20 lb Steelhead

Yup, got a 20# on the Queets 2 years ago, using a native guide, and three years ago, there was a rash of them in a river between Olympia and Portland that I fish a lot. I caught and saw a number of 20+ chromers, plus a couple of BIG fish the local guys landed. The biggest I've seen there since is around 15#, but obviously, I keep going back. And yes, the big fish are taken nymphing with strike indicators.


Mouse doctor
Wow, these stories are awesome!

I have been fortunate enough to catch a buck that was about 37x21 in my one year of steelheading, I'm guessing thats about 17#? It was a dog- only once into the backing. I caught a Skykomish hen that was about 34 inches long (maybe 14 pounds)- about gave me a heart-attack and ran off over a hundred yards, and twice more into the backing! I'll take that hen over the buck anyday!


Active Member
I forgot to add to my post that all but one of the larger fish have been summer runs taken in water temps of 39-55F. The one and only >15# winter run was a buck and while it wasn't 'hot' it was a tiger where I was wishing like crazy it would finally get going to burn some juice so we could call a truce.

I would have to agree with the "there are more 20 pounders 'caught' than actually exist" line of thought. Have been witness to far too many weight estimations that were waaay off the mark. From what I've seen, most "20 pounders" actually fall into the 14 to 16 pound range. Fly fisherfolk seem to be the worst offenders - but then again, "trouters" that take up steelheading, should probably be expected to "freak" when seeing fish of such proportions.

Also, some of the "formula's" for weight are quite inaccurate. The most reliable I know of is the one having that "1.33" factor - I believe it is called Sturdy's formula. I was present at a scientific data gathering session - 14 steelhead captured and killed in a gillnet for biological examination, weighing from 11 to 19 pounds, within 6 miles of tidewater, having a body conformation similar to the Kispiox strain of fish. I lengthed and girthed all 14 fish, and then weighed them... the Sturdy formula was within a few ounces on the entire group. Hardly a big enough sample to be called "conclusive", but it does suggest some correlation.

My experience with fight corresponds with Smalma's. Steelhead larger than 16 pounds have the same characteristics as the ones weighing under that... some fight, some don't. I believe that part of the "myth" of large fish "being dogs" comes from anglers having the realization that they have hooked a "trophy", then subsequently "backing off" on fish fighting pressure in the erroneous belief that this will somehow increase the odds for landing the fish - the fish never get's "concerned for its life" in this situation. Try pressuring those "big ones" for all that you and your equipment are worth and then see how many of the "biggies" are dogs! A "hot" 16+# buck is the excitement of the "favored" hot 8 to 12 pound female increased by several degrees in magnitude... believe me it's friggen scary!


Active Member
You guys clearly suck. One of our brothers here posted this gem not long ago

"I have a line on some coastal rivers and I expect that in the next four or five seasons I'll have a couple double-digit fish landed days. And some of those fish might end up pushing 20 lbs."

This guys skills is one of the reason I've pretty much stopped fishing. I'm a competitive guy, and since I can't measure up, why do it? You should all join me and hang up your gear too. We can all sign up for a karate class with 10 year olds... Like Kramer! :thumb:

P.S. No it wasn't SharpSteelie...
I'm interested in the Sturdy formula; what would be the corresponding weight for the fish pictured in my last post, it was measured at 39" X 22". When landed I figured it between 23-25lbs, traditional weight calculator puts it in about 24.
My hardest fighting fish last year was a football shaped buck of about 12-13lbs that took about 50 yds of backing off my 8 wt spey on the initial run with multiple aerial displays on the way. When I finally tailed the fish three runs downstream I was soaked and sore and neede to sit down for 15 minutes or so to stop shaking.
My big fish last year fought hard but the fish was too afraid to leave the confines of the deep run it was hooked in and I was able to use a high perch on some bedrock above the fish to gain straight leverage and tire the fish fairly quicky even with 8 lb maxima as my tippet. The only real trouble I had was that the wrist was so wide, it took several tries to grab and actually keep a hold of.

i wish i had something worthy to say, but since i havent actually LANDED a steelhead(ive hooked up with'em)never landed:( they might as well all have been 20 pounders.
My biggest fish last year was 38 by 18 which is about 17 pounds. I caught it in BC. I think that if you want to catch a 20-lb steelhead you might consider spedning some time up there. You will give yourself an opportunity at a fish in the 20-25 pound range, and see some pretty cool country while you're at it.

My biggest fish ever was from coastal stream in Washington at 40 1/4 by 20 3/8 which if I remember correctly is about 21 pounds. Fish like this don't come around very often, at least in my book. If I don't catch a bigger steelhead in my life I won't be disappointed.

Have you considered fishing for kings? If big fish are your thing they are the way to go. I've landed kings up to 47 inches long (45 pounds) on a 2-hander and they are a lot of fun. They average about 20 pounds on the rivers I have fished for them. The grab isn't dissimilar from a steelhead. If "size really matters" kings can be the way to go.

I agree that people over-exaggerate fish size quite a bit. That fish I caught this year to the untrained eye might have been called a 22 or 24 pounder. But heck what does it matter? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The only person who will really know is you. Measure it to the mm or take a W. A. G. at the size at the end of the day it's all about a good time.


Tight line takes ain't no fakes!!

I have done the King thing and have landed fish up into the mid fourties on both spey and single handed gear. It's not just a big fish quest its a big steelhead quest. Also, I have spent a bit of time in BC, just havent gotten a real piggie yet.

I think the 20 pound mark is interesting but not that relevant given different systems, pressure, etc. They are certainly more prevalent in Skeena country on a couple of systems. On my trips to BC I have been lucky to tie into a couple of such fish but they certainly aren't a dime a dozen.

I've been lucky to see two very legit twenties on the Sky; one was a fish I landed for a gear guy on the Sky above the mouth of the Wallace that I taped for him at 43 inches. This guy, who I have seen a lot on that part of the Sky, released that fish to fight another day (despite the regs) which made him one of my personal heroes. I am sure similar fish swim on the coastal rivers and Skagit / Sauk but I have not been fortunate enough to see them.

My gallery here has several pics of some 20 pound fish from the Sustut.

This is one from last year:

This is the largest fish I have seen / caught to date up there, from a few years ago:
To all -

It ain't the meat it's the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain't the meat it's the motion
It's the movement it isn't the stock

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There ain't much of her but bones and skin
One thing about her I can understand
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It ain't the meat it's the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain't the meat it's the motion
It's the movement it isn't the stock

Well, I want a girl who's built real fat
Kenny don't like to see 'em like that
But I like to see 'em big and tall
The bigger they come the harder they fall

It ain't the meat it's the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain't the meat it's the motion
It's the movement it isn't the stock

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Love to look at the stars above
My little baby, I want you to know
She'll bring me home all of her dough

It ain't the meat it's the motion
It ain't the meat, uhm uhm uhm
It ain't the meat, I say the action
That makes your daddy wanna rock

Bring it down one time
It ain't the meat it's the motion
It ain't the meat, I say the movement, girl
It ain't the meat, it's the action
That makes your daddy wanna rock