Native summers


Active Member
In Oregon, in a few central valley rivers, there are "Ghost Runs." These are small run of native fish that enter the system April/May. So what's the historical story, when things were intact, with fish that use to run in the spring summer months. We, as steelheaders, equate the summer with brats. Are there any full intact systems in the lower 48 that have a viable native summer run? What is the most intact system in the lower 48?


Well-Known Member

I'm not familiar with the description "central valley" in Oregon. Is it the Willamette?

I've heard that the Willamette tribs didn't have native summer steelhead, only native spring chinook and I think late winter steelhead. Not sure about that last one. The natural feature that shaped Willamette basin fish populations is Willamette Falls at Oregon City. The falls were allegedly passable only during the spring months when the Willamette was high and backed up by spring runoff of the Columbia. This permitted passage of spring chinook and could have also allowed late winter steelhead into the system. It could also have allowed "springer" steelhead, that is, early running summer steelhead.

I heard that Skamania summer runs were introduced to Willamette tribs because they had no native summer runs. I've also been told that the Siletz was the only OR coastal river with a native summer steelhead run.

I'm most familiar with WA fish populations. There are still remnant endemic summer steelhead runs in the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, and Snohomish River basins of Puget Sound, but I doubt that any of them satisfy the VSP (Viable Salmonid Population) criteria. On the coast there are native summer runs in the Quinault, Queets, Hoh, and Quilayutte systems, and I similarly doubt that any satisfy the VSP. None were large populations to begin with, and their habitat is easily compromised by logging. Just a guess, but I think the healthiest wild summer steelhead populations on the entire west coast must be the North Umpqua and Rogue, and maybe Klamath/Trinity.



Active Member
Thanks, Salmo. One river I was referring to is the N. Santiam. Maybe it is just a myth, but that "Ghost run" label is given to a small run of native fish in April- May. A fisheries biologist suppoted this claim, and stated that this run is not late arrival winters. The santiams, mollalla, etc.. and central coastal rivers (nestucca, nacannucum, etc..) would'nt be impacted by the falls, correct? I thought the NU summer fish were brood stock, absent of any true natives. Why are native summer fish typically much smaller than their winter cousins.


Not to be confused with freestoneangler
Pan, I wonder if that run could be analogous to our Upper Columbia summer runs (disclaimer: the following is my layperson's understanding of things so forgive any incorrect facts. Sg, please correct me if I'm wrong...).

Take the Methow: while they enter the Columbia in the summer-early fall, they will generally hang out in either the Columbia and Methow all winter and the bulk of the run will not move up into the spawning tributaries until April+ (they basically spawn in the up in the tribs, not the Methow). When these summer runs enter fresh water they are not sexually mature and they will not mature for many months; they spawn in the spring just like the ocean-maturing winter fish that spawn fairly soon after arrival in the fresh water. This is the reason that our UC rivers stay open until the end of March – these stream-maturing summer runs are at about the same stage of sexual maturity in March as the ocean-maturing winter runs are on the OP, Puget Sound, etc.

Anyway, if they are really summer runs they would have entered fresh water a long time ago; as the Santiam is a trib of the Columbia, my guess is that they’ve been hanging out in the Columbia, Willamette, or main Santiam waiting until spring to head to their spawning grounds.
I've spent my day contemplating summer runs in the skagit system. I was remembering a second-hand acount of an angler raising 50 sumer runs in an afternoon on a mid river trib. But that was also mid century. A trib just up the road also used to be touted as one of the state's premire summer run streams. No more, however. Blows.


Ignored Member
I've spent my day contemplating summer runs in the skagit system. I was remembering a second-hand acount of an angler raising 50 sumer runs in an afternoon on a mid river trib. But that was also mid century. A trib just up the road also used to be touted as one of the state's premire summer run streams. No more, however. Blows.
I don't care who it was or when it was nobody raised 50 summers in an afternoon and certainly not on the Skagit.


You know what it is!
Growing up in the Willamette Valley, I can tell that the idea of "ghost runs" is controversial. We definitely caught a couple fish that weren't clipped, but they didn't appear to be native either. If you've seen enough steelhead, which I assume most of us here have, you can tell the difference (to a reasonable degree) between a hatchery brat and a native fish. While the fin size and structure tend to vary some, the biggest difference is often the temper of a fish.

For example, I was lucky enough to fish the hell out of the Siletz throughout college and get to know that river intimately. Absolutely BEAUTIFUL piece of earth that will remain in my heart forever. About the fish, though, there were definitely wild summers that returned to that river. It is the only recognized wild summer run that originates in the Coast Range and its a pretty decent one, too. Most of the hatchery fish in that river are relatively small in the summer, typically 23"-25". They looked very "bratty" and we often referred to them as "cookie cutters" since they all looked the same with small fins (dorsal, tail, pectoral). They didn't fight much and came to hand relatively quickly.

Wild fish, however, varied in size greatly and looked much different. For one, they were bigger, the biggest being between 31"-33", big for a summer fish in pretty small water. The fins were bigger, the fish had more spots and were always full of piss and vinegar. They fought like hell, made big runs, jumped and wouldn't give up. When you have a hatchery fish whooped, they often roll over as if to say, "okay, get this damn hook out of my mouth now." The native fish never give in and fight to the absolute best of their ability, which can be dangerous when the temps rise so we tried not to "overplay" them. Once hooked, we could usually tell if it was a wild fish or a hatchery one, and once they came to hand they were obviously different, aside from the whole adipose thing.

So back to the original issue, I don't know that there are strong "ghost runs" in the Willamette Valley. The Santiams are gorgeous, as is the McKenzie, but I haven't caught a summer there that wasn't fin clipped. And of the ones that get caught that aren't, I would bet that they are unclipped hatchery fish or offspring of hatchery fish that spawned in the stream's tributaries. I have heard from very reliable sources that non-clipped fish have been caught (this particular example comes from both the Santiams) but appeared to be, by looks and temper, unclipped hatchery fish. Its quite possible that some "true" natives have survived or strayed, but I don't think its big enough to verify. I suppose that's why they're called "ghosts" right?
heres a deer creek native summer run for ya

easily recognizable from all hatchery fish in this river. Very football shaped, with distinct minimal spotting. I have been told may was THE month to fish the stilly