Native summers

Every native race of steel Ive encountered looks very distinct. Sky summer fish look so different from stilly nates. Sky fish are generally bigger, more heavily spotted, and not nearly as football shaped. S. fork Nooksack summer fish are amazing, but there are so few of them :(


Well-Known Member

I'd need more information to make an educated estimate of native summer runs in the Santiam. You realize I suspect that the Willamette tribs - McKenzie and Santiam - were initially stocked by ODFW with Siletz summer runs, but returns were very poor from this coastal summer run stock. So they got some Skamania stock from WA and planted them in the 70s and realized very good returns, compared to the Siletz fish. The Skamania stock has its origins in native Washougal, Wind, and possibly Klickitat summer steelhead. Because of hatchery practices at the time, Skamania fish have expressed return timings from April through October, with a very few extremes in March and November. In order to verify a bonafide native "ghost run" of Santiam summer steelhead, I think you would need an irrefutable catch report from pre-1960, prior to any hatchery summer steelhead programs in either state.

NU summer steelhead are native to Steamboat Creek where they have spawned since time immemorial. My understanding is that ODFW used native NU summer runs as the hatchery broodstock source for stocking hatchery summer runs in the NU. I don't know what the status of that program is these days.

The average size of steelhead is mostly determined by the length of time of ocean feeding. In WA, typical native summer steelhead in coastal and Puget Sound rivers are one-salt fish, meaning one winter and a complete year of ocean feeding. Skamania and other lower Columbia tributary native summer fish interestingly are typically two-salt fish, and therefore average larger than coastal and PS native stocks. Most native winter runs are two-salt fish with a significant proportion of the population being three-salt fish. So in general, native winter runs are of larger average size than native summer runs, excepting those lower CR summer runs.

Yes, Deer Creek summer steelhead are a native run.


The very earliest summer runs - we called them "springers" like spring chinook salmon - included both hatchery and wild summer steelhead that returned to the Washougal, EF Lewis, and Kalama 40 years ago, over-lapping the late winter runs. They enter the rivers with more stored energy reserves than any other steelhead, and at a time when steadily increasing water temperatures are optimal for a steelhead's "athletic" performance. They are undoubtably the hottest steelhead on the planet.


Different factors appear to be responsible for the development of inland and coastal summer steelhead populations. Inland populations are defined by the freezing winter weather that essentially makes sustainable winter run populations impossible. So a successful steelhead population has to migrate to inland rivers during the summer or fall when water temperatures are suitable for migration. Then the fish hold through the freezing winter months until spring water temperatures warm sufficiently for successful spawning. Coastal summer steelhead exist almost, but not quite exclusively where partial or seasonal migration barriers exist and separate winter and summer steelhead populations. Shipherd Falls on the Wind, Lucia and other Falls on the EFL, Kalama Falls, Falls on Deer Creek, Bear Falls on the NF Sky, falls on the NF Tolt, etc., etc.


No, not like SE AK. The fall run AK steelhead that enter in the fall and hold over the winter to spawn at the same time as the spring run fish are more like the native inland summer steelhead in the lower 48 than they are like native winter steelhead down here. Their migration and spawn timing is controlled by water temperature.


Although I have no empirical proof, I'll stand with Kerry and declare ain't no way 50 summer runs were raised on a single afternoon in the Skagit system. All native summer run populations in Skagit tribs were quite small even during pristine habitat times. A stream could have been "premiere" for the handful of anglers that fished it, but not otherwise.


If there is a single attribute that is totally useless in determining hatchery or wild origin of a steelhead, it is how it runs, jumps, or otherwise fights on the end of an ngler's line. Sorry, but for every example that says wild steelhead "fight" better than hatchery steelhead, there is an objective example showing exactly the opposite behavior. Fish size may or may not be an indicator. It varies by stock of fish depending on length of ocean feeding as I described above.

Stilly Stalker,

Nice photo! Excellent example of a Deer Creek fish.

I've spent my day contemplating summer runs in the skagit system. I was remembering a second-hand acount of an angler raising 50 sumer runs in an afternoon on a mid river trib. But that was also mid century. A trib just up the road also used to be touted as one of the state's premire summer run streams. No more, however. Blows.
Ralph Wahl claimed in his book" One Mans Steelhead Shangrila" that he and a friend hooked 30+ steelhead in one day on the mid river skagit. I believe (if memory serves me) it was below a big jam were a trib enters the river. It's been a long time since I read that book.


