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Fly Fishermen Catches, Kills World Record Steelhead; Intertubes Erupt

Posted by Tom Chandler 3/9/2009 5 minutes

A new world-record steelhead was recently landed on the Hoh River, and predictably, the Intertubes erupted in controversy over the fly fisherman's decision to kill the wild steelhead, ostensibly because it was bleeding out:

World record steelhead on the Hoh River? Bleeding out??

Someone forward an email outlining the story of Peter Harrison of Port Townsend, who exhaustively detailed his battle with the record steelhead in terms I'd suggest are a little on the mock heroic side, which probably isn't helping his cause:

At around 2 PM I was swinging my fly through some good-looking water and something that I can only describe as a lightning bolt hit my whole body. Suddenly my Ross reel was screaming at a decibel level usually reserved for Rolling Stone concerts. In a couple of heartbeats 200 yards of line had disappeared from my reel as the fish headed for Alaska.

I told myself not to panic, but my whole body was shaking; I knew that if I could survive the first round I would at least have some chance of getting the fish to the bank. For the next 30 minutes I battled the fish, standing at times chest deep in the middle of the river on a submerged bar.

At this point I had not seen the fish, but eventually I managed to make it back to the river bank and was able to stand on dry ground. At that time the fish exploded into the air, executing three cartwheels. I couldn't believe my eyes, the fish was almost 4 feet in length. I had never seen a steelhead like it. After 45 minutes of battling the fish I managed to beach it gently.

My intention was to let it go, having first measured the fish, but it was bleeding quite heavily from the gills. As it seemed likely not survive the ordeal, and because it was the fish of a lifetime, I decided to take the fish. In 10 years of fishing Washington state rivers this is the first fish I have ever taken, of any kind, from a river.

As Buster Wants to Fish noted, the Washington fly fishing board has already accumulated 11 pages of comments, many of which are not exactly favorable (the thread degenerates into the usual C&&R vs C&&K arguments, trolls, etc).

Based on the photos, some doubt the contention that blood was streaming out the gills (you can see the fly stuck in the fish's nose), but in truth, none of us will ever know.
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My first reaction wasn't simply one of sadness over the removal of the monster fish from the gene pool; it's that our steelhead fisheries are so messed up that the loss of just one fires up this kind of response.

With Oregon inching towards a logging plan that will further deplete its steelhead runs, many of California's steelhead and salmon facing extinction, and Washington's steelhead runs not meeting management goals (which most suggest are too low), the problem isn't that one guy killed a world-record steelhead.

It's that our rivers aren't teeming with monsters like that every year.

Dylan Tomine adds a welcome bit of actual knowledge to the mess:

The fact that it's even still legal to kill a wild steelhead on the Hoh is ridiculous. The river has not met escapement in 9 of the last 17 years and has shown a marked decline in recent times. That's part of the bigger picture I'm talking about.

On one popular regional fishing bulletin board, at last count, there were 9 pages of posts condemning the angler for killing this single fish, while just below that there were several threads outlining political actions currently ongoing in Washington, and none of them had even half the response.

As a rule, humanity is a lot better at righteousness than we are at not mucking things up to begin with. And as Tomine points out, the right to "legally" kill wild fish on a river that's already scraping bottom is the real lunacy here, yet it's not a thought that provides much comfort.

Through the maze of political "realities" (translation: somebody's getting screwed), anadromous fish continue to experience the short, brown end of the stick, and right here in my own county, our addled Board of Supervisors have dedicated themselves to fighting dam removal on the Klamath River despite the very real economic boon that would follow should the Klamath return to health and see salmon and steelhead runs a fraction of their former glory.
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And yes, I'll just say it; I have never fully grasped the sportsman's need for trophies or "world" record keeping, especially when the latter seem useful only in documenting the precipitous decline in the quality of our fisheries.

See you on the river, Tom Chandler.
Destinations
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Nestled in the north end of the Sacramento Valley, Shasta County and its three Cities - Redding, Anderson, and Shasta Lake - are 545 miles north of Los Angeles; 162 miles north of ... moreSacramento; 433 miles south of Portland, Oregon; and 592 miles south of Seattle, Washington.

