STHD Hatcheries and the Steelheader


Ryan Haseman
Hi Guys and Gals. It's been I while since I posted here, but I thought it would be a good place to get an overall view for a paper that I am writing.

I am writing a small paper in a college english class, I don't have a thesis nailed down yet, but right now I am exploring the value of steelhead hatchery programs through the eyes of the NW Steelheader. Although I will probably use some biology and/or ecology to setup the significance of some of my claims, this WONT be a biology or ecology based paper. It will be a paper arguing a value claim on whether or not we (as steelheaders) really want to be running around chasing hatchery fish, why the hatchery programs exist and could we ever move toward a time where we could phase out hatchery programs to promote the re-population of our wild stocks.

Right now I am looking for an overall view of our motivation to fish for steelhead, so if you would be so kind to offer any feedback I would appreciate it. Here are some questions to sort of guide you, but don't let them stop you from offering other insights.

Why do you fish for steelhead?

Do you hold wild steelhead in higher regard to hatchery fish? If so, why?

Would you be willing to not fish for steelhead in your favorite rivers for some time if it meant that it would help wild stocks? Reasons?

I realize this issue has many facets and affects many different "stakeholders" in the NW. I am trying to focus it down to just a steelheaders perspective.

Thanks in advance for the input.
There are many reasons I fish for steelhead but more than anything I like where they come from.

I hold wild steelhead much higher than hatchery fish because they are a product of their environment and they show it in strength and beauty. Beyond their pollution, I don't believe hatchery fish deserve life because they don't earn it early on when it counts.

Habitat and marine survival determine run size, not hooking mortality. Most of the steelhead stocks I fish on are severely depressed and some even ESA listed (Puget Sound summers, Coastal winters, Columbia tribs) and I will continue to target wild steelhead in these fisheries as long as they're open.

If the question was "would you be willing to stop fishing if hatcheries went away?" then my answer would be yes.
Why do you fish for steelhead? Because of the amazingly beautiful places they live and motivate me to explore. Because I love casting two handers. Because of the jolting rush you get when you finally hook up after hours/days of nothing. Because working a run rythmically, seems to center me and relaxes me. Because it's challenging mentally, physically and psychologically, which makes the payout that much greater.
Do you hold wild steelhead in higher regard to hatchery fish? If so, why? Yes, because they exist on their own and have survived despite the unnecessary pressure we continue to put on their habitat.
Would you be willing to not fish for steelhead in your favorite rivers for some time if it meant that it would help wild stocks? Reasons? Yes. Only if it meant there was hope for them to thrive once again.


Ignored Member
Why? Steelhead are fun and easy to catch and they are in the river I live next to.

Wild over hatchery? Wild, 'cause they will take a swung fly more often then a hatch brat.

Stop fishing, why? Yes. Makes sense.


Active Member
Why do you fish for steelhead? Many reasons, mostly due to the overall process of fly fishing with classic methods and flies. Over the years the catching rush has waned to a small fizzle. Still nice but hardly worth the time and money. What is worth the time and money is the overall experience and that only happens on wild'ish rivers with all wild fish.

Do you hold wild steelhead in higher regard to hatchery fish? If so, why? Hatchery steelhead are a joke. Everything they represent is at the heart of why the wild fish are headed towards extinction. If not already there in too many instances. They are the main reason that has allowed habitat destruction and overharvest. Not saying the habitat would not have been destroyed nor the fish scooped up in nets without them, hatchery fish created the legal environment for rape and pillage policy. I have not spent one penny exclusively chasing hatchery fish in my nearly 20 years of steelhead fly fishing. Not going to start now. The best fisheries are those without hatchery plants. Even if that means very low rod catches.

Would you be willing to not fish for steelhead in your favorite rivers for some time if it meant that it would help wild stocks? Reasons? Since my favorite river(s) are now closed due to low returns, what does it matter? If the rest that do have a hatchery component were to close if the garbage fish were removed, what does it matter? The rivers and fish and forests of the PNW are dying right along with the ocean. They aren't going to rebound as the real problems are not going to be addressed. Nor is it even possible or feasible in most cases. We are going to live on the hatchery teat until even they go extinct. I have finally accepted the inevitable.

Andy D

Active Member
I fish because I like the locations they live, the style of fishing, and the flies that I use. They also fight like hell and are beautiful fish.

