Steelhead - Our Fickle Mistress!

I don' believe for a minute that any single source (ex: tribal netting, habitat degradation, pollution, poor logging practices, overfishing, ocean conditions, etc.) can be flagged as the major reason for the decline in our steelhead stocks. And it should be remembered that the steelhead losses have not been limited to Washington rivers. Losses have been severe from California to northern British Columbia--and SE Alaska as well, to a lesser extent.
All of the issues that I've noted have earned a notch in the demise of our steelhead. Being overly simplistic does make it easy to find an enemy to whom one can lay the blame. This finger pointing, by definition, deflects any blame away from the accuser and toward someone, or something else. Sorry folks but in some measure we must all share some of the blame in a direct, or indirect sense for the loss of our wild steelhead whether we like it or not. It is high time theat we quit pointing fingers and shoulder a share of the responsibility for bringing them back.
Good Fishing,
Les Johnson
I agree with much of what was said here. I just wish steelhead weren't getting more and more and more and more and more and more popular to fish for. It seems like the magazines pass off this message along the lines of "You ain't shit until you can catch steelhead" at the demise of such a fragile thing.

I love steelheading and I will always be into it if legal but I don't have any problems of confusions over guys just as crazy about lake fishing or salt water fishing or even carp fishing. Neither is better or worse to me. All have challenges just as hard to achieve and equally as impressive.

I just think it is sad that with such a rare fish, people and mags still make the impression that it is just skills you need to catch them when the difficulty has more to do with sheers numbers due to terrible problems we have caused.

We made the steelhead the "ultimate game fish" and now we are the ones making them out to be the only fish worth our pursuing.

Why don't the magazines make a big stink about catch and releasing a 20" SRC off a beach or something like that. That is just as awesome a catch as a huge steelhead IMO.


Ignored Member
I agree with you Les, there are a large number of factors that have contributed to the decline of steelhead on the west coast. The point made here was the single largest factor affecting steelhead at this time and in my not so humble opinion that single largest factor would be habitat. And looking at all of the different obstacles to overcome to achieve some form of recovery for steelhead, habitat will be the hardest to improve. To many players to please; timber companies, power companies, land owners, developers, farmers, city - county - state- federal goverments, tribes, the list keeps going.

I wonder when I will catch my last steelhead. Will it be because I am to old to fish for them or will it be because there are no more to fish for?

I really appreciate the OP's passion and I can remember when I had that passion. Today, I still fish for steelhead every chance I get but I think more and more about when I will catch my last steelhead.


"Ride'n Dirty."
The nets are killing thousands of wild spawning steelhead accidentally every year. Les, I was merely pointing to a source that "I" (in my limited knowledge) see as an unpoliced entity that practices WILD steelhead retention. I've never killed a wild steelhead, have you?

I like catching trout more than any other fish. For one it's in the summer and for two I actaully catch some.
Kerry S,
You are correct. Habitat loss will certainly dictate the extent of the wild steelhead stocks we will be able to recover. It still has to be factored in with all of the other issues however.
There is still a lot of habitat that can be restored and much that is being restored. Washington Fly Fishing Club in partnership with WDFW rehabbed Griffin Creek, a little tributary of the Snoqualmie River. Its once healthy runs of salmon, cutthroat trout and [to a lesser extent] steelhead have returned in pretty good numbers. Bear Creek on the eastside flows through at least five forks with one fork heading in Snohomish County. It has a crew of people working to clean up the forks which could in time, potentially add some 100 miles of spawning habitat. I give these examples but believe me there are more being worked on and even larger numbers of creeks and river sections that need help.
I'm not attempting to put a condescending happy face sticker on habitat recovery. There remains an immense amount of work to be done but there is progreess being made.
I was one of the original group of folks who lobbied for protection of the coastal cutthroat trout. The effort took from 1974 until 1997 to get the regulations passed that provide the umbrella of protection that the cutthroat presently enjoys. Patience is its own reward. We must continue to support the battle to save or wild steelhead.


Buck, if you're averaging about two steelhead a year, you may have reached your long-term norm. Congrats, you're a steeelheader, and this may be as good as it will ever get.:mad:

And the next time I hear that "steelhead are actually easy to catch-" I may throw him in the river and not let him out until he catches one with his hands:rolleyes:... OK, I won't really, but it's something to while away the time until the next one strikes.

