Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chasing Steelhead through the Pacific Northwest - Tis the season


Steelhead are not just another 20" to 45" Rainbow Trout

Unlike their double-first cousins (rainbow and redband trout), steelhead run to the ocean and back during their life cycle. During that time they become large, fat and sassy. To tell the difference between a steelhead and rainbow / redband trout, one has to look for them in the salt of the ocean, or do genetic testing in a lab. 
For the sake of a legal definition most state regulations designate a 20" rainbow trout found in a river or stream, to be a steelhead, whether it has ever run into the ocean's salt or not. There is a difference between the two.


Steelhead run... from their fresh water natal habitat to salt water, then in 3 to 4 years they return to their fresh water natal habitat to spawn. They are an anadromous salmonid, but unlike salmon, steelhead can run to the Pacific Ocean multiple times and return to spawn, coming back larger with each run.

Steelhead run... when they feel the point of a steel fly piercing into their jaw. This is what make the search, the chase, the hands-on experience so exhilarating, and happens using a very wide variety of steelhead flies that are available, and to tye.
Green Butt Skunk







 









Spawning Purple









Articulated Egg Sucking Leach









It is said that the best steelhead fly to use is "the one you can catch a steelhead with." A general "Rule of Thumb" for selecting a steelhead catching fly is... On bright days - use bright colored, flashy flies; on overcast days - use dark flies. Flies tied with Krystal Flash or the likes (colorful or dark), are good steelhead attracters.

Angling for steelhead and salmon is unlike chasing other fish species in fresh waters. Until they enter their natal spawning water/area, they are constantly on the move... here today, gone tomorrow. Fortunately for the Walla² Fly Fishers', we have kind of a flow chart -of fresh salty adult "steelies" migration- to show us when and where the steelies are, when they are  running up the Columbia River and throughout it's tributaries. We have the Columbia and Snake rivers dams with fish counters, that give us these reports. 


If you are one interested in chasing Pacific Northwest steelhead, you might want to follow the fish runs through these Columbia/ Snake rivers dams via the USACE adult fish counts.
Water temperature 8/2/17 at  -- Bonneville = 72.14
°F, McNary = 71.42°F,  Ice Harbor = 71.96°F
Bonneville
+
10 year average
 The Dalles
 +
10 year
average
 John Day
+
10 year average
Three Mile Dam
Umatilla River
-CTUIR-
 McNary
+
10 year average
 Ice Harbor
+
10 year
average
 Lower Monumental
+
10 year
average
 
Current 2017 Steelhead Counts and 10-year average Y-T-D
Adult Steelhead dam counts

Bonneville

The Dalles

John Day

McNary

Ice Harbor

Lower Monumental
8-2-2017
25,331
7,349
4,106
4,806
2,075
2,368
10-year average to date

113,339

58,903

41,980

30,644

17,532

18,120
The Dalles Dam Steelhead Passage/Count - 2017 Return ~~~~~ Past 10-Year Average Return
One might say that Walla² Fly Fishers' steelhead home waters are throughout the flow of the Mid-Columbia River Basin tributaries beginning at the Klickitat River in WA, the Deschutes River in OR, and following the Snake River into Idaho. Along the way they stray into every river from Bonneville Dam to Dworshak Dam to Pateros Lake.

Because Idaho Department of Fish and Game have used a hatchery strain of steelhead from coastal British Columbia rivers, the Columbia River Basin has two "runs" of steelhead... the A-run and the B-run

Two (2) steelies on the left are female ~~ One (1) steelie on the right is a male

Both of these "runs" have to pass through our Walla² Fly Fishers' waters to make it to their natal spawning waters.

Usually the early steelies are being caught in the Columbia River Basin around the Klickitat River and Deschutes River in July and August. For the lower-Deschutes River the peak of the steelhead catching season is from mid-September to October. Other rivers are the John Day - October and November; Umatilla and Walla Walla - October, November, and December; Snake River rivers - late October, November, December, upper Columbia River - October through January. Higher tributaries usually begin hold steelies in November with spawning returns in April and May.
Many rivers will draw "strays" into the lower stretch of each river until irrigation has been turned off in the upper stretches of the river - usually after frost. Steelhead are usually straying or running up most rivers in November and December to re-enter the upper reach of their spawning rivers / streams in January to late February.
Steelhead tend to be in no hurry to get to their natal spawning waters until March through May, with most spawning being in late-March and April. It is during this time of the run that many hatchery steelhead are beating their heads against the doors of the hatchery they were reared in. 

The Pacific Northwest Columbia River Basin
Click on link - then click on map to enlarge for details
When on their spawn run, it has been said... they are not feeding, or do so very little. Having run from the ocean being bright and flashy, fat and sassy, by the time steelhead have spawned and are returning to salt, they are dark, tired, and very thin. To hook a spawned out "steelie", is much like landing a stick.

Always check the fishing synopsis governing the state you are steelheading in to confirm you are angling legally. You might also check the websites thereof to see if there have been any update/changes to the regulations for steelheading... per river, per county. 


2017 Steelheaders' NEWS:

Poor run prompts Columbia River summer steelhead fishing restrictions

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Low steelhead count expected in Columbia River




Adult Steelhead dam counts

Bonneville

The Dalles

John Day

McNary

Ice Harbor

Lower Monumental
8-2-2017
25,331
7,349
4,106
4,806
2,075
2,368
10-year average to date

113,339

58,903

41,980

30,644

17,532

18,120




If you would like to learn more about steelhead angling, you may wish to read the works of; and contact this Oregon Pro of steelhead angling -- John Shewey for greater insight in chasing, catching these elusive fins and tails that run through the Pacific Northwest.


















  
Grab your rod, grab your flies...
and let's go Steelhead catching, Tis the season.
The End


Report submitted by
Dale McKain



Tight lines and good fishing.


Walla² Fly Fishers




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