Wild steelhead are renowned for their tenacity when hooked, for the epic places in which they swim, and for their role as bellwethers of healthy watersheds. Anglers from across the globe chase these prized fish, and for many of us hooking one is a direct connection with all that is wild.
Yet wild steelhead have declined precipitously across their native range, and fisheries have been greatly limited. Thankfully, the adoption of catch and release angling has reduced the harvest of these iconic fish, allowing for more sustainable fishing opportunity. But emerging science is showing that even “CnR” fishing can have mortal impacts on steelhead and other salmonids, particularly when bait, barbs or improper handling are involved.
The WSC believes it is critical to understand the impact of CnR on steelhead, so we teamed up with retired WDFW scientist Dick Burge to examine how handling practices can impact mortality levels and the potential steroid-hormone changes in fish that damages eggs and fry development.
The intent of this paper is not to take away fishing experiences from anyone, but rather to suggest some changes that will improve the overall health and productivity of our fisheries for all anglers. By incorporating small changes to our handling practices, we can help these wild fish populations recover and increase the opportunities for anglers to connect with prized wild steelhead wherever they swim.