Crowded With a Side of Steelhead

by Rebecca on April 22, 2010

in Fly Fishing

I think it was last Thursday, when I was asked, “Hey, do you want to go Steelhead fishing?” ……..35 minutes later I was in the truck and headed North. THAT is why I have the emergency grab and go camp totes. No muss, no fuss, just grab the minimal and get the hell out of dodge before something like responsible thought process takes the fun out of spontaneity. Works like a charm!

"Combat Fishing on the Little Salmon"

I don’t think I can get publicly scorned for mentioning the river I went to, so here it is. The Little Salmon River. Reports of record Steelhead numbers and gluttonous catch rates are hard to hide anyway. 

When we arrived to the hot section of the river, my sweet little Fly Rod with an intimidation factor of a willow stick faced a long line of Ugly Stiks as stout and menacing as Oak trees. Welcome to the combat zone.

The first night I was there I didn’t even wet my line. For one, there wasn’t a spare rock to stand on. Valuable real estate had been claimed earlier in the day and any move to overthrow the current King of that perticular granite was met with death glares and a hint of Marshall law.

Not that I would have tried anyway. In this situation the fact is, spin casters and fly fisherman can’t mix. With so many lines all cast across the river it creates a woven spider web that is precarious and sticky. While I observed, it seemed there was always two or more people ferociously trying to disengage their line from another. Several times during multiple fisherman tangle ups I couldn’t help but think, now that’s what a cluster fu*k looks like….

I’ve never sat around and felt self righteous about my fishing. Honestly, in my mind, I’ve always felt that anyone that is out fishing is all right by me, and I’m holding (trying) onto that mantra. But for one whole evening I sat and watched the show that is Steelhead combat fishing and felt completely separate from those fishing below me. I’m not sure if my feelings fall into the self righteous category, or if my thoughts simply fall into an opinion of a person who prefers the slower pace of fly fishing and utmost care of the fish themselves. Despite the fact we were all fisherman, I did not feel like part of the crowd that evening, at all.

The fisherman below me seemed so frantic about everything they were doing. Cast, reel, cast, get snagged up with other fisherman, untangle, cast, impatience, reel, hook a fish, haul it to top water as fast as possible, hydroplane it across the water, smack it into the rocks, sometimes someone would net the fish….sometimes all the nets were busy with other fish so just yank it up the jagged rocks, put foot on fish to contain it, rip out hook…Native Steelhead? Unceremoniously toss it (from 5 feet or 10 feet up the bank) back in the river. Clipped Steelhead? Toss it up on the bank to flop around (can’t give up the rock real estate) and let it die slowly.

It was exhausting to watch. The Pace. It was also heartbreaking for me personally and at times, frustrating (disgusting) the way the Steelhead were treated. I had a hard time keeping my catch and release practises quietly to myself and risked getting shunned (ass kicked) off the bank with a few vocal suggestions. I’m sure my Fly Rod case resting against my chair didn’t earn me any points, but I believe —again with the feelings/opinions— a little respect is deserved to a fish that just swam all the way from the ocean. 

This wasn’t about those who spin cast versus those who fly fish. It was about this specific group of fisherman, all caught up in a contagious frenzy (and there was fish on constantly), not slowing the hell down, taking a second to crawl down the rock carefully and taking care of their fish the right way. Out of the mob, there were a few who took the time to do things ethically and I appreciated those anglers. They were the counter balance to what seemed a hopeless and disturbing night. On that small front, not all seemed lost in the frenzy.

When I started this entry I didn’t know I would go down a righteous river bank. But there it is, spelled out in words from my observations. As for myself and attempting to stake claim to a Fly Fishing safe-zone of river, I did that and hooked many Steelhead. But I think I’ll save that experience for a new entry…..part 2.

I think I wrote plenty for one day.



