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Eastern Steelhead versus Western Steelhead


(Al Hassal artwork)


This text was initially titled “Japanese Steelhead” within the Seasonable Angler column of the June-July 2016 difficulty of Fly Fisherman journal. 

I’ve some West Coast associates who often ask me to donate cash to assist in their battles to protect their steelhead fisheries. I give what I can. I perceive the real misery they really feel over the decline of one of many best fisheries on the planet.

The steelhead trout is a creature whose mythology is effectively deserved. The commonest description is “a rainbow trout on steroids.” That basically doesn’t come near getting there. Genetically, the outline is shut. To place it in perspective, we share 50 % of our DNA with a banana, 60 % with a fruit fly, 75 % with a mouse, 80 % with a cow, and greater than 98 % with a chimp. Small quantities make huge variations. A lot in order that the people who find themselves in the course of these conservation battles need completely different strains acknowledged and guarded. The fish have developed in a different way in every drainage, that means steelhead have a barely completely different character from fishery to fishery. Like sisters from the identical dad and mom. Some have requested if I can sum up what makes a steelhead a steelhead? It’s merely a rainbow trout that took an anadromous flip. It was this genetic left flip that additionally required the fish to get robust to hack it in huge water. Very robust.

Often, I get invited out to the West Coast and partake in conventional fly fishing for steelhead. There are some locations situated on British Columbia’s Skeena watershed I completely adore. Regrettably, over time I’ve observed the decline of steelhead in among the extra conventional rivers. I do know the controversy rages over causes and cures. I stay on the opposite aspect of the continent. My skill to assist is restricted to the $20 I can stick in an envelope. I like the fish, however geography is usually a nice barrier.

Typically there will be different limitations, as effectively—the partitions we erect in our hearts and minds. These similar individuals who invite me to fish with them and assist them ball proper up on the point out of Nice Lakes steelhead.



The Nice Lakes steelhead program has an extended and fascinating historical past. In 1876, Michigan started planting Campbell Creek and McCloud River strains from California, and likewise fish from the Klamath River in Oregon. Current creel research have proven that the Michigan steelie has grow to be wild and developed into its personal animal. The Nice Lakes have had steelhead, and biologists have managed them for 120 years.

In my neck of the woods in New York State, many of the steelhead got here from Washington State they usually normally quantity to 6 to 12 kilos of unhealthy, unhealthy, unhealthy mood. The specialists clarify that the juvenile fish imprint on the distinctive odor of the watershed. That is largely true. I imagine any little tributary with a gravel backside and an identical odor will seize steelhead runs. I greater than imagine it; I fish it.

I do fish the better-known streams in Western New York close to the Nice Lakes, and the fishing is fantastic. Steelhead fishing normally begins in September with the fish following the salmon (additionally stocked in Lake Ontario). Our Nice Lakes do a advantageous job of mimicking the good salmon meals cycle within the Pacific Northwest.

The tributaries of Lake Ontario by no means stop to amaze me: in August you can swing a cat and see neither fish nor fowl; by early October you can catch three sorts of salmon and three sorts of trout all higher than 10 kilos on the identical day. I’ve not achieved that, however I’ve come shut. (Atlantic salmon are very uncommon right here.) Although the main tributaries are fantastic and supply room to forged, my favourite water doesn’t seem in any brochure or website. It received’t seem on this story, both. It actually can’t.



It’s a small creek that for some cause, manages to draw steelhead. At its widest spot my creek is maybe twenty yards; most of it’s a lot smaller. There are actually 4 swimming pools, which I’ve poetically named Pool One, Two, Three, and 5. 4 was a mistake and needed to be dropped. It appears my creek, at one level, will need to have smelled like one of many stocked tributaries. Some steelhead discovered their method there. Some nonetheless do, however a good quantity are actually born there. The New York State Division of Conservation clips a fin of the fish it shares. About half the fish I catch are with out clipped fins. You possibly can inform a bit in regards to the fish from the clip—typically you’ll be able to even decide the hatchery it got here from. These with out a clipped fin are both stray fish or are wild. It’s estimated that thirty % of the steelhead in Lake Ontario are actually wild fish. I like the concept I’m fishing a wild steelhead stream.

