About keeping Methow River hatchery steelhead

I have just returned from three days fishing the Methow River with a group. We used guides for two days. There was a lot of talk, even among some of the guides, regarding seemingly conflicting rules for the upcoming steelhead season on the Methow.

The Washington Fish and Game has said that it will be very important for anglers to keep hatchery steelhead caught on the Methow this year. It is likely they will increase the limit from 2 to 4 fish. Moreover they have said that if we anglers, as a group, do not keep hatchery steelhead the Methow will likely be closed to all steelhead fishing in future years. On their face, these policies seem to be inconsistent.

So, when we got off the river yesterday a Fish and Game guy came by our group to check with the guides on how our fishing day went. When he has free I asked him about the seemingly confliction positions regarding hatchery steelhead.

Here is what the Fish and Game guy said:

• Wild Methow River steelhead are on the endangered species list
• Control over management of the wild steelhead rests with NOAA
• The state must apply to NOAA to get a permit to open the river to steelhead fishing.
• There is ample scientific evidence that the release of hatchery fingerlings is a great benefit to the survival rate of wild fingerlings when the fish migrate together down the river to the ocean, because hatchery fish are more vulnerable than wild fish to various predators. In short, hatchery fish are sacrificed to protect wild fish on their run down the river.
• But, it is not good policy to have a large return of mature hatchery fish.
• NOAA could remove the returning hatchery fish at dams below the Methow and not allow a fishing season.
• But the state has asked NOAA to open the river to a steelhead season -- but the permit request is based upon the responsibility of anglers to remove the unwanted excess hatchery steelhead population.
• As a group, if we anglers do not remove enough hatchery fish this season, in future seasons NOAA will do it for us at the dams and they will deny the state a permit to open a steelhead season on the Methow.

In my experience, most of us fly fishing anglers practice catch and release. At our core, we generally believe it is best to release what we catch.

Fair warning. We will need to act contrary to our natural instincts on the Methow during the upcoming steelhead season. We need, in our own interest, to help the state remove hatchery steelhead to protect the wild run and to preserve our right to fish steelhead on the Methow in future years.

I am no expert regarding these matters. I decided to make this post based upon the general confusion expressed by those in my group some of whom have a lot of experience in fishery management matters. Clearly the reasoning behind the policies of the Fish and Game were not clearly understood by most of those in my group. .

I encourage those who know more than I to correct any errors I may have made and to expand this thread.


Fly Fishing guide "The Bogy House" Lodge
Those natural tendencies to release hatchey fish will be gone shortly after you start killing them and smokeing or BBQ ther flesh!
After all you preserving the greatest fish in our waters THE WILD STEELHEAD, you are also preserving the greatest fishery in the NW wherever you are fishing and fullfilling those basic killer instincs that will flame up on the first BONK! :thumb:

Itchy Dog

Some call me Kirk Werner
I'll echo what's been said already. Hatchery fish, no matter the species, with their inferior genetics, are a threat to wild stock and are best served up on an alder plank. My wife is actually looking forward to me bringing something home to show for my time on the water for a change!


Future WFF Mod
I don't get why we're supposed to bonk methow hatchery fish because they are hatched from native strains in the river...? They are not brought in from other places...methow hatchery fish are native fish born in hatcheries then released...
I'll be helping out the NOAA, but they should up the limit to, no limit, if they really want them out.

But then the fishing will suck, and no one will go spend money in Pateros.

I don't get why we're supposed to bonk methow hatchery fish because they are hatched from native strains in the river...? They are not brought in from other places...methow hatchery fish are native fish born in hatcheries then released...

They are not released as fry. They are pen raised and fed pellets.

Why do you think, compared to wild fish, they are easier to catch, fight less, and look like shit.
I don't get why we're supposed to bonk methow hatchery fish because they are hatched from native strains in the river...? They are not brought in from other places...methow hatchery fish are native fish born in hatcheries then released...
CLO ... Lots has been written over this issue. Here is some info from a Native Fish Society newsletter ... it applies to steelhead also:

"We know from years of scientific research that hatcheries using
wild brood stock produce salmonids that survive better than old
hatchery stock. Even though this is true, it has also be shown that
hatchery fish from wild brood stock have a 20% lower survival rate
than wild fish in their first generation of hatchery culture. In the second
generation their survival rate is 40% less than wild salmon.
Hatcheries cannot replace or recover wild salmonids. Hatcheries
can produce adults for harvest but they cannot increase productivity
of wild salmon. There is evidence that when hatchery fish spawn
naturally with wild salmon natural production declines. Hatchery
salmon contribute to the decline of wild salmon."

(NFS "Strong Runs" Fall 2008)


Active Member
The whole hatchery steelhed issue on the Methow illustrates how complicated and at times absurd steelhed management in general and ESA fisheries management in particular can be.

First we need to remember that the hatchery steelhead returning to the Methow are included in the ESA listing of the upper Columbia River steelhead; they are considered to be essential to the "recovery" of those fish. So what we are talking about is the whole scale killing of ESA listed fish and in years such as this that slaughter actually makes sense and one could easily argue that it is essential. Yet in other years with different survival conditions the very same folks argue it is essential that those same hatchery fish be allowed to spawn in the wild and they require the same protection that the naturally produced fish.

The Methow hatchery and wild steelhead are essentially the same genetically (by design) and it is likely that many of the so called "wild" steelhead had at least one parent that was a hatchery fish.

Tight lines


Fly Fishing guide "The Bogy House" Lodge
The Upper Columbia has been through some huge changes in management structure. The Methow has three different steelhead entering the system.
Hatchery fish bred from hatchery steelhead for many years.
Hatchey /wild bred from one wild steelhead( native to the river )and one hatchery steelhead, first generation fish will have an adipose and a mutated dorsal, do not Bonk one of these!
Full on wild no markings or missing fins, the cream of the crop often caught on a dry fly.

Whatever the complete management operations it is definutely working well and we should respect that, and honor there strategy by removing the Hatchery fish with missing adipose fins.
Not that i catch alot of steelhead, i would if i had boat....but thats another issue. Usually if we go fishing we are in car so not really any room to store a fish. Is there anything against catching a hatchery steelhead and just bonking it there and throwing it back to river? As long as you still write in your catch card and everything of course, i figure it cant do much harm, nutrients for the river?