Wild and Wet Winter — Fighting and Handling Steelhead

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With January approaching California anglers in search of winter steelhead begin to pay close attention to river flow and rain forecasts…all in search of the perfect window of opportunity. And, while we hope you have a chance to come tight to a fresh chromer, we also hope you’ll handle your catch carefully.

To learn more about Keepemwet Fishing principles and tips for handling fish carefully:

Last week we shared some basic scientific evidence pointing out the short term mortality rates associated with catch and release (CR) steelhead angling using bait, lures and flies. Most of the early catch and release research focused on mortality, but recent research has begun to focus on the “sublethal” impacts of catch and release. While that research is not specifically focused on steelhead, the evidence gathered on other salmonid species like Atlantic salmon makes many of us wonder about a similar impact on steelhead.

Some key findings of a Canadian Atlantic salmon study:

• CR salmon spawn at a rate similar to non-angled fish.

• Larger CR fish (over 31 inches) produced significantly fewer fry than same size non-angled fish. The same was not observed in smaller fish.

Reproductive success as measured by the number of fry produced for fish kept in the water can be 2-3X greater than fish held out of water and varies with water temperature.

Again, it’s important to recognize that genetic and regional differences between species caution us in applying these findings to other species. That being said, it does make many of us think about minimizing fight times and keeping fish in the water.

If you’re lucky enough to come across a wild winter steelhead this season, please consider keeping your fish in the water, minimize (if not eliminate) air exposure, and handle the fish carefully.


CalTrout: to learn more about California winter run steelhead

Keepemwet Fishing: to learn more about Keepemwet priniciples

Lost Coast Outfitters: blog on many things fly fishing related