Editor’s note: The following article by columnist Terry Wiest appears in the June 2017 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine. Part I in the series ran in the May issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine.
By Terry Wiest
Ah, yes, The General. He is a rare bird, for sure. On the surface he’s a madman. Start a conversation with Zog and he’ll have you in stitches within minutes. On the rivers, he is the emporer of the genus Oncorynchus, backed by sheer numbers of fish and trophies that are legendary in Northwest anglerdom.
Beyond the surface, however, is a different person, one with a deep love for the fish he has mastered. Indeed, the self-proclaimed leader of the Judas Priest fan club – who will soon sport a lightning bolt tattoo on his freshly shaved head – has a sensitive side.
Following last issue’s extended interview, I sat down again with my quick-witted friend Bill Herzog and dug into the mind of this steelheading genius for more on what he’s doing to marshal support for his favorite species, who’s to blame for the diminished runs and what he’d like to see done more of on the rivers.
But first, a little about strikes of a different kind …
Terry Wiest: So I heard there’s another name you’re stuck with that we haven’t brought up yet – “The Landlord?”
Bill Herzog: Oh, you know it. I’ve had some decent success in bowling leagues and tournaments. A bowling alley is known as a “house.” So, someone referred to me as “The Landlord” – it stuck. And you know, I am a bowler first and a fisherman second!
TW: What’s your average?
BH: As of late it’s a 219. I have 19 sanctioned 300 games during league and tournament play, and I also held the four-game scratch record at Kitsap Bowl with a 1,091. For those of you wondering, that’s a 272 average for four games.
TW: So rumor has it you’re actually on quite a few committees and groups advocating for wild steelhead?
BH: Yes, true – but not only wild steelhead. I want to make that clear. If a system can sustain hatchery steelhead, I’m totally for it. We need fish to be able to harvest. Heck, we just need fish to be able to fish. If we can’t fish for wild steelhead to let them recover, I’m all for fishing for hatchery steelhead. Go out, bonk your two and have a nice meal.
I’m keeping very busy doing my part to bring back steelheading to Puget Sound. Puget Sound is the birthplace of steelhead. Not Canada. Not the coast. Puget Sound. I’m determined to do everything in my power to make sure that I catch my last steelhead where I caught my first [the Puyallup].
TW: Those groups are?
BH: First off, Wild Steelheaders United. Again, we’re all for wild steelhead, but when viable, hatchery steelhead too. And don’t misquote me on this [laughs].
I’m also involved with Trout Unlimited and have been appointed, along with 16 others, by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group.
TW: A few years ago you were quoted talking about a steelhead permit lottery. Now it’s the “Four is enough” campaign. What’s the latter all about?
BH: Brian O’Keefe actually is the brains behind the Four is enough movement. Basically, what this involves is paying forward to those anglers behind us on the river. It’s self-governing, so no regulations need to be changed. It’s a matter of getting the word out, believing in it and practicing it.
We as anglers have become too freakin’ good. Between experience, better science and better gear, the fish don’t have a chance. Generally speaking, the first couple boats down a river can now destroy the fish – double-digit days and hookups in every hole. Fantastic, right?! But the more anglers down the river, the worse it gets for them. By the end of the day, or at least a weekend, you have all the fish in that river being hooked at least once.
This is something we can control. So, after we hook four fish and bring them to hand, we have a boat ride the rest of the day. We don’t need dead fish, and Lord knows we all have our share of grip-and-grin shots. This is more than that: It’s about having success and then allowing others behind us to have success as well. Have you seen our rivers and scenery? It’s breathtaking. Get your camera out and share some pictures of what you’re experiencing, not just dead fish.
Catch and release used to be the big thing. In my opinion, it’s abused. Catch and release is a problem, especially for hatchery fish. Bonk those damn things – nothing but living pollution, anyway.
We did some studies with biologists on a popular river. It was determined that 129 percent of the fish in the river at the time were caught. That means every fish was caught at least once, some twice. Do we really think those fish are going to spawn now?
This is a huge grassroots movement. We need to get the word out. Four is enough!
TW: Besides this movement, anything else that may help?
BH: Absolutely. If I had my way, boats would be used for transportation only on select waters. We have to leave some sanctuary on rivers to give steelhead a break. I know a lot of guides and sporties will be pissed at me for saying this, but I do think it will work until we can get our stocks back up. The Green River in King County was this way for years. Nobody complained because at least we got to fish.
TW: What about a no-bait rule, as many try to get passed each year?
BH: Who needs bait? For salmon absolutely, but steelhead, I haven’t used bait since 1944. If you need bait to catch a steelhead, you suck.
I stopped using bait the minute I discovered the pink nail polish Okie Drifters. Best lure ever! I used to have hundreds if not thousands of them. I’m now down to 38 and only use them on special occasions. Imitations just don’t work like the original.
TW: So in your opinion, who is to blame?
BH: We all are. I don’t think there’s one group or problem that we can pinpoint and say, “Hey, you f’d up the steelhead fishing.” You know the tribes catch a sh*tload of fish, but then again so have I. There was a time when me and three buddies destroyed the fish on the Nisqually, hooking 66 fish in one day out of one hole! That’s when we actually had fish. But look what good it did now by pumping our egos up.
And what about the guy who says “I only took my two,” as he’s holding two hens loaded with 10,000 eggs that will never get a chance to spawn?
The commercials? You know they take their fish too.
Let’s just say it’s human nature; if it’s legal, we will fish for them. For some, even if it’s illegal.
It’s not going to take regulations to turn things around; it’s going to take a different mindset.
In my early years I never batted an eye. Now what’s always on my mind is, How we can save our steelhead? If it takes everyone to stop fishing for five years to bring them back, I’m in. Whatever it takes, I’m in, and you can quote me on that.
TW: So there was a video recently posted in which I swear you looked like you were purposefully hiding your face to shield the camera from tears as you looked into a hole on one of your South Sound rivers – perhaps where you caught your very first steelhead?
BH: Ah sh*t – guilty. Yep, that was the Puyallup, and I was standing in the exact spot I hooked my first steelhead. It took nearly 10 minutes to compose myself. I’m an emotional cat, you know.
TW: What about radio? What really caused you to walk away?
BH: Bowling, man – that’s it. I love radio. Love entertaining, but I wanted to give bowling a real shot to see if I could make a few bucks. I still get on the air occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up a gig and become regular again. It’s cool sh*t having the power to crank up Judas, Black Sabbath or AC/DC.
TW: Speaking of, you rock out when you go fishing.
BH: You know it! I have the tunes cranked so loud the windows are shaking, game birds are flushed and others are dropping from the sky. I love rock, the louder the better, so if you fish with me, it’s join in or wear ear plugs.
TW: So how do you see the future of steelhead fishing.
BH: Thin. We all gotta play our part. I think we’ll know in three or four years where we’re headed. It’s not looking great. We need the big players to get on board with Four is enough. Rules aren’t going to change crap. We need to take control ourselves as stewards of our sport.
TW: Anything to close out?
BH: Steelheading is like a Judas Priest song – “Victim of Changes.” Let’s not let our steelhead fall victim to those things we are able to change. Four is enough – and rock on! NS
Editor’s note: Terry J. Wiest is the author of Steelhead University: Your Guide to Salmon & Steelhead Success and Float-Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead, and is the owner of Steelhead University, SteelheadU.com.