In 2004, as an effort to increase tourism in the area, the Sundial Bridge, designed by world-renowned architectural designer Santiago Calatrava, was completed. The Sundial Bridge casts its gnomon shadow upon a dial to the north of the bridge accurately once a year during the Summer Solstice. With the objective of providing pedestrian access to the north and south of Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Sundial Bridge has not only lived up to its purpose but has also become an icon for the City of Redding in the present day.

Redding is one of the best places to launch for Trophy Rainbow Trout & Trophy Steelhead Fishing in Northern California. A number of great rivers are within an easy drive and local guides can on any given day help you figure out where the fishing is great.

The Klamath river, Sacaramento river, Trinity River and the Feather river are all being frequented by local guides and fly fisher.
Fishing Waters
The Sacramento River is the principal river of Northern California in the United States, and is the largest river in California. Rising in the Klamath Mountains, near Mount Shasta ... more(in Siskiyou county), the river flows south for 445 miles, through the northern section (Sacramento Valley) of the Central Valley, before reaching the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay. It forms a common delta with the San Joaquin River before entering Suisun Bay, the northern arm of San Francisco Bay. The river drains about 27,500 square miles, with an average annual runoff of 22 million acre-feet, in 19 California counties, mostly within a region bounded by the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada known as the Sacramento Valley, but also extending as far as the volcanic plateaus of Northeastern California.
Emerald green, wild and free. This is the Smith River, one of the longest rivers in the National Scenic Rivers System and the only major river in California to remain un-dammed. Over ... more300 miles of this river are federally protected, forming an important part of the Smith River National Recreation Area. The US Forest Service is responsible for overseeing the diverse region as the Smith River and its tributaries make their way through the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Redwoods National Park to the Pacific Ocean.

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The National Recreation Area is more than 450 square miles of land set aside to preserve great forests, rare fauna, wilderness landscapes, pristine mountain lakes and immense, deep canyons. The presence of old growth trees serves to keep the river banks of the river and its tributaries shaded and cool, a key element to protecting native, cold-water fisheries. The area is well known for its abundance of steelhead trout and salmon.
More than a river, the Klamath is part of a regional watershed that includes three of its principal tributaries – Wooley Creek, Scott River and the Salmon River. It is one of only ... morethree rivers that bisect the Cascade Mountain Range, traversing a wide range of topography from high desert to coastal rain forest. Beginning approximately three-quarters of a mile below the Iron Gate Dam, the river runs through until it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Administration of the river is split. The upper, 127 miles are managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The State of California, in concert with the National Park Service and various Native American tribes, manage the remainder. All of its tributaries, except a small portion of the Scott are under the purview of the US Forest Service.

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The most notable characteristic of the Klamath is its variety of androgynous fish, supported by the river throughout most of their in-river life stages. These species include Chinook salmon (spring and fall runs) coho salmon, steelhead trout (summer and winter runs) coastal cutthroat trout, green and white sturgeon and Pacific lamprey. The river is also home to a genetically unique population of rainbow trout that have adapted to river’s high temperatures and acidity.

Considered by ecologists to be important to the area’s bio-diversity, the Southern Oregon and Northern California Coast coho are federally listed as endangered species and the Klamath River is a designated, critical habitat. This habitat also provides a home for other endangered fish including Lost River and short-nose suckers. Despite this designation, the river supports a thriving sports fishing industry as well as myriad other uses including white water rafting, birding, hiking and camping. 
Trips
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225
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Capacity:
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Duration:
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Our guided fly-fishing trips include 8 hours or more spent pursuing steelhead. Your leaders and Fly's are included in the price of the trip. You are welcome to bring your own tackle ... moreif you prefer.

