Coastal Casts: Steelhead
I apologize for my hiatus as of late, I’ve had so much going on and finally hit overload status. I have developed a new system to help me better facilitate my time; 36 hour days with a 9 day week, wrapped in a 5 week month and a 13 month year.
If I did the math right, this gives me roughly an extra 10,140 hours or 422 days a year. I’m looking for signatures and a Representative to sponsor this bill, you can call me at the shop.
Since we last spoke we have experienced 70-plus degree days, sunshine and calm seas, gale force winds with sixteen foot ocean swells, morning frost and driving winds and we referred to this as “Tuesday.” It turns out you really can experience it all in a day here on the coast!
Ocean crabbing reopened for sport fishermen on Dec. 1 but at this point, the ocean isn’t looking too cooperative. So y’all will have to keep playing in the bay for now.
The catch rate isn’t as good as it previously was but regardless of how many crabbers you can cram into a boat you will probably take home 20 to 40 crab for a day’s work. If you bring your fishing gear you can take home a limit of two of rockfish as well.
We’re also hitting that time of year where the lingcod start to slowly migrate into shallower waters to spawn and as such we are seeing an increasingly better grade of these tasty ocean monsters with each passing opportunity to get out and fish them.
Salmon on the Elk has been OK and the Sixes River has been OK to good as of late. A few of our customers have had some dandies to show for it including a 28-pounder!
Very soon we will also be seeing steelhead running up our systems so we should hopefully have some info to pass along regarding those fellas.
While we’re on the topic of steelhead we may as well make it our weekly conversation and get us all educated up on these fish. We have two runs of steelhead on our coast, summer and winter, and right now we are at the beginning of the winter run.
Steelhead are a rainbow trout that has become anadromous, meaning it travels from inland fresh waters to the ocean and usually back again. Some of the steelhead coming into our river systems right now will still be pushing their way inland into the spring. We even have some customers from Idaho that later in the year will be catching steelhead that started off their journeys around now. I’ve seen pictures of scarred up, nasty looking, dark colored fish that travelled thousands of miles being caught by anglers in Idaho.
Keep this in mind, it’s not a straight line to their destination, these fish twist and turn at every bend and for every mile as the crow flies I’m sure it’s more like a couple miles or more travelled. Don’t forget there are also anglers, birds, and bears along the way and every one of them are looking to score a tasty lunch. These fish are survivors!
A steelhead smolt will hatch in the summer months from a clutch of two to four thousand eggs that were laid earlier in the spring. The young steelhead then spend the first one to three years in fresh water, eating, growing, hanging out at all the cool trout places with their friends, basically being a rainbow trout. But then something happens. At some point a physiological process sometimes referred to as “smoltification” begins which allows the fish to transition from freshwater to saltwater. And so the journey begins.
The juvenile steelhead makes its way to the ocean and will remain there from a few short months to up to four years. Those that remain for years travel to many points of the Pacific. As an example, one steelhead tagged and released in Idaho was caught in the Gulf of Alaska two months after it was released. These fish don’t sit idle, they move!
Whether they are in the ocean for months or years their goal is to make it back to the waters of their birth and that’s what the fish that are returning now are doing. The winter run of steelhead have reached reproductive maturity and are coming home to spawn. Another unique trait of the steelhead is that they are capable of making several trips to the ocean and back to spawn; all other members of the salmonid family make the trip once and die. While they are physically capable of several migrations most steelhead only make the trip once or twice.
Once the hen is finally at the spawning place of their birth she will lay on her side and beat her tail on a gravelly bottom, clearing out debris and creating a nest or “redd.” She will deposit her eggs on the gravelly bottom and dig at the gravel upstream with her snout to allow small rocks and other particles to cover the eggs. This completes her motherly duties. In several months the eggs will hatch and the life cycle begins anew.