Steelhead behavior

It was a cold clear day (late dec) and the fishing was slow. I was floating down the river and came into a run that had adult steelhead exploding out of the water. These were jumps that were 2-3 feet out of the water. By location and timing I thought it was several fish that were doing this. Then I saw an otter swim by and everything got quiet again. I let the run rest for a bit but didn’t catch anything. So what were they doing? Was this a defensive strategy? Territory warning? I don’t think they would have been eating surface bugs.
 

Cruik

WFF Supporter
I think jumping out of the water to escape predators is a pretty normal behavior, right? I would imagine it disrupts the visual connection between predator and prey. See it a lot with chum in the sound when a pinniped narrows on on them. I also have wondered whether a hooked fish's jumps were a similar sort of prey response.

I admit there's surely things that steelhead do that I haven't yet seen, but several jumps clear out of the water in December for territoriality, food, or fun seems unlikely. The vast majority of the jumps I've seen from steelhead are summer run fish and it always seems more controlled, like an overenthusiastic roll, rather than the cartwheel of a ornery slack water salmon. The latter being a not-uncommon sight in December.

Also, if I were fishing and there were several steelhead jumping without a predator present, I'd be surprised not to get a grab. It seems like either jumpy fish are bitey fish or evidence of a LOT of fish.
 

splett

Active Member
Thirty years of chasing steel and my experiance is that wild steel rarely randomly jump or roll. Yes they will show pushing through a tailout as they move up river but just jump and roll like salmon no. My guess is that they were reacting to the fish eater with sharp teeth.
 

sleestak240

Active Member
On the subject of steelhead behavior there is probably no better source than Lee Spencer. Read his book “A Temporary Refuge” where he goes in depth on his observations of steelhead behavior.

My take is jumping fish are spooked and uncomfortable. Rolling/porpoising fish are moving and active which, in my experience, translates to them being grabbier that most other scenarios.
 

vader

Active Member
Thirty years of chasing steel and my experiance is that wild steel rarely randomly jump or roll. Yes they will show pushing through a tailout as they move up river but just jump and roll like salmon no. My guess is that they were reacting to the fish eater with sharp teeth.
Interesting. Everytime I went to the Queets and fish would be rolling across from the boat launch. alway thought to row like hell and try to get to the upper side across from boat launch. Never did it.
 

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