Fishing the rivers of the North Coast we utilize several different methodologies to pursue steelhead. The most poplar and most widely practiced is utilizing one of many fly's such as a Copper John or similar type offering with a dropper and a glo bug. We utilize 4-6 weight rods.
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Capacity:
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The Klamath River is in prime shape for fly fishing in September and October. We fish the Klamath from a jet boat, which allows us to sample many productive runs in a single day. We ... morecan also ferry our guests in to Rivers West Lodge and use that as a home base. The Klamath River is a classic swing fishery and is best fished with a spey rod. We typically catch a mix of adult fish and half-pounders.
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If you have ever driven over the Lower Sacramento River or even fished it, you know that due to its shear size and abundance of water, this makes it extremely intimidating. That's ... morewhy having a knowledgable Lower Sacramento River Fly Fishing Guide is so important. A great guide will not only put you on the fish, but will also show you the fishy spots accessable by land, the put ins and pull outs for boats, as well as the bug life, the flies to use and when you go on your own, how to put all that t ogether to be successful. The Lower Sacramento River is a big tailwater fishery and California's biggest trout river, and its rainbows are just as big and powerful as the river they live in. If you want big fish and year-round fishing, this is the river for you. With more food than your local all you can eat buffets (2,500 insects per square foot of river), the average fish grows to a healthy and hard-fighting 16-18", and pigs pushing two feet are not out of the question, so bring some big guns. The fishing season is year-round, and water temperatures remain fairly constant too, as the river comes out of the bottom of Shasta Lake.

This river consists of long, indescribable, spring creek like stretches that are broken up by islands, deep pools, long riffles, gravel bars and undulating shelf’s, many of which are more pronounced during lower flows.

If having one of the best trout fisheries in the state isn’t enough, the Lower Sac also hosts some great runs of Steelhead and Chinook salmon too. It also hosts a variety of other fish, such as, shad, squawfish, stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass, these populations of fish become higher the farther you get away from Shasta Lake. The highest flows are during the summer months, when snow melt is at its greatest, so a drift boat is highly recommended.

You can walk and wade during the higher flows if you so desire, but staying near the bank will be your safest bet. The best time to walk and wade the Lower Sac is going to be during fall, winter and early spring, there is very little snow melt, and the rain that falls goes to filling up the lake, so the river is low and great for walk and wading. This is the time to get out there and really learn the river's bottom and fish those slots that only come out in lower flows, either way “PLEASE WADE WITH CAUTION”. But due to the river’s size and the amount of private property along its banks, those that prefer to wade have two options. One is to fish from public parks and access points along the 16 miles or river between Redding and Anderson, or, from your boat, getting out at the riffles and fishy slots to make some casts.

Public access is fairly easy though on the Lower Sac, there are 6 boat launches, and many public parks and access points along the river that flows almost parallel with interstate 5.

-Brian
Outfitters
Steel Bridge Guides is located near Douglas City on the Trinity River in northern California. We specialize in fly fishing with spey rods and single-hand rods for steelhead. Our primary ... morevenue is the Trinity River. Our other destinations include the Klamath River, coastal steelhead rivers, the Lower Sac, and Lewiston Lake. We offer year-round trout fishing and steelhead fishing from August through March. Come up to the beautiful Trinity River Region and enjoy some quality steelheading on the fly!
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AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

