It isn't uncommon to see a late winter henfish that are, as you said, chrome bright, have loose eggs fly fom its vent when it is violently fighting the hook.
This phenomanon is actually seen quite often in Alaska rivers such as the Thorne on Prince-of-Wales Island where a lot of the steelhead arrive bright but very ripe.
Back in the day, I caught a red-hot hen steelhead on the Dungeness in the month of May. She was chrome-bright, had sea lice around her vent and her eggs were already loose in the skein. I think this is just an example of the diversity of life histories once exhibited by our populations of wild steelhead. Oddly enough, she had been feeding heavily on big black ants which were hatching and flying at the time, her stomach was packed solid with them.
Hen steelhead don't color up as much as males and recover their saltwater coloring very quickly after spawning, frequently long before leaving the river. The only evidence of their having spawned is, as noted, the frayed caudal fin, sunken flanks and generally flaccid condition.
Debatable. I wouldn't feel bad, and I don't look down on people who happen to catch them either. Apparently it's considered a part of "fair pursuit" for Atlantics, and some midwestern steelhead fishermen actually actively pursue them during "dropback season". In general, I wouldn't go out of my way for them, but other than not being on the river, it's kinda hard to avoid.
But like some people, I don't think kelts really "count" as a fish to tally. I wasn't aware of them as a whole until I started to catch more and notice the differences in fish. Additionally Salmo_g kinda educated me, and I As Salmo_g he put it "they're hungry and will eat anything". This is due to the hormonal changes in the fish that cause it to start creating digestive juices and metabolizing food. Prior to that, anything they ate kinda just sat in their stomaches just rotting (Zen has some fotos somewhere of this).
For trying to avoid kelts, get into rhythm of the specific river you are fishing. In the Skagit, lots of fish don't spawn until deep into May, so it's a pretty safe bet you're fishing for relatively fresh fish in April. For other rivers like the upper Bogachiel, lots of the fish have *finished* spawning by late march, and there is a fair bit of dropbacks occuring.
In general if you want kelts to survive, leave 'em be. They don't have a lot of juice, and until they get their fat reserves back on, they are easy prey due to lack of energy.
For what it's worth, evidence is now showing that fish that respawn can have an extermely high rate of smolt survival, mostly cause mama or papa had a clue as to what they were doing. TomB has a lot more info on this as he's got some insider info for a kelt reconditioning program on the Yakima. Also, I think Will told me something about past historic rates of kelting (but I don't recall), so you can prolly pester them for more info
But all in all, if you do hit a kelt don't feel too bad. There's little you can do other than avoiding fishing....
Mr. Mello is talking about kelts and you are talking about chrome yet ripe pre-spawners.
As I said, I have heard of steelhead going from the salt, spawning and returning to the salt in a matter of days. I still think I have encountered some of these fish. It is just hard to believe those chromers that fought so well had been in the river for that long and were just chromed out kelts.
I think the fish you speak of P. Monkey are similar fish.
I have seen steelhead returning to chrome and they always have darker parts around the lips and gills and a smokier complection. The fish I have encountered that I thought were hasty spawners were WHITE WHITE WHITE in all the right places.
Chromer spitting a few eggs with a full belly = pre-spawn, but ripe. Chromer spitting a few eggs + skinny and empty looking belly = kelts. So AK - James must have been responding to Jason regarding the kelts I guess.
It's not uncommon on a few OP streams in April to catch fish in the lower river...the first few riffles...that have extended ovipositors, eggs dropping...and live sea lice.
The latest fish spawn lowest in the stream, and these hens come in ready to go...if they come in during an afternoon tide, they can be spawning that night, and be "kelts" after being in the river for twelve hours...