I just got done with my 2019 Salmon Tour which took me to three states and 7 rivers over the course of the past 6 months. It was a good ride but I’m glad to be home! :)
Can you tell if the steelhead you just caught is a wild fish or of hatchery origin?
It’s a question I get asked all the time…”How can I tell the difference?”
It’s important information because in many places, it’s legal to only to keep hatchery steelhead. In other words, wild fish must be released.
And, honestly, even in the handful of places where a wild steelhead can be retained, they should be released voluntarily anyway. There simply aren’t that many of them left and they are of much greater value on the spawning gravels than on a grill.
Hatchery steelhead will be missing their adipose fin, which is the small fleshy one on the back between the dorsal fin and tail.
Prior to release from the hatchery, the fin is removed from juvenile steelhead (via scissors or automated machine).
Since it never grows back, the lack of the adipose fin on an adult fish makes it easy to identify as of hatchery origin…and, therefore, in many rivers, legal to keep (check the regs before you go to make sure!).
You’ll sometimes encounter a fish that’s a “tweener” — one that has a partial adipose fin. While this can occur in the wild (rare), it is more often the byproduct of a “miss-clip” by the person doing the fin removal.
Where done by hand, you can imagine that there are going to be some imperfect cuts when people are trying to get through tens of thousands of baby Steelhead.
One other clue to look for, however, is sign of an eroded dorsal fin. When jammed together in fish hatcheries, baby steelies often rub against each other and the concrete walls, resulting in worn down fins.
And here’s another example…
These two examples are pretty obviously hatchery steelhead but what about this one below….?
The dorsal in the above fish is pretty intact and there’s more than a just nub of an adipose but I’m still sure this one is a hatchery steelie (we let it go anyway). If you have any doubt whatsoever my advice is to let the fish go!
Now, before you get any ideas about bringing a pair of scissors with ya to the river, note that most regulations read something along these lines: The adipose fin must be missing and the wound must be healed…
Unfortunately, there are some pea-brained “anglers” out there who fish in the spring when the smolts are out-migrating and clip the fins off wild ones so they can be kept upon return as adults. Lame lame lame!
Of course, wild steelhead will be proudly sporting a fully-intact adipose fin and should always be released carefully with minimal handling.
When you see that your fish has an adipose, it’s best to refrain from netting it, unless you have one of those fish-friendly knotless nets. Also try to avoid dragging it up in the rocks.
Whenever possible, I’ll gently beach them in the shallows, where I can quickly unhook it and snap a photo. Be advised that in places like Washington State, it is illegal to lift a wild steelhead out of the water for a photo.
That doesn’t mean, however, you can’t get a pic. Simply kneel down in the water with the fish. That way, if it squirms and you loose your grip, you’re not dropping it from altitude down onto the rocks.
Of course, if you catch a hatchery fish and it’s legal to keep it, by all means take good care of it and enjoy fresh fish on the grill. Many hatchery managers encourage you to keep clipped fish so don’t feel guilty if you want to take one for dinner…
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When you are deep in the Alaskan Bush you sometimes need to get creative to solve problems.
Take for example when I ran out of my favorite copper spoons last year during silver season at Togiak River Lodge. As I scrounged around the tackle shack for more lures, I ran across an old bag of copper models that were in various stages of corrosion.
With no metal polishing compounds available out in the middle of nowhere, I went “McGiver” on the situation and busted out some cola!
I let the spoons soak in the pop in a
mason jar for a couple days and then poured out the fluid to see what the
results looked like…
I didn’t do any rubbing or polishing afterwards, all I did was rinse the sugary syrup off the lures and this is how they came out…
Well, the results were 1) Cool because I had a bunch of useable spoons again and 2) Terrifying considering cola is a designed to be a drink…not a solvent! It’s kinda spooky to think about what that stuff is doing to your insides when it’s capable of eating corrosion off metal! ?
From a fishing standpoint, however, the cola bath proved to be quite useful in a pinch. Next time I should do some more experimenting with lengths of the soak and maybe different flavors like diet vs. the real stuff.
The 2019 Pavati Guardian driftboat is a real stunner! From an aesthetics standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier ride.
I’ve been rowing this boat (my fourth straight Pavati) for a couple months now and I’ve heard it from just about every person I’ve taken for a ride:
“Wow this is the nicest driftboat I’ve ever been in!”
But she’s not just all about looking good. The comfort , innovation and functionality of this boat are superb! The guardian is extremely stable and …um…“un-tippy” to use a made-up word.
The flat, level floors are really nice and then you have all the creature comforts new and old that Pavati has become synonymous with.
Of course, you can’t talk Pavati without mentioning their legendary doors. This boat is a 2-door model and you may think it a bit gimmicky but I can tell you these things are money! It’s so much easier getting big heavy guys, little old ladies, folks with a bum knee or ones wearing waders in and out of the boat!
Another nice touch on the 2019 model are the upgraded rower’s and passenger seats that feature flow-through backs…
The seats come with a clever built in cover system, which proves really handy on those damp mornings…no more “swamp butt!”
The covers are attached to a tether and fit smartly into a little mesh pocket at the back of each seat. Dang, such a smart idea…
Of course, you also have neat stuff like the in-floor fish box, which is really handy on cold days when you don’t need to carry a fish bag or cooler…
Interior lights are useful, though you do have to add battery weight…
The innovative anchor nest has been a staple in Pavati’s and is yet another one of those super handy systems that features a couple of holders for your drain plugs and a spring loaded lock to keep your anchor from bouncing out…
The bow storage compartment is a great place for dry storage and doubles as a pizza oven when you add the forced air heating system…
One of my favorite features on this boat (and the past couple) are the magnetic tool holders which are perfect for me and my bad habit of putting things down randomly. With the magnets, I can actually find my tools…
Both side trays have a 55-inch “The Truth” ruler for easy fish measurement and also notice the tackle tower near the oarsman’s seat and the super customizable oar position holes…
The UHMW bottom coating is a lifesaver when you are running areas with lots of big rocks, as this cutting board style material is very slippery and durable…
Where there used to be carpet in previous models, Pavati is now using Gatorstep foam material that is very quiet, easily cleaned (I used dish soap to remove egg cure stains) and non-absorbent…
Of course, you also have Pavati’s easily removed floors and modular locking system that allows you to move the seats, tower and rowing seat anywhere you want…
On a related note, the aluminum trailer that came with the boat is really nice and has a sweet catwalk to help you avoid those tip-toe balancing acts that often end in wet feet…
So how does the boat fish & row? That’s the real question, right? I found pulling plugs, side-drifting and running skinny riffles and tight rapids to be no problem at all. Rowing back up on a spot isn’t an issue either.
All in all, this is one hell of a fishing vessel that performs every bit as good as it looks.
For more info, Click Pavati
We have been fighting hard to improve fisheries in CA and your support by attending the dinner would mean a ton to those of us in the trenches!
For all of you in Nor Cal, please come help support our organization, the Nor-Cal Guides & Sportsmen’s Assn, at our annual dinner Nov. 2 in Yuba City.
The dinner is always amazing…great food, amazing prizes and a great party atmosphere.
To learn more: NCGASA Dinner
Thanks and see ya there!!!