I hold wild fish in higher regard because of the genetic diversity, and the superior fight and aggression you get from them. while the genetic diversity has been bred out of hatchery fish.

I would be willing to stop fishing for a time, but for those measures to work everyone has to stop fishing. That includes commercial, tribes, sport, and poaching.


Well-Known Member

You've received some good input here. Hope I can add something useful.

Why? Because steelhead are the most interesting gamefish native to this area, they will strike a fly, and as a WA native son I find it easy, if not compelling, to identify with steelhead fishing. Fishing for steelhead makes me a better student of the natural world as it becomes apparent that all things are interconnected.

Wild steelhead? Yes. Wild steelhead are a complete product of the natural environment. Studying steelhead has made me a better ecologist, which is important to my vocation. Wild steelhead rise to the fly better than hatchery steelhead.

Would I be willing . . .? Yes, but I know that question is not relevant. Fishing is not a proximate factor affecting the status of wild steelhead populations in almost all cases. And in the few cases where fishing may be a contributing factor, the fishing pressure need only be restricted to the point where it isn't a contributing factor.


David Dalan

69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E
Why do you fish for steelhead? --

Shallow reasons: They are fun to catch, and hard for most people to catch. There is a certain satisfaction at being good at something so many seem to be so bad at. It's not noble, but it is a part. I like doing things that "take figuring out" and take pride when I "have them figured out." And steelhead are never fully "Figured out" so the appeal is pretty non-ending.

Deeper reasons: My father fished to live (for food, lived outside Tromso, Norway) as a child. Took me to Jefferson Head when I was 5, and most weekends there after. My Grandfather was a fisheries biologist (WA), served on the Oregon Fish Commission. Told lots of great stories about the meetings that were held in the local communities before some of the CR/SR dams were built. How the falls at the mouth of the Deschutes was "salted" with steelhead before the slackwater erased most of it. He said he could wear his arm out releasing steelhead (he never liked eating them I think) with nothing more than a gold spinner the size of his thumbnail. Told me about the largest fall Chinook spawning grounds on the Snake. Now under mud downstream from the confluence. Lots of stories. Part of my culture really.

Between the two of them I had to grow up with in interest (that turned to a love) for angling, the sea, the river. And a little bit of a desire to get my eyes and hands on things before they were gone. Grandpa always thought he'd live long enough to see the last native fish die out on the Columbia river. I can stare at a river in winter for hours. It speaks to me, I just don't know what it says much of the time. Another puzzle to solve I suppose. I love seeing fish, the sheen of the skin the life in the eye. Steelhead most of all seem to tie it all up in an exciting package. I also love to tie flies, and fishing has become another way of expressing my 'crap on a hook" art form :)

Do you hold wild steelhead in higher regard to hatchery fish? If so, why? --

Yes. While a hot summer hatchery steelhead on the sky might spool me from time to time (it's been YEARS since I fished he Sky, any fish left?), on the East Side it's a real different story. Many of the hatchery fish on this side of the state (even in the early fall) fight like a "wet rolled up newspaper." Natives, even in the early spring after being in the river almost a year, are more often than not a different story. If I can only have one, I'll take natives. I do adore hatchery fish, as they provide opportunity and freezer filling goodness :)

Would you be willing to not fish for steelhead in your favorite rivers for some time if it meant that it would help wild stocks? Reasons? --

Yeah, I'm interested in fish way more than just at the end of my line. Anadromous fish are the red blood cells that use the rivers arteries to pump nutrients from the sea all the way to the tops of the mountains. They take the seas of genesis and share that life with the world. They are an irreplaceable link in the ecology of the west coast. To lose them, in their functional, beautiful and mysterious glory would be an unbearable tragedy.


I would suggest you look up the wild steelhead coalition on the net and read some of their many great articles on the might find it very enlightening!!!


Ryan Haseman
Thank you all for your input, and please keep it up!

I would like to give these questions a shot too.

Why do I fish for Steelhead?
I wouldn't classify myself as a steelheader. I mainly fish in the south sound and a few of my favorite rivers for trout. When I do decide to brave the cold and prepare myself for long fishless days, it is because of my admiration of the species. Maybe its because of the writings of Steve Raymond, Doug Rose, and Trey Combs, that have placed Steelhead on this pedestal. To me, steelhead are the fish to catch, just to get a glimpse of the amazing travels they endure. To me they are the epitome of NW fly fishing.

