Spring steelhead fishing is fast approaching, and I am pondering the old dilemma over what constitutes “ethical” fishing.
I’ve talked to anglers, hatchery managers, fisheries biologists, conservation officers, fly shop and tackle shop owners, and other folks about spring steelhead fishing. They have a lot of conflicting opinions.
The arguments largely boil down to two camps: One side says you should leave the fish alone because they are past their prime and looking for a place to spawn.
The other side says they are mostly hatchery fish put there for anglers, so there’s nothing wrong with fishing for them. Either they’re going to get caught or swim into a hatchery and get spawned, then bonked and chucked in a dumpster. If they’re not caught or spawned at the hatchery, they’re going to attempt to spawn in marginal habitat and probably won’t be successful.
Biologist tell me wild steelhead typically return to the tributary streams where they were born, most of which are closed to fishing because they actually have good spawning habitat. They also have to be released unharmed if they’re caught, so as long as people play by the rules, wild fish are safe.
I prefer fall fishing, but I’ve had some pretty fun days spring fishing and plan to go again this year. I’ve also seen some ugly behavior, including snagging, littering, crowding, and drunken idiocy.
It’s not something I want to associate myself with as an angler, but I don’t want to limit my steelhead fishing to six weeks in the fall, either.
What’s your argument for or against spring fishing?