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Steelhead West Coast

Steelhead Mortality: Incidental Mortality of Steelhead

by John Larison   |  November 29th, 2011 1

We all take great precautions when handling a wild steelhead.  We’re careful not to squeeze the fish.  We’re careful not to hold it in still, silty water.  We’re quick to revive it and send it on its way.  We take these precautions because we want to ensure the fish will survive our encounter and make it to the redds.

But have you ever wondered how many of these fish perish despite our best attempts to keep them safe?  For the best empirically-based conclusions on this issue, I highly recommend Bob Hooten’s (a B.C. fish biologist) 2001 review of incidental steelhead mortality.  You can find it by following the link below.

Also, if you’d like to see Bill Bakke’s excellent summary of several other studies concerning incidental steelhead mortality of sport-caught steelhead, check out his excellent blog entry, at

After reading these studies, I no longer use barbed hooks, beach wild steelhead while landing them, or lift wild steelhead from the water.  Also, the next time you hook a wild steelhead, remember the one-minute per pound guideline: if it’s an 8lb fish, have it released and back in the river within eight minutes.  By adjusting your rod position and using using leaders of ten or twelve pounds, you should be able to land and release most wild steelhead in closer to thirty-seconds per pound.


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