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So the last 2 days I've had some questions stirring about hatchery summer fish and their habits. This could be a series of dumb questions but I'm a nerd and this stuff is interesting to me. I've probably overcomplicated the question.

Do hatchery summer fish swim straight to the hatchery like hatchery winter fish?

-As far as I understand winter natives enter the river , move upstream as conditions allow to their spawning grounds. whether that be waaaaaay up in a tiny trib or a mainstem tailout.

-Summer natives enter the river (say now), moving upstream seeking out favorable water conditions, spending the summer chillin, autumn rains come, river swells, fish begin moving once again towards spawning grounds.

-Winter brats shoot directly to the hatchery. I've seen sea liced hens at reiter on the sky, i know they can get there quick! Is this biological? Meaning are winter brats following a biological clock that says "get to the spawning grounds quickly!"

-By the same token, do summer brats follow the biological clock of a summer native? which is to be in the river for the long haul? fresh in and chrome bright are they mature and ready to spawn (or be "spawned") given they'd normally be spending a lot more time in river before attempting to spawn?

-Or are hatchery fish in general (be it summer or winter) so genetically bleached that swimming to the hatchery ladder and ending up on a stringer is all they know?

I guess to some degree this could be a complicated answer depending on the genetics used in the hatchery facility, and the river in question. I haven't fished enough steelhead rivers and definitely haven't caught enough hatchery fish to answer my own questions about their behavior.

What got this whole thing going for me was a look at the counts on the cowlitz the other day. 336 winters. 67 summers. my first question was how do they tell the difference? second, is 67 summer fish at the hatchery any representation of the numbers of fish in the system as a whole? meaning, ok 67 summer fish hit the hatchery. but are there 3 times as many hanging out playin tetherball and flirtin with the hens in the rock garden enjoying the summer like a summer native would?

thanks.

Sean
 

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Well dude, I can say for sure that a ton of dumbass summer hatchery brats scream up to the hatcheries every year and then just sit. I grew up fishing the tucannon, and several holes just below the hatchery were always loaded with fish by the end of october. The same can be said of the ronde, which is evident by all of the gearchucking meat hunters balled up in the hatchery hole. Conversly, at least in my experience, the nates spread out though an entire system. Where they are seems dependent on what water levels are like. However, I am not a biologist, just a steelhead gypsy.
 

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In my experience it seems that both summer and winter fish will head right for the hatchery pretty quickly, but that is not always the case. I've seen hatchery summer fish in streams with no hatchery. These could have been smolt plants I guess, but I assumed them to be strays. On the stilly for example some of the fortson summer fish have been found way up the south fork and then show up at fortson a month later. In lower stream reaches wild summer fish seem to be a more common catch than their hatchery counterparts, despite the fact that both have to pass through there. This would support the assumption that hatchery fish spend less time in the lower river.

Given recent returns, I would estimate most Puget Sound hatcheries will be lucky to to get 25 fish this summer. With those staggering projections I would definitely be focusing my efforts around the hatchery meat holes, assuming your fishing locally.
 

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Sean,

A lot of the hatchery summer runs make a bee line for their hatchery release points. This seems to occur more with the early part of the run than the latter part, and it's probably because stream flows are higher from spring runoff during June than it is in July and August. The hatchery blood holes are generally a good place to fish when the summer season opens. As the summer progresses, it pays to spend progressively more of each fishing day in areas further downstream.

As for telling the winter and summer fish apart at the Cowlitz hatchery, it's really easy after you've seen a few steelhead.

Sg
 
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