How many wild steelhead that anglers should limit themselves to a day is the topic of the day after a noted Northwest fisherman dropped the idea in a blog.
“Four encounters with a steelhead is double what most would call a fantastic day. Practicing ‘Four Is Enough’ would also leave more players, green fish, for anglers the next day. It’s a start,” writes Bill Herzog.
The idea arises from a conversation last October in Maupin, Ore., and put on by Trout Unlimited. (Northwest Sportsman was invited, but couldn’t attend because it was Deer Season and someone hadn’t killed a buck yet.)
Herzog explains the reasoning and rationale here, which he says was first presented by author/photographer Brian O’Keefe, whom he quotes at length:
“Really, how many steelhead does an angler need to catch in a day? Usually one scratches the itch for most of us, but so often now I see anglers, gear and fly — especially the indicator crowd — using catch-and-release as an abusive tool on those rare days when there are good numbers and willing steelhead. Anglers are now using the most effective techniques in history. This means we have good fishing for a day or two when the rivers drop in, and usually only for the first several boats or bank anglers. As rivers continue to drop and clear, success diminishes with most fish already having been hooked and released.”
In launching the campaign today, Wild Steelheaders United called it a “new battle cry” in a link to the blog posted on the organization’s Facebook page.
And indeed it began a little battle on social media.
At first glance, the proposal is problematic.
How would you ever enforce it? By posting lots of angry-frowny faces on FB updates showing more than four fish pics?
Why would someone in the midst of such a good day of fishing want to give up? And what about the pressure of clients on a guide to maximize the experience they’re paying good money for?
While Europe appears to serve as a touchstone for the proposal, this is not Europe. This is America. To those who time their run to the river right go the rewards, not those who sleep in.
What, exactly, is the scientific proof that this would be effective? What’s the data? Show your work.
And where does this end? When does four become two, and two become one, and one become none?
But the idea is not without a certain precedent either.
In recent years in certain Washington mixed-stock fisheries, anglers have had to hang up their rods for the day when they’ve landed their limit of hatchery fish.
For example, a number of emergency openers in Southeast Washington, including the current extension of the Tucannon River steelhead fishery.
“Anglers must cease fishing for steelhead for the day once they have retained 3 hatchery steelhead,” WDFW’s e-reg states.
The idea is to remove fin-clipped fish while also limiting impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed fish.
Steelhead are threatened in Puget Sound, portions of the lower, middle and upper Columbia Basin, Snake Basin and upper Willamette watershed.
But they’re not on the Oregon Coast or Olympic Peninsula, which are seeing rising pressure as lawsuits or facility operators cut hatchery production elsewhere, moving anglers around and the cult of the wild steelhead has grown.
As a longtime angler, Herzog’s seen that, and in the past he’s brought up the subject of a permit lottery as a way to ease crowding on OlyPen rivers.
“There’s no sanctuary … You gotta give these fish a break if you want to keep the quality fishing going,” he said during a March 2012 broadcast of Northwest Wild Country.
While in this latest blog Herzog decries leaving changes “in the hands of glacial-speed rulemakers,” this season does mark the first winter that the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s new regs for Olympic Peninsula steelhead are on the books.
Those banned all retention of wild steelhead on state rivers there, as well as outlawed treble and barbed hooks, reduced bait fishing to waters and months where hatchery fish are present and created a test no-boat-fishing zone on the upper Hoh River between Morgan’s Crossing and Olympic National Park.
Between that and this idea, it may be a bit much a bit too fast for some.
But that said, this is in no way meant to belittle Bill Herzog’s idea. I very much appreciate that he’s thinking about these things, and I trust him more than others. We both have the same goal: more fish for more people to catch. I see it as food for thought for a wider discussion. Comments are welcome.