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

KirkNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Thanks for a very well scribed account of you steelface adventure. Sorry it showed a dark side of fishing. It’s not “us vs them” (fly fishing vs. gear), it’s an ethical approach.
I’m sure there are as many ethical gear anglers out there as there are fly anglers- you just didn’t happen to see (m)any of them where you were. Combat fishing sucks because it’s all about the harvest and not about the experience. I’ll gladly give a hatchery brat a stone shampoo and eagerly flop it on the grill, but they should be dispatched of quickly and properly. Wild fish, it goes without saying, should be handled and released with care. Given the large inland steelhead runs this year, it’s no surprise so many turned out. Too bad some of them showed such poor taste. Iappreciate your thoughts – you’re preaching to the choir.


RebeccaNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Kirk ~ You’re right, it was about harvest…and harvest fast. I don’t mind anyone keeping hatchery fish, tis the way it should be, but sadly, the majority of the fish coming up right now are Natives and those Natives were taking a serious beating. Maybe it was just a weird night I witnessed and a few too many people lost their heads in the huge bounty.

It’s like a bad visual nightmare I can’t get out of my head.


Zach LazzariNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

That sounds horrible. It must have taken some patience to stick around. I probably would have picked a fight then left for quieter waters.


ShoremanNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

To quote your words “I did that and hooked many Steelhead”. What’s a Steelhead look like? LOL. You know my experience with Steelhead. It’s hard to hold your mouth closed when you see something like that happening. Makes you want to push them all into the river. It’s bad enough when you get crowded out when no one is catching anything, let alone when a lot of fish are being caught and abused. We feel your frustation.



DaveNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I too have witnessed the sport of combat fishing first hand. I will say, you nailed it. Each time I have witnessed it, it was much the same as you described.
As for hatchery fish, we all know how I feel about them. But the natives deserved better treatment. I don’t think that my personality would have allowed me to just watch.
I must say, in all my years of fishing, I’ve only seen that type of frantic fishing behavior in one other place or instance, and that was during Bass fishing tourneys. I haven’t quite figured it out. At least, in the tournaments, there is prize money involved. To me, that seems a lot like work, and not so much like fishing. I am as passionate about fishing as the next guy. I’d be out there every day if I could. But fishing like that takes the fun, relaxation and enjoyment out of it and adds a whole new set of stresses. Which I don’t enjoy in the least.
One thing I did notice this past winter, at least where I fished mostly, people treated the natives with the utmost respect and were extremely kind to them.
Record numbers of steelhead and spring chinook are arriving here already! Get your ass out this way woman!



RebeccaNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

@Zach ~ It did take patience, and the fact the people I was technically with were in the mob (doing the ethical thing) A few days later a semi-fight did break out in which we just left the area and found a new spot. It’s a sad deal!
@Mark ~ You need to get up to Idaho pronto. There’s more then enough Steelhead to go around and I promise you would see one up close and personal! And you’re right, it’s hard to keep quiet in those type of situations.
@Dave ~ I think this is going to be one of those banner years we’ll never forget in the steelie and salmon department. I just need to find a good zone to fish for them the way I prefer. It’s good to hear you witnessed respect for your natives! And Oregon…I’m coming, I’m coming!


WolfyNo Gravatar April 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm

As we’ve all come to expect, another very well written piece on a sometimes difficult subject. I don’t think this is about spin vs. fly, or C&R vs. “throw em on the rocks”. It seems to me its about 2 things – respect for the resource, and knowing what it is that you truly love to do. You obviously have both.

I used to live in northern NY and experienced the eastern version of combat salmon fishing often. I just don’t like doing it, and stopped pretending I did. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it any better on the Kenai – I’d probably grab a 4 wt. and seek out some trib to catch grayling.

Nicely done, Rebecca.



MikeNo Gravatar April 23, 2010 at 6:28 am

Well said, Rebecca. It didn’t sound like “fishing” – it sounded like “catching”. And you and I and others know that the difference in the two is huge.

Thanks for the reminder.



ColoradoAnglerNo Gravatar April 23, 2010 at 8:09 am

This past weekend, while fishing, a group of fellow anglers came up the river and parked in the area that I was at. A few of them, moved upstream, about a 100 yards or so to fish.