Tight line takes ain't no fakes!!
From what I have heard from Frank Moore and other old timers on the NU there were definitely a spring run of fish that came in around the end of April and early May. A distinctive early run of fish that were not late winter fish. Different body lines from the winter fish. There may be a remnant population of that strain of fish and you may run a cross a fish or two in May but you really don't start seeing many fish now till later June, even July.

We do still see a strain of fish that we call the nostril fish in the fall. A large bodied fish that has way more spots and enlarged nostril holes. Possibly a Canton Creek strain from days gone by. I believe there may have been several distinctive strains of Spring/summer run fish that were acclimated to the various tribs and each of those fish had a slightly different run timing. Now with Steamboat Creek being the only major trib left that has viable spawning habitat,that run timing is now fairly consistent starting in late May-June.


Well-Known Member

Ralph and his friend fished the old Day Ck slough, which for around 30 years had a large log jam at the head end. I observed the remnants of it in the late 70s, but the summer runs were long since decimated by then, sadly.


Derek Young

Emerging Rivers Guide Services
Another resource, if I may add, would be Dave Carpenter with Oregon Outdoor Excursions. He lives and guides out of Lyons, right on the N. Santiam. He's a steelheader and could provide more insight if you'd like to engage him in a discussion.


still an authority on nothing
Now, everybody-
take a minute, stop, absorb and contemplate what the _G man just wrote.
then read it again and commit it to memory.

Ralph and his friend fished the old Day Ck slough, which for around 30 years had a large log jam at the head end. I observed the remnants of it in the late 70s, but the summer runs were long since decimated by then, sadly.

Thanks for clearing that up for me, I always thought is was near finney creek.


Active Member
Chris -
By chance I had just recently re-read Mr. Wahl's "One Man's Steelehad Shangri-la" he reports on that remarkable day he and his partner had "46" contacts hooking 23 and landing 15 in a 6 hour period. BTW the was August of 1941.

Interestingly he returned by himself 3 days later to the same water and never touched a fish. In 45 days of fishing his "Shangri-la" he never had day that was remotely similar that amazing day.

tight lines


Tight line takes ain't no fakes!!
Salmo G

You have an almost reference book style memory about the history of northwest steelhead.

I always enjoy reading your posts as they usually cut through the haze of BS and get to the heart of the matter.

Ever thought about writing a book? I would be in line to get it.
I wouldn't call a wild run that is listed as a "species of concern", one breath away from ESA listing, with an average run size of 400 fish annually, in one of the most heavily and intensively logged watersheds around, anything close to being in "decent" shape
Back to the original question: "Are there any full intact systems in the lower 48 that have a viable native summer run? What is the most intact system in the lower 48?"

I would guess Oregon's John Day River would be the candidate for most intact system in the lower 48. Huge drainage area with no dams (other than Columbia River dams).
No stocking of hatchery steelhead or spring chinook, but likely has the largest run of native steelhead in the lower 48.
In spite of that, there are significant numbers of hatchery strays in the system, mostly Idaho fish. Biologists are concerned that stray hatchery fish are impacting steelhead spawning success. Although the chart below suggests increasing numbers of spawners, the long term trend is down.

Year Spawner escapement % hatchery fish
2004 4,484 31%
2005 3,698 22%
2006 5,315 28%
2007 8,689 19%
2008 9,260 9%
2009 7,368 6%

(From Preliminary Summary of Out-of-Basin Steelhead Strays
in the John Day River Basin
by James R. Ruzycki and Richard W. Carmichael)


Well-Known Member

Thanks. I'd love to write a book about steelhead and other PNW fish, but I'm a technical writer. You know, the kinds of reports and documents that cure insomnia. And my memory is beginning to show symptoms of that "old timer's" disease wherein I don't get all the facts correct anymore.

Mike T,

You'd be correct that the JD has the largest intact native wild summer steelhead population that meets, or nearly meets, the VSP criteria. For some reason I focused mainly on coastal populations, perhaps because they always have been smaller and now are the closest to winking out.