summer runs change color

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Whitehorsebob, Oct 19, 2012.

  1. Whitehorsebob Member

    Posts: 35
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    I was talking to another fisherman on the NF Stilly the other day and mentioned the fish were darkening up or rather getting their color back as the river was clearing and he asked what I meant. I have never seen or heard anyone else talk about this though perhaps it is known by many. I noticed this way back in the seventies on the NF. This is usually a sept/nov thing. Once fall arrives and the fish begin to show more color it is easy to see if you look. When the water has been clear they will be colored up but as soon as you get some rain , enough to put some color in the water, those same fish will get brighter and brighter. Then as the water clears they will revert to being darker. This happens quickly, you can see it change hour by hour as the water clears. Most the time if someone notices they think some new fresh fish have moved in... usually not its just the water color they are reacting to. If there are real "fresh" fish showing they will be truly bright... maybe sea lice , the whole bit. Even if a "new " fish enter that section it will most likely be simply fish from another hole farther downstream not new fish from saltwater. Maybe everyone already knows this but so far in 35 years or so of talking to people about it I have never ran into anyone who seemed to know this. I have also never seen this in print so thought I would put it down here.
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  2. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,792
    Marysville, Washington
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    Whitehorsebob -
    Like most fish the coloration of summer steelhead is determined by the activity of their chromatophores (color cells). With a fish like a summer steelhead its coloration is driven or balanced by two processes. The obvious one of course the coloration associated with the advancement of its sexually maturation. The other of is less commonly thought of. The fish have the ability to control their chromatophores (at times causing rapid coloration changes). Over the course of their lifes they use that abiltiy to enhance their survival. While the fish are in their pelagic (ocea) stage their chromatophores shrink resulting that familar black over white coloration (counter shading) that helps to camouflage the fish from both above and below. Once the fish moves into the rivers their camouflage needs change and we see the fish take on the more typical coloration of resident rainbows. Which of course deepens as the fish matures.

    When the fish are faced with extended periods of muddy turbid conditions the light penetration is discreased and the fish will take on a "washed"/pale appearance - no need for camouflage. With the clearing waters we see the fish return to their former coloration (camouflaged condition).

    Hope that helps

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  3. Whitehorsebob Member

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    Thanks Curt that is interesting. Actually though i was simply posting this because I have never over the years talked to anyone who knew or noticed this so I thought others might like the trivia note. Though I have many times heard fisherman talk about all the "fresh" fish that just showed. One other note is this does not seem to happen , at least not so much, with winter runs. Of course with winter runs they often are running upriver so fast the really bright ones look like they were caught in the salt. On the NF summer runs most the time I have only seen those chromers with the late springers that show the 1st few weeks of june. They are spawning I imagine in june & july and to tell you the truth I am not sure that run is still around as I havent been home to fish them for many years. With the summer runs it seems to be the majority of the fish respond this way. It is surprising how quickly they change with the water color. It almost seems to be immediate. I have many times seen the change go the whole route in less than a day. In fact on wed evening they were nice and bright but the next morning ..lots of color. The NF blew out again last night (thursday) by the way
  4. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,886
    Walla Walla, WA
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    What, no shit? That is the most interesting Steelhead information I have heard in a long time. Actually explains quite a bit about some of the "bright fish" I find when there surely is not any "fresh" fish around.
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  5. ralfish Active Member

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    Interesting. On a recent trip under weeks of clear blue skies and gin clear water, about 350 miles from the ocean and weeks of no rain 95% of the steelhead that came to hand, actually even more, were bright, and really hot fish. White, transluscent fins, steel blue/black backs and chrome as can be. The very odd red stripe but just about all of the fish were mint. All came to the surface to eat waked bugs...wonder if that has anything to do with colouration as in my experience when I dredged for summers, which I don't anymore, i would get more tomatoes and coloured up slugs.
  6. stilly stalker Tuna sniffer

    Posts: 1,357
    Carlsbad, CA
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    Yes, NF Stilly fish are very prone to color shift. Ive noticed it many times, especially since you know 90% of the summer fish are in the river by mid July, BUT you can find "bright" fish in early September. Then they hold up in deep holes like hell hole or under the Cicero bridge (or C-post bridge for the rare summer fish that head so high up, lkely "wild" but not native fish) and move around as water temp, clarity and river level fluctuate.
  7. Hillbilly Redneck wishin i was fishin

    Posts: 416
    Whitehorse Mt.
    Ratings: +71 / 0
    Pretty interesting. As much as i fish the stilly I never even gave this any thought. I know those "bright" fall fish usually have mushy meat and taste like crap. The hens tend to be bright but have horrible meat. That must have been you Whitehorse Bob I was talking to Wed. afternoon when I broke my rod.
  8. Whitehorsebob Member

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    yeah that was me...Keith?, pisser about your rod but you can rebuild the ferrule, maybe do a search here to explore your options.picked up two after you left...good thing I was starting to feel left out, the next morning was pretty good too(5) course then she blew out again friday. If you want good eating fresh fish I imagine the skagit is smoking hot about now.