Rather than respect the sanctity of the environment, they were whooping and hollering back and forth and tossing lines in other folk’s water. In short, they were the type of folks you don’t want to be on a river with.

At one point, one of the fellas that had gone upstream, came back downstream to where the bulk of their party was, and in his hand, he was carrying a rainbow.

This poor thing must have been out of the water (and probably dropped a time or two given the rough path he traversed) for at least 10 minutes. When he held it up, one of the others shouted out “How long have you have it out of the water? 25 minutes?” to which the ‘angler’ jokingly replied “…probably more!”

After that he simple tossed it back into the water. Whether or not this beautiful fish turned belly up, I couldn’t say…but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Angry isn’t a word I would use to describe my feelings – it becomes something more than that – it’s almost personal – when you witness such a vulgar display of disrespect for nature, and the sport that I love.

The sad reality is, there are knuckle-heads on both sides of the spectrum – and as much as I would love to go ballistic on someone like that, I refrain. But it takes everything I have to do so.

I feel your pain at what you saw (and it’s painful, no doubt about it) – your post is another step in the right direction in getting the message out in the hopes that others may see it and walk away a little wiser.


DaleNo Gravatar April 23, 2010 at 9:06 am

Oh you poor prissy people. Its just horrible to see fish killed and rude fishermen, and fisherwomen. Guess you better get Big Brother (government) down there to straighten those jerks out.
Becca, you should have your fishing partner take you over to the Clearwater. I was there with him several years ago. The combat fishing is way way less severe. I wouldn’t even go down to the water on the Little Salmon when we were there.
Very interesting story.


Dave CarpenterNo Gravatar April 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

Combat Spring Chinook fishin is about to get into full swing here on my home river. The ODFW is projecting one of the biggest runs in recent history and there is a buzz of excitement brewing over it. The bulk of these fish will be hatchery raised and therefore, harvestable fish. The more of them that are taken from the river, the more redds that will be available to the few native fish that manage to sucessfully complete their life cycle.

There was a time in my life when I would elbow my way in and join the other combatants at the local hot spots. I yanked and reeled and whooped and hollared with the rest of the crowd. After I few seasons of that it began to feel like shopping at the mall on the day after Thanksgiving. I realized that harvesting wasn’t nearly as much fun as fishing is.

I still take a hatchery fish or two each year for the BBQ, but it’s those that are caught during a “fishing” trip. I now fish for the entire experience of it – being outdoors, on the water, away from the crowd, experimenting with different fly patterns, learning more about the fish and other aquatic life, and occasionally….. catching a few fish.

I guide with the same mindset. My hope is that clents will walk away at the end of the day having had a fishing “experience”. That they enjoyed their time on my waters, learned a few things and were able to get away from the worries of the office, the mill, the factory or everyday life for a while. If they happen to catch a legally harvestable fish and wish to enjoy the meal, I’ll gladly dispatch of it, take care to prep it correctly and offer recipe advice. If they happen hook a native and wish to take it, they are advised to exit the boat and find their own way down the river from that point.

Keep putting your thoughts out here Rebecca! I’m not sure if you’ll convert manyof the combatants to your way of thinking, but you may get a few of them to handle wild fish with more care and respect the struggling resource.



RobNo Gravatar April 23, 2010 at 10:44 am


I know what you mean. Folks SHOULD treat fish gingerly and ethically….even more so if they’re being released. Even if it’s a “trash fish” , it still deserves to be treated with respect. Too often I’ve witnessed folks slam an undesirable catfish on the ground in order to get the hook out. This should not be allowed.

Thank you for pointing this out. I only wish you could witness the fleet of boats in Boca Grand Pass when the tarpon show up….


James MannNo Gravatar April 24, 2010 at 5:14 am

It’s always smart to keep things together so that one can head out at a moments notice. I keep my gear and supplies right in my office, ready to go at the drop of a hat. You just never know when a buddy will give a call to fishing.

I don’t care for crowds at all so I am very happy I live in New Brunswick Canada where there are still plenty of places to fish alone or with your fishing buddies.


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