Don't worry NM they are allot easier IF they are in a river!!!:thumb: Oh and if they aren't on the move, which happened to me the last couple weekends...saw quite a few splashing through but wouldn't touch a thing!!! Don't know what's more frustrating...

Winter steeling used to be allot more fun for me as the river wasn't near as crowded and you could fish allot of the spots with a fly you couldn't get near in salmon season with the gear guys...Now, the river(s) are packed...People have no idea what moving through a hole means and just fence post all day, whether in the middle or near the top of run which screws you...Got tired of having what seemed like one run in a day with guys trying to low hole you etc. etc.

I know down on some of your rivers you don't have the crowds you'll see on some up here but there doesn't seem to be the fish either....
At least with summer runs they will aggressively hit your fly AND you can dry fly or skate dries for them..which IMHO is the end all of steelheading...

One bud of mine fishes every year way up in the interior...Old school scoundrel that he is...Skates dries as much as possible but will throw a wet to pick my pocket when he can...( I never have the time off to go up with him which kills me no end) In three weeks last year he landed 53 steelhead...(Also one of the best years he's ever had up there)...

Aggressive fish and actual numbers of fish can make your whole outlook change considerably....I guess the hardest part would be to leave that and return to the endless days of nothing we face down here....

But like I said before, it only takes one good tug to rekindle that fire!!!

Maybe these will help you out a little!!! mostly Ralf fish but one little one that took a 14 elk hair while I was killing time on some trouties....



Ignored Member
Les, although I am far more cynical in my old age and do not carry the passion of the younger steelheaders, I will do a small bit with some of the local organizations up here on the Skagit on habitat. There is some good being done. Some, I don't know if it will be enough. There is some important habitat work being done up on Finney Creek ( for one and Illabot Creek is going to be desinated as wild and scenic ( with some luck and hard work by more passionate people. These two Skagit tribs are very important to steelhead and salmon up here. I guess it is a start. I sure do admire those folks that get out and do something where they can even when I think it is a losing effort.
Kerry S,
A wise man once told me years and years ago at the beginning of a long avocation of fighting for our fish and wildlife. He said, "We can only do what we can do." The longer I live the more those words ring true. I believe that you have your priorities well in hand.
Good luck,


"Ride'n Dirty."
Les, I'll take it you killed a bunch of them then. But I guess that was ok because there were so many back then it was ok! I probably would have done the same, maybe.
When I was a kid, I went camping with my friends and we killed a bunch of squirrles. Now, I go pretty far, almost off the road to avoid killing a squirrel. I guess that makes me a conservationist. BTW, they were wild Western Gray squirrels.
Thaks for your thoughtful response. It is appreciated. I certainly did kill wild steelhead in the 40s 50s and 60s. All of us did. Back then as I wrote earlier in this thread that we didn't know, or admit, that our steelhead populatoins were in decline. That admitted, we sure as hell know that they are in decline now. So, any of the information that those of us in our 6th and 7th decade of life worked on in the past are being reconciled now.
This should not be a blame game, Buck. It is a time to come together and save these great fish.
Good Fishing,


"Ride'n Dirty."
I'm not playing the blame game. All I did was mention I think tribal netting is a huge factor, since they aren't policed, and they kill thousands of wild steelhead by accident. I'm not saying I'm not coming together to save these great fish, but Les, until the law changes to C&R, I don't see why I should waste my energy on it. And on a personal note, till the tribes stop pilfering the waterways, I'm not gonna get involved. I'm gonna not keep a wild steelhead, but outside of that, seems like an uphill battle.
I agree we should all come together and force the hand of the WDFW and the tribes to better our fisheries.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Buck Naked comes dressed like his avatar and people will get the point. Everything seems like an uphill battle. We are the greatest citizens in the greatest nation on Earth. (no offense to our friends around the world who add to the great energy here at WFF). Battling uphill, against certain defeat, defying the odds, reversing the irreversible and then thumbing our noses or rubbing the opponents faces in their defeat is what we do. Sometimes we are not so glamorous doing it, but it is what we do.

What we need is way to get all of our diverse opinion pathways that all lead to a common point into alignment somewhat so that we can support the POINT and not our PATH. The paths can vary individually, but the point must remain the constant focus.