What happens when fishing guides come to the realization that Olympic Penninsula steelhead are in trouble?
Renowned steelhead guide Gray Struznik and his community of like-minded brethren on the OP realized that, as fish escapement numbers on fabled local rivers failed to meet goals for proper recruitment that replenishes the population, it was time to change tactics. Today, Gray and most steelhead guides on the OP only swing flies to steelhead. No more bait. No more plugs or fat nymphs under indicators. They only swing flies.
Why does that make a difference, you might ask? As this community of guides who make a living off of fishing for steelhead understands, escapement numbers are so much in decline that, in order to meet client expectations of catching three or more fish a day, many fish would likely have to be caught twice … or more. And, when just a single encounter with a hook and line can prove lethal to steelhead, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to grasp the fact that OP steelhead were being loved to death.
Certainly there are other factors that weigh in the overall decline of OP steelhead. Spawning and rearing habitat, on some rivers, can be blamed. Less-than-ideal ocean conditions can contribute to poor returns. And work is being done by folks like John McMillan who works for TU’s Wild Steelheaders United on habitat and policy issues. But perhaps the tactic that might help bridge the gap between today’s declining runs and a better future for OP steelhead is the willingness to slow down, catch fewer fish and really connect with the river.
Here’s to a brighter future for OP steelhead rivers. And here’s to the guides and clients who are swinging these rivers to better heath.
— Chris Hunt