Posted By Toutle Trekker

We just passed the first Saturday in June, which around here means steelhead fishing is wide open in our rivers.  There was a week long "soft" opening on parts of the Green and South Toutle, but now all of the mainstem Toutle and South Toutle is open to steelhead fishing.  The limit is three HATCHERY (adipose fin-clipped) steelhead.

Fishing for our signature species has gotten increasingly complex since certain runs of Lower Columbia fish have been labeled endangered or threatened.  Fishery managers use gear restrictions, timing adjustments, and wild fish release requirements to increase hatchery harvest and limit wild spawning mortality.  And all this takes more money to coordinate and navigate.  Thus, unfortunately, river fishing gets complicated, and keeping a pamphlet of rules handy won't necessarily cover you because the rules can (and do) change mid-season.  EEKKK

So, is it even worth it for a newbie to try steelhead fishing?  You bet.  There is no better way to experience the beauty and power of the local rivers than casting a spinner or floating a jig for a steelie. 

Here is what you need to know to get started.

Go to a local store like Drew's Grocery, Sportsman's Warehouse, or Bob's in Longview and purchase a Washington state freshwater or combination fishing license along with a Columbia River endorsement.  An out-of-state one-day license and endorsement costs about $30.     A punchcard, where you write down your catch, comes with the licenses.  Be sure to get steelhead as a species.  Sign your license and pick up a regulation pamphlet, along with a few spinners or spoons.  The sales people should be well versed in local tackle. 

This weekend, June 9-10 is "free fishing weekend" and a license is not needed, but if you plan to fish for steelhead, you still need a catch record card (punchcard) and a Columbia River endorsement. 

The tackle requirements on the Toutle, Green and South Toutle are constantly changing with the date, but between the first Saturday in June and Aug. 1 it appears, after careful study of the pamphlet, that bait and barbed, and treble hooks are currently legal on the South Toutle, but barbless hooks are required on the mainstem and North Toutle.  This barbless/barbed issue is so confusing, I just use a barbless single hook at all times.  (The WDFW is supposed to be simplifying the rules now, so maybe things will get easier.)   

Here is a link to the current rules for you to make your own decision on barbed/barbless:  https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01914/wdfw01914.pdf

OK.  So now you have your license, Columbia River endorsement, catch record card, and a legal lure (or bait) and are ready to fish.  Where to go.

The easiest place to start is the South Toutle.  It is planted with young hatchery steelhead (smolts) that will be arriving from the Cowlitz throughout the summer and fall.  Start at Harry Gardner county park, which has river access where the North and South Toutle meet.  Cast your lure upstream, at a slight angle, into the bottom end of pools and reel toward you.  Don't be afraid to move to a new pool or ripple often.  Steelhead sometimes lie in slow water below log jams or rocks.  Yes, you may bet hooked-up on these obstructions, but that is part of the game.  Be ready to wade and get wet, and if you are lucky enough to get a "hit" you will know it.  Steelhead fight, jump, shake, and fight some more.  Keep the tip up and the line tight. 

When landing your fish, first check to see if it has an adipose fin.  If it does, it must be carefully released without removing the fish from the water.  If it doesn't, current rules say that these hatchery fish must be kept (which is a very fine meal!).  The adipose fin is a small fleshy nob of a fin located between the tail fin and the dorsal (back) fin.  A hatchery fish (aka keeper) has a healed lump instead of an actual fleshy fin.  As soon as you land your hatchery steelhead, write down the information about the fish (river code, species, hatchery) on the catch record card with an inkpen.  The WDFW has cards with the river code that can be kept with the catch record card, or the codes are in the pamphlet along with a description of how to properly record your catch on pages 8 and 9.

Dispatch a steelhead with a strong blow to the head with a rock, and treat the cleaning process like you would any large trout.  Steelhead can be filleted like salmon, baked or barbequed whole while wrapped in tin foil, or cut into steaks.  Yummy.

 

 
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