37 comments
I think you did what was right for the sercumstance. I have been in the same situation one time and it's not a easy choice to make I can't emagine how difficult it was for you holding on to a once in a lifetime fish and making that choice. If we all want to rally and do some serious complaining lets talk about all the awesome wild fish that get poached (taken)from the streams by gill nets,Enough said ... more by me ,Congradulations on landing that fish on a FLYROD
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mmaroots: Human life is worth more than a fish, leave the guy alone you jealous people.. Candidate for bizarrely out of whack statement of the year.
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Human life is worth more than a fish, leave the guy alone you jealous people..
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Too greg1... Your fish died because your gear was too light. Why fish saltwater/coastal salmon steelhead with 6lb line? I use 6Lb leaders here on lake erie where fish avg 4-6# and biggest steel I've got so far is 14lb and it was a hell of a fight. Can't imagine 28 lbs of fresh steel.
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This is the catch of a lifetime. He said he hasn't kept any fish from a Washington river in a decade. Give the man some respect. He achieved one of many dreams I've had of catching a record size steelhead. I love trout just as much as any die hard steel header. I live on steelhead ally and see groups of guys taking 2 hens each just for eggs then turn the fish into fertilizer. That makes me sick more ... more then this guy keeping this trophy of a lifetime. It obviously had spawned previously a few times to reach this record size. This fish didn't have long before it died of old age. Happy earth shared this beauty with us b4 mother nature took her course. Thanks for pics and post. Also. If fish was bleeding from gills it could be from numerous things. (Fish was injured in exchange by environment or leader. Or possible Guy took fly from foul hooked position and placed in top lip, possible cover up to save some face for killing a trophy.)
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Kill it 0% chance of "surviving the ordeal" release it there's a chance!, way to go ya prick! Oh and seeing as it's the only fish you have taken, might aswell make it one of the biggest!
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I am a firm believer in catch and release and I practice it because I believe it is a great practice. I love the feeling of knowing that fish will be placed back into the river to have the chance to survive, reproduce and maybe even be caught again so that fisherman can enjoy these beautiful fish for generations to come. That all being said I don't feel that harvesting fish is all that wrong as long ... more as certain regulations which will help to not damage or even increase the population are put in place. We mustn't forget that for a very long time that harvesting fish for food was the entire reason mankind fished. We should be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor and consume fish we are so blessed to have. Carefully chosen regulations with supporting data backed by scientific gatherings should be the overall deciding factor as to what fish we can take from the water. For example length/weight requirements and daily maybe even weekly limits.
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I believe the fish was a bleeder, and doomed from a long fight. fish of this size usually fight to the death as the rod and reel here indicate a rare incident not the fault of the fishermen. The fishermen does state he saw the fish jump indicating a size fish he had never seen before this is the down side. However in the heat of battle and a fish of a lifetime such decisions to consider the fishes ... more survival are rarely considered. In 1984 I hooked a 28lb steelhead using a marshmallow/shrimp combo while fishing the caddle hole of the mad river located 1/2 mile up from the green U.S Highway 1 bridge . A spot well known to most north coast steelhead fishermen as it is a spot where fish congregate to acclimatize from salt to fresh water. I hooked the beast on 6lb test and was nearly spooled 4 times managing to keep the fight going and ultimately won after a hour and ten minute fight. The moment the fish was landed it rolled over and was fighting hard for air and died. I was thrilled but saddened the great fish had died despite 30 minutes of rescue efforts. I see the same situation occurring here and know exactly how the guy feels. Goat and hero at the same time.
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hey people if you have evehow much the r been to or fished the hoh or other surounding rivers you would know how much the natives net these rivers. that being said if the guy dident keep the fish,that is legal by the way, it probibly would have ended up in one of those nets only to be sold at market or worse yet thrown away because it is so big it would taste terrible. cut the guy some slack. its ... more easy for every one to be a critic untill they are forced to look in the mirror. if it was you could you really let it go?I know I wouldent...
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good job. You are a good sportsman. When you cannot keep one fish in 20 years fishing it's time for us all to hang it up.
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he is getting a repo' this fish is the mold. use your energy to go after gillnetters or atleast chech or regulate them im shure they kill more than he did.
