Wild Winter Steelhead on the Willamette

Here are a few photos of wild winter steelhead, caught recently on the Middle fork of the Willamette. Nice henfish. Look at those perfect wild fins. Jay described the dilemma of a wild steelhead considered non-native, and therefore eligible for harvest, in his blog FishingwithJay.wordpress.com–CD

Willamette Winter Steelhead

Willamette Winter Steelhead

Willamette Hen

wild steelhead

The release

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7 Responses to Wild Winter Steelhead on the Willamette

  1. Rich Youngers says:

    Jay, Glad you kicked her back to the river. If it’s got an adipose fin in my book its wild. Beautiful fish!

    Rich Youngers

  2. jay nicholas says:

    Rich: yes indeed, These fish are stunningly beautiful – i was grateful to see this fish – and let her go. Good to hear from you – looking forward to seeing you on the river soon i hope.


  3. Billy McK says:

    Gorgeous fish Jay!

  4. Rob R says:

    That fish made my season, and I wasn’t even there! You are my hero.

  5. guy says:

    Fin tastic! Thanks for sharing

  6. ecneubert says:

    keep in mind, “wild” means one thing, and two hatchery fish successfully reproducing means a “natural” fish. …is it a “native” fish? Both will have the strong fins.

  7. Jay Nicholas says:

    Your point is accurate.

    As far as I have been able to determine, the last hatchery stocking of North Santiam derived hatchery winter steelhead was in spring of 1999. These hatchery raised winter steelhead represented hatchery fish with essential genetic characteristics of winter steelhead native to the Willamette basin above the falls at Oregon City. The last adult returns from that smolt release would probably have been in 2002 and those would have been three-salts (hope I have my math right). The condition of the fish (not ready to spawn yet) and the deep body form suggest that it was not offspring of Skamania derived, domesticated summer steelhead hatchery parents. The Skamania hatchery stock tends to spawn much earlier and their body shape is usually much slimmer than this fish.

    These hints suggest, but do not prove, that the henfish was offspring of winter steelhead native to the upper Willamette system. Whether they are offspring of North Santiam stock hatchery fish released prior to 1999 – or not – I have no hints to decipher.

    Timing of passage over Willamette Falls is such, nowadays, that this could also simply be a North or South Santiam native winter steelhead that made its way up to the Middle Fork.

    So, given a number of hints about native Willamette winter steelhead, and when hatchery winter steelhead were last stocked in the basin, and what we know, generally, about Skamania summer steelhead — I think it is likely that this fish was essentially a “native type” naturally produced winter steelhead, rather than being the first generation offspring of one or a pair of hatchery steelhead.

    How’s that for a bunch of maybes?

    Other ideas and possibilities I have missed?


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