After reading Rob Brown’s Skeena Angler column “Setting Them Free” of Oct. 29, 2014, I couldn’t help but feel that the steelhead stocks must be in dire straits and are doomed to extinction, unless we take drastic steps to turn things around.
The crux of Rob’s argument is the mishandling of steelhead and in part, the poor selection of fly/tackle. He recommends several, admittedly, draconian solutions, such as the Washington State regulation that prohibits the removal of fish from the water.
I assume Rob wants this new regulation because he believes this would eliminate the chance of asphyxiation, through photo ops. However, the Washington State regulation states, “It is unlawful to totally remove salmon, steelhead, or Dolly Varden/Bull Trout from the water…”.
If you noticed the word “totally”, you probably know where I’m heading.
After talking to a friend of mine in Washington, he basically told me that people are still hoisting steelhead for a photo op, just as long as part of the fish is still in the water.
Another problem with this regulation, is fishing by yourself.
You’ve just hooked a steelhead in fast water and after an exhilarating fight; you’re now looking for a place to release this beautiful fish.
As you turn around, you realize there’s no slack water anywhere around you and the water drops off right at shore. You have now come to the grim conclusion that you have three options: 1) Continue fighting the fish and risk pushing it to exhaustion, 2) Break it off (if possible), or 3) Become a criminal and pull the steelhead on to shore for a quick release. I guess if you left part of the tail in the water, the Judge may rule in your favor.
Rob would also like to see a limit put on the number of steelhead caught and then released. What I would like to know, is when is a steelhead considered released? Is it released when the steelhead spits the hook or breaks off just at your feet? Or do you actually have to touch the fish before it’s considered released? If it’s the latter, I’m sure you’ll see the majority of fly fishermen packing a lot of extra trailer hooks or maybe a light wire hook that straightens out easily.
I can see this being a nightmare for the guides. Their client spends thousands of dollars to fly by helicopter into a remote area, to be guided by a top guide to catch wild steelhead – only to have the rod pulled out of their hand when he/she reaches that magic number in the first 15 minutes. I don’t think they would be coming back to infuse money into the local economy.
And what if you decide to go trout fishing and inadvertently catch your limit of steelhead in the first ten minutes of fishing? Do you stay, and take the chance of getting caught catching more than your limit or do you pack up your things and go home. I guess if I was retired and could fish all day, every day, like some people, the choice would be easy.
In 1975, Idaho Department of Fish and Game conducted a study to evaluate the ability of adult female steelhead to spawn successfully after being hooked, played, and released by anglers on the Clearwater and Snake rivers.
It was thought that in a female steelhead’s struggle to escape the hook, the maturing gonads are damaged so that spawning is not successful and eggs fail to develop after fertilization. The study found there was no significant difference in the viability or development of eggs between female steelhead, which were caught & released, and unplayed fish. This indicates that barring gross injury, released females can return to their target spawning streams and reproduce successfully.
In the end the real indicator of whether we need draconian regulation changes, would be if the steelhead population is declining do to improper handling and poor fishing techniques.
So I decided to check out the “Skeena Tyee Test Fishery”, which has data on the magnitude of Skeena River salmon and steelhead trout returns. I crunched the “Daily Index” numbers between June 10 and Aug. 31 from 1956 to 2014, and then averaged it over 10 year increments, to see how far the steelhead have declined since 1956.
After hours of work, here are the results: 1956 – 1965 = 66.03, 1966 – 1975 = 82.72, 1976 – 1985 = 100.69, 1986 – 1995 = 81.77, 1996 – 2005 = 127.31, 2006 – 2014 = 127.05.
Or in other words, the steelhead magnitude has increased 192 per cent, since 1956 and for the past 19 years, has been consistently high on average. Other than the drop in 1986 – 1995, the steelhead numbers don’t look as bleak as Rob would like you to think. Actually, if we have another good year in 2015, we just might set another consecutive record, for an average 10 year increment.
I do believe Rob means well, but I think his approach of using the gavel of the law, to get people in line with his fishing methods, is once again making him look like an elitist. Actually after the trout fiasco, I thought he would be more sympathetic to other user groups, but I can see now nothing has changed.
I agree with Rob, even though it seemed more of a foot note, that education is the answer, but I don’t agree with using the heavy hand of big brother, telling us how to fish. Like Rob indicated in his column, most steelheaders want to do the right thing and with proper educational videos available on line, the word would quickly spread on how to reduce stress or possible injury, to our wild steelhead.
Since Rob is the self-appointed expert in this field. I, Dennis Therrien, would like to nominate, Rob Brown, to make educational videos to help reduce fishing related stress or possible injury, to our wild steelhead. Everybody in favor…say ‘aye’.