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Tom, If it's okay, I'd like to respond to a couple parts of that deleted comment. Yes he could have released that fish to die, assuming that it was indeed gill-hooked and bleeding. However, I'm not buying that it was hooked where he says it was for a second. Personally, I've never seen a spey caught steelhead(actually lake run steelbow rainhead) get hooked that deep. And from conversations with people ... more who have seen a lot more spey caught fish than I have, you'd be more likely to win the lottery than have it happen. And yes, it could have swam into a net after being released, but under your logic, every steelhead caught should be kept to avoid eventually swimming into a net. Sorry, but that reasoning doesn't fly.
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The Underground is clearly changing - I just killed my fifth comment in a week for what I'll politely suggest was marginally abusive (and yes, mildly racist) language. [sigh]
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Masterometal: Harrison Or, he could have released the fish and had a reproduction done. That way, [em]when god forbid[/em], he can't fish anymore; he could look up to his wall and remember one of the best days he ever had and take some pride in knowing that the fish also lived to tell the tale.
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cograts Mr.Harrison great fish sounds like you are a better sportsman than most. dont let it get you down. My brother will do a great job on your fish of a lifetime. in the years to come when god forbid you cant get out to fish. you can look to the wall and rember one of the best days you ever had congrats and godbless the world would be a better place if there were more ethical people like yourself. ... more Brad Heck.
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Who knew Steve Bartman was a flyfisher. A involuntary lightening rod for change.
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many good points stated.....I have to side with the angler. what law did he violate natural or unnatural? the guy catches a fish of a lifetime-he makes the choice to keep it-so what. he has earned that right! on the way to nailing this guy to the cross, did it occur to anyone to ask him how many Steelhead he has released in his life? if you have a problem with it, you might want to cut this guy some ... more slack and go after the regulatory body that manages the fishery!!
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Tom Chandler: @Guido: The circumstances surrounding the fish's demise have been pretty exhaustively talked about in a lot of other places (I didn't link to all the conversations about the thing because there were too many).And as Dylan noted, the fish was legally taken, which - in my thinking - is truly the starting point for this whole circus. That fish this big aren't caught all the time suggests ... more the mess we've made of those rivers, and it would be nice to see the venom directed at Mr. Harrison redirected towards those who fail to recover (or protect) our anadramous fish populations. Seriously the problem isn't Mr. Harrison and his right to retain this fish, the problem is that there are not more catches like this that could have been let loose safely, or "Legally" retained with out a impact to our beloved river system. If everyone focused half the attention, effort, and trash talking on the true "Eco Terrorists" of our fisheries which is the tribal Indians then maybe this wouldn't be such a big deal to everyone!! I've fished the Hoh and many other coastal rivers for over 18 years and have seen some truly horrible things "sportsmen" have done, BUT add up all those things I've seen, and they don't even equal half of what I've seen 1 Indian boat do in a single drift on the Hoh with there net......Nor have have they come close to equal the HUNDREDS of Native Steelhead I've seen (many which have been "Trophy Size") being sold out of huge white tubs as crab bait in La Push for $.12 a pound, yes that's 12 cents a @#$&% pound. I agree 100% with out lawing the harvesting of Native fish....However when someone does it legally!!!! Until all is stopped I can't see looking down your nose at Mr. Harrison, I would bet my fishing rights that if the net's were stopped, hell more regulated, OR EVEN CHECKED!!!!! You'd find that many many more of these wonderful beasts exist and the accidental bleeding which resulted in the harvesting of this fish wouldn't be such a chance for jealous anglers to bitch!!!!! Congratulations Mr. Harrison on your catch, and I feel for you for taking so much flack from people that are too ignorant to see what the real problem is........Fish On
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I bet that fish was tasty
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Good one, Snowfly!
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[...] day on the Root River in Wisconsin, and a movie, are the extent of my experience. I can’t run to the Washington Fly Fishing Forum and effectively inject my version of reason - it’s simply not my place. I can say, however, [...]
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Tom- The poor schmuck, he just turned the best day fishing of his life into a PR disaster. He shares with the world his big accomplishment and then kills it… That's equivalent to a teenager telling his date's father his true intensions with his daughter. Well , we now have the 2009 “dumb move” candidate of the year award.
