling skills, and I see many fish that are played for far too long. When you hear stories of people taking 45 minutes to land a steelhead, I think you can pretty much assume that fish is dead. The bottom line is, that if you can never accept killing a fish, you'd better stay home. Otherwise, use appropriate gear, land fish quickly, keep them from flopping around on the rocks, keep your hands wet and away from the gills and you should be doing alright.

  3. Zen Piscator

    Zen Piscator Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.

    Furthermore with properly played fish caught with proper equipment the mortality goes down to below 5%. Most steelhead should be landed in under a minute per pound, although even with fish in the mid teens this year most of my fights have been well under 5 minutes.
  4. Sloan Craven

    Sloan Craven Active Member

    I got to agree with Andy. There's a great deal of variability with how people play fish that determines mortality. There are guys that want to play a fish for alot longer than they should or they want to fish light tackle to feel the fight better. These people are going to have worse mortality rates than other guys that want to manhandle the fish.
  5. HauntedByWaters

    HauntedByWaters Active Member

    The good thing is that if you have a lot of experience hooking and fighting steelhead, you will most likely have a safe release.

    And, if you don't have a lot of experience you aren't hooking steelhead and aren't harming them in the least.

    As for the middle ground......someone hooking their first wild steelhead will most likely have good practice catching and releasing many salmon, small trout, char to do it right.
  6. PT

    PT Physhicist


    Well said (typed).
  7. greyghost

    greyghost Member

    That's exactly right Andy, that's why it's typically calculated at 5%, for some it's higher and some it's lower. I would like to think that my mortality is very close to zero, but we must assume that by fishing for wild fish, we will eventually kill some without knowing. If you aren't comfortable with that fact, cut the point off your hooks, or stay at home.

  8. Steve Buckner

    Steve Buckner Mother Nature's Son

    All good points -
    Another thing that adds mortality is netting. I've seen some real botched jobs. Another is removing the fish from the water - and or landing it and letting it flop on the rocks, clearly not conducive to survival. As mentioned, play the fish hard, land it quick, keep it wet and well off the rocks.
  9. Will Atlas

    Will Atlas Guest

    no matter how well you fight a fish, whether you keep it in the water or not, there will always be the odd fish that just inhales the fly and ends up hooked by the gills. Last march I landed a nice little wild hen for my buddy and found it was hooked in the gills. The fish stayed in the water and was handled with extreme care, but it was bleeding the whole time and I doubt that fish survived. That left a really sour taste in my mouth for the day which was unfortunate because the fishing was fantastic. I guess thats part of fishing though.
  10. Be Jofus G

    Be Jofus G Banned or Parked

    Or even better, we could stop dumping pollutants into the water, destroying habitat and netting whatever is left swimming. Wouldn't it be cool if incedental mortality from c&r wasn't even an issue to worry about. :beathead:
  11. Tylerflies

    Tylerflies New Member

    True, true. About the net thing. It often takes longer for me to get a hand on the tail than it does to net. Is there a way to net fish properly that cuts down the fight time and also doesn't harm the fish? Using a rubber net perhaps, keeping the fish in the water and off the rocks, ect?
  12. Abel1

    Abel1 New Member

    Next Question. Please!
  13. Jay Allyn

    Jay Allyn The Poor-Student Fly Fisher

    Pretty much right. If you use a CnR rubber lined net, net the fish smoothly and softly, and then keep it in clean water the fish will have a good chance of survival. Knoted nets however tend to scrap the fish up pretty bad, I wouldn't use one for CnR.
  14. Buck

    Buck "Ride'n Dirty."

    Wild steelhead are pretty safe around me. :eek:
  15. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member


    Incidental mortality has been discussed several times, and the popular studies and examples cited. You could search this site if you wish.

    You asked about lactic acid build up killing wild fish. Generally that won't be an issue because steelhead usually live in cool water. However, it can potentially contribute to incidental mortality if you're summer run fishing with water temps above 68 degrees F. Even then, mortality is not a sure thing, but the potential is much greater because water holds less oxygen as the temperature increases.

    The number one factor in incidental mortality is hook placement. Unfortunately we have next to no control over that.

    Poor handling skills can also contribute to incidental mortality, but the vast majority of poorly handled fish will still survive if they were not hooked in or near the gills, gill arches, or eye. A special knotless or rubber CNR net reduces handling injuries, but it's probably better to forego netting unless you have one intended for CNR.

    If you're a careful angler you can be confident that your incidental mortality rate to steelhead is 5% or less.


    Salmo g.
  16. jroni

    jroni Member

    In my opinion, if you take adequate precautions and are within the law and are still feeling guilty about killing a fish once in awhile then maybe you should give up fishing. Fishing (well catching really) isn't pleasant for the fish and sometimes kills them. Commercial fishing kills more fish in one day then all of us could kill in a lifetime with catch and release. I'm not suggesting we should get rid of commercial fishing all together either I just try to keep things in perspective.
  17. Les Johnson

    Les Johnson Les Johnson

    Regardless of how many incidental steelhead are caught commercially, what sportfishers have to be concerned about is our contribution to the mortality of these fish through catch-and-release. We can only hope that care in handling a steelhead that is going be released will increase its chances of recovery. We can never forget however that catch-and-release fishing remains a blood sport.
    So, use tackle stout enough to land your steelhead as quickly as possible and take enough time in its recover to give it the best chance to survive and reproduce.
    Good Fishing,
    Les Johnson