My buddy Joe from Oregon is likely one of the most hardcore West Coast steelhead guys I’ve ever met. He inspired me to make use of a Spey rod for the primary time.

I informed him about my little stream. I informed him about my secret stream as a result of up to now, my invites to fish for Japanese steelhead have been met with anger and disdain—largely as a result of it was a stocked fishery and he feels the expertise is a kind of mockery.

I believed that the invitation to fish my little stream with its wild fish can be the ticket. As small as it’s, I’ve had ten-fish days there. I ponder how lengthy it’s been since Joe noticed a ten-fish day? The final time I fished with him in Oregon, we caught two fish over three days. I did discover this was thought-about good, and it was a part of the paradigm of among the Western steelhead rivers. I didn’t thoughts. Fishing with an previous buddy is one among life’s easy joys.

So I laid it on thick about my stream. I gave Joe the used-car salesman therapy. I informed him about all of the wild fish and my fairly little stream. The way it has a Pool 5 when there are solely 4. That we might have all of it to ourselves. I believed I used to be making some headway with him when he simply blurted out “Look man, I’m by no means coming East for steelhead. I’ll for whitetail  or brown trout, however fucking steelhead haven’t any enterprise there!” I sensed I’ll have gone too far.

I’ve different associates within the West who’ve related emotions. There’s a huge distinction between Japanese and Western fly fishers. It’s a cultural factor with roots operating deeply into geography and historical past. Each time I fish within the West, I at all times really feel like a stranger in a wierd land. I like it. It at all times feels new and brash and craggy.

Once I watch a Western man forged a fly line, it’s so fairly. It virtually makes me wish to cry. I can normally inform the place a man is from by the best way he casts.

I sat and considered my dialog with Joe for some time. I knew he was pissed at me, however we’re associates and I knew that in a pair days we might be okay once more. Grumpy previous males have a code.

Eastern Steelhead versus Western Steelhead
(Al Hassal artwork)

I like Johnny Money. I used to be fortunate to get to know him somewhat once I was within the leisure enterprise. When you’ve got not heard his model of the tune Harm, you want to. The video was voted one of the best music video of all time.

I bear in mind getting a name when the tune first got here out. “Hey, Johnny made a music video. You need to have a look at it.” Okay, it sounded pressing, so I watched it, and was surprised by its overwhelming energy.

The tune was initially written by Trent Reznor. It was in regards to the anguish in his younger life and it had suicidal overtones when his band 9 Inch Nails first recorded it.

It was most likely Reznor’s finest tune. Then Johnny Money infused it with a tough life’s price of expertise, and made a video to the soundtrack that chronicled his life—and in methods, each life. It’s what artists are good at.

What about Reznor? These have been very private emotions. How did he really feel about his opus being commandeered? He mentioned: “I pop the video in, and wow . . . Tears welling, silence, goosebumps . . . Wow. [I felt like] I simply misplaced my girlfriend, as a result of that tune isn’t mine anymore . . .”

I puzzled if it was like that for Joe about steelhead. If he felt like he misplaced his girlfriend.

I feel I’ve a really feel for the best way a few of my associates really feel. I hope in the long run they notice these fish are actually their “kids.” I can see a situation sooner or later by which a few of these Nice Lakes fish are despatched residence to California and Oregon and Washington and British Columbia to assist rebuild the decimated shares there.

In my coronary heart, I want to see each East and West fisheries thrive. I’m a fisherman and the extra locations I can whip water, the higher I prefer it. I’ve stopped bugging Joe. He has promised to return out for some fall brown trout. He could unintentionally hook a steelhead. It occurs on a regular basis. That shall be within the palms of the fishing gods, and that’s the place I’ll depart it.


Jerry Hamza is the writer of the brand new e book Outside Chronicles: True Tales of a Lifetime of Looking and Fishing (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015). This text is an excerpt from Chapter three, “Japanese Steelhead.”



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