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Folks! I'm frantically preparing to teach tonight's online marketing boot camp, so can't respond to all the comments, though a few things occur to me. 1. The conversation here is very different than it is on the message boards, and if you believe people are willing to give Mr. Harrison the benefit of a doubt, a few minutes there will dispel that illusion. Also, don't know if anybody noticed, but the ... more "One Year Ago" posts widget to the right of the top sidebar is acting ironic for us - a year ago I posted an article about whether there were enough Atlantic Salmon in Maine rivers to even support an extremely abbreviated C&R season: Enough Atlantic Salmon for C&R Are we heading in that horrific direction out here?
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I agree with Mark, DS and most others that I am sure he didn't want the fish to die. I wish I could pull in hogs like that once and awhile.
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Agreed that the best way to combat Catch & Kill is to have regs that prohibit it... 30 minute fight, probably out of the water for another 5 minutes measuring it and taking photos, unfortunately(obviously) it was probably near death in any case. 15 minute battle with heavier tippet? More and more, given that there aren't anymore "Secret spots," I'm fishing in stealth mode: No big fish pics, skunked ... more more often that not, just plain no heroics shared. Its better for my fishing experience and the fisheries. Call me selfish.
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Mark Roush: Why on earth are we worrying about this guy?He is a hard-core fly fisherman who practices catch and release tactics pretty religiously.He, most likely, is telling the truth about the fish bleeding.I feel bad for the poor guy–being surrounded by people condemning him who have most likely done something similar within the last year or two. I agree here. I think most people are willing to ... more give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I may be naive, but I just have a hard time imagining someone who is experienced and even "hard core (?)" fly fisherman actually killing a trophy fish for an ego stroke. Like TU is suggesting, tar and feathering this dude does absolutely nothing to fix the bigger problem. It would be great if this guy was actually the catalyst for some serious change.
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Tom, I agree that the real issue is why there are not more great fish like this one in our rivers. Seems to me that's where people need to put their focus, and their energy. However, trying to organize fly fishermen is like trying to heard cats at the "kitty round-up". As far as this guy keeping his fish goes, I say congratulations to him. I think his writing is pretty good, with the possible exception ... more of the last paragraph. It has the makings of a great short story. I dare say the fish did not have many spawns left in him (her; can't tell from this angle). Between this angler taking the fish, and some shark in the ocean, I'll vote for the angler.
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Hey JPL, I wonder how many of these lads tossed a whitefish or Carp up onto the bank last season - figuring they were ridding the world of another pest.
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Hey, he's wearing Dan Bailey waders, so he's not some rich toff. Leave him alone. BTW the tippet wars are fish killers. Find the heaviest tippet that won't spook the fish and go up one notch.
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First, I have to concur with Mark here - the X% chance that the fish survived is forever lost, but the worst you could blame him for is an adrenalin charged rush to poor judgement. I have never fully grasped the sportsman's need for trophies or “world” record keeping, especially when the latter seem useful only in documenting the precipitous decline in the quality of our fisheries. I don't particularly ... more care for the class tippet race, as it's a fish killer. But if smaller world records are being caught on a burgeoning list of classes, how is that actually 'documenting the declining fisheries'?
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TC, Although he has been likened to food poisoning on many occasions Dylan's last name is spelled Tomine. Everyone should read his enviro essay - State of the Steelhead - The Canary Ain't Singing Anymore, But The Fat Lady's Just Warming Up - http://tinyurl.com/bwwkpq We'll be posting a link to it tomorrow. ps A 34 pound fish was recently pulled out of a tribal net on the Hoh.
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Why on earth are we worrying about this guy? He is a hard-core fly fisherman who practices catch and release tactics pretty religiously. He, most likely, is telling the truth about the fish bleeding. I feel bad for the poor guy--being surrounded by people condemning him who have most likely done something similar within the last year or two.
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Tom, have to agree with you on the actual point to be angry over, that the fish could be taken legally to begin with. Add in that so many seem not to connect the dots between preserving the fishery and the number and quality of the fish. Working the Pleasanton Fly Fishing Show I was trying to get folks to sign letters asking EBMUD not to further drown the Mokelumne for drinking water and several EBMUD ... more customers just refused to do so. I don't get that kind of thinking... which is to say there is a whole lot I don't get.
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@Guido: The circumstances surrounding the fish's demise have been pretty exhaustively talked about in a lot of other places (I