NOW THAT IT’S almost steelhead season it might be a good time to review the latest rule changes that govern this fishery.
Michael Carmen’s excellent article (Nov. 15’s “Credit Card Test for Wild Steelhead”) described a new law where you can measure the dorsal fin of a steelhead with a credit card to determine if a steelhead is a wild or hatchery fish.
If you cannot afford a credit card to determine if the fish you caught is from a hatchery, chances are you can’t afford to go fishing.
The fact there are hatchery raised steelhead in our rivers is a real problem for some of the greatest minds of the best available science that currently manage our fisheries.
To them each stream is home to a unique race of fish that serves as a “gene bank” where scholars can pad their resume studying the disappearance of our iconic salmon and steelhead without the threat of hatchery fish compromising their data.
The belief that hatchery salmon or steelhead ruined the fishing ignores the role our fish hatcheries have played since 1905 when the Dungeness Fish Hatchery was built.
Fishing has gotten a lot worse since 1905.
This is not the hatcheries’ fault.
Runs of hatchery fish always fail after we shut down the fish hatchery.
Fortunately, the tribes have realized that their treaty right to 50 percent of the fish is worth 0 percent if there are no fish to catch.
The tribes not only keep the state hatcheries from shutting down, they have their own hatcheries that provide fish for everyone to catch.
Keeping a hatchery fish depends on whether its fin is clipped or not.
Clipping the fins of fish is a cruel and barbaric practice that mutilates the fish.
At first, the hatcheries clipped the adipose fin to identify a hatchery fish.
Other hatcheries began clipping the ventral and dorsal fins.
Some poor fish have had all three cut off making you wonder how they swim.
In some rivers you are only allowed to keep a fish with a clipped adipose fin but in other rivers you are allowed to keep a fish with a clipped dorsal fin.
At this point a bit of caution is advised.
If you catch a hatchery fish with a clipped dorsal fin in a river where you can only keep a fish with a clipped adipose fin, you are now in a world of hurt.
That’s because it is against the law to release a hatchery steelhead in some streams so, technically, if you release a hatchery fish with an intact adipose fin but clipped dorsal fin you could be in violation of another law.
You’re required to eat the hatchery steelhead because if you don’t that is considered wastage, which is also a violation.
While a steelhead fresh from the ocean is a creature of rare beauty with delicious pink meat, a spawning steelhead with its white meat, covered with leaches, leaking eggs or milt with white fungus sores on its back is not.
That’s when I come to the rescue with an amazing recipe you’ll want to hang on to if you plan to keep steelhead fishing.
Soak the spawning steelhead in a mixture of red pepper, oyster sauce and bourbon.
Add enough salt so that a potato will float in the solution.
Soak the spawned-out steelhead for 24 hours at 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the fish and place it on an alder board over a smoky fire.
Remove the fish after six or eight hours or when a crust forms.
Then eat the board while pairing it with the marinade solution.
Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]