Wild or Hatchery? Wild, for the same reasons many of you are stating. But also, I think when we are out there we are trying to re-connect with the wild, and seeking something that hasn't been messed with by man. Wild Steelhead may represent that, or maybe they represent the ability to endure despite being messed with by man.

Would I be willing to give it up?
When I wrote this question is wasn't under the assumption that the sport fishery has any major effect in the decline of wild fish. Rather, it was under the assumption that the hatchery program might be creating a "false economy" if you will, and overshadowing the dire situation that much of the wild stocks are facing. If steelhead hatchery programs ceased to exist (as improbable as that may be), is it something you could stand behind for the sake of the wild stock.

Of course, my answer is yes. In this hypothetical situation, I would hope that it would create more awareness of how bad the situation really is, not only to us fly fishers who eat, sleep, and breath this stuff, but to the general population.


Active Member
Ok, I'll give this a go.
Why: I love the wild places they live. The idea that they start life at the base of the mountains, travel 100's to 1,000's of miles and spend years in the ocean and return as healthy grown wild fish at the peak of their development is a very strong magnet. Connecting with one and experiencing the energy gives me a glimpse of the true wildness that I'm searching for and drawn to.

Wild or Hatchery: Wild. They are truely a wild species and spending even a brief moment with one is an experience that has a high euphoric content. Strangly, I've spent some time specifically targeting hatchery steelhead this year. I believe they are providing me with a different connection and that is the satisfaction in going out into the wild and bringing home food captured by my own doing. Salmon provide this as do trout and hunting. Still, I've really been enjoying that aspect of the hatchery fish.

Willing to give it up: not sure I COULD give it up. Giving up steelheading would HAVE to mean no fishing allowed in the rivers where they live. I'm not certain I'm ready to not fish the rivers at the base of snow capped mountains. Not sure I could resist the draw of casting caddis flies to Searun Cutthroat in the fall. Not sure I'm willing to not swing big flowing fancy dressed flies through current seams and undercut banks. Dunno....


Doesn't care how you fish Moderator
Why do you fish for steelhead?

They're an amazing fish and pretty much only fish for besides Alaska rainbows. Steelhead are elusive to so many and I have been to some of the coolest places on earth chasing them.

Do you hold wild steelhead in higher regard to hatchery fish? If so, why?
I hold Wild Steelhead to a much higher regard than hatchery fish. Hatchery steelhead aren't steelhead in my mind as they are raised in an artificial environment and given a leg up while wild steelhead fend for themselves their entire life. Hatcheries are a crutch that don't work besides allowing for some harvest and continued impacts to wild fish.

Would you be willing to not fish for steelhead in your favorite rivers for some time if it meant that it would help wild stocks? Reasons?

I would stop and have in some places, but simply closing steelhead angling to sport fishing isn't the answer. Many issues are known and many more unknown to the reasoning behind the collapse of steelhead. I feel that we need to lean towards a conservation based approach instead of the current status quo management of harvest until ESA listing...
Why do you fish for steelhead? For the challenge. I picked up fly fishing about 5 years ago and I was instantly sucked into learning about trout's tendencies and their environment. This spring I read "A Steelheader's Way" by Lani Waller (great book) and shortly after I had a spey rod and was already fairly obsessed with steelhead. Swinging flies for these amazing fish presents the most desirable challenge I can possibly imagine. It also provides the opportunity to adventure to amazing rivers and connect with the natural environment. I still haven't caught a steelhead swinging flies, but I am undoubtedly hooked for life as I simply enjoy the learning, preparation and proceess. I also appreciate the passion that dedicated and successful steelheader's demonstrate. Most of all, it will always give me something to work towards.

Jim Darden

Active Member
why fish for them....stupidity
wild steelhead....definately superior
not fish for them....yes if all the commercial guys stop first, not likely in our lifetime. Our C&R take is so small by comparison, it is not a factor, the returning fish in the river are a small percentage of the return that would exist without the fisheries in the salt water. The recreational fishers are fighting over the scraps after nearly all of the fish are taken before they can return to the river.