Look in the Mirror
By Dax Messett
Every angler has a choice as to how they go about catching a steelhead, and needs to understand that they have a very personal, direct impact on the resource. I choose to swing flies for wild winter steelhead for many reasons. I like standing in the river, making a cast, and actually angling, attempting to catch my own fish. That last part doesn’t happen all that much when you are swinging flies, and thats ok. Of all the reasons I swing flies for steelhead, perhaps the most important one is because I catch less of them compared to all other methods. That may not make sense to a lot of people, so I’ll try to explain.
Most people out there would presume that you go steelhead fishing with the primary goal and mindset to actually catch a fish, or the biggest fish, or alot of fish. After all, fishing is defined as “The activity of catching fish, either for food or as a sport”. So I understand why most people wonder how a swing angler can have a fulfilling experience even when they don’t encounter a steelhead, which is a regular occurrence. Furthermore, every other method of angling tends to be far more successful for catching steelhead than swinging flies.
Most of us do it because we enjoy the whole angling experience, and focus on moments, not numbers…it’s as simple as that. And that is a good thing, because the numbers just aren’t there anymore to justify the numbers-oriented angling that most people want to do nowadays.
Overall, less than 10 percent of wild steelhead runs remain in existence, and that number is declining on most PNW steelhead fisheries. Considering the mortality rates of C&R steelhead, if everyone focused on numbers, we will eventually all lose the opportunity to even try to catch one. Numbers oriented angling contributes to a higher mortality rate of steelhead, further reducing their numbers with the result being more river closures and restrictions. Steelhead have a lot of problems, and there are many factors that contribute to the declining numbers of wild steelhead other than how we fish for them…but that is a whole other story. It is quite easy to blame the plethora of other factors contributing too the decline of wild steelhead, but at the end of the day, we as anglers need to look in the mirror at how we personally impact the resource.
As an angler, the best way to help sustain the future population of wild steelhead while still participating is to simply catch less of them. We each get to chose how many we need to catch to be happy with the experience. We each get to chose if we need to lift the fish five feet out of the water for 10 seconds for another grip and grin photo. We each get to choose how much we personally impact the future of steelhead by how many we need to encounter to be happy, regardless of technique. Every time a steelhead is hooked the mortality rate increases, regardless of method. The good news is that the Moments not numbers mantra works for everyone. I could care less how you fish for them, just understand your personal impact on the resource, and above all respect it. Seriously, look in the mirror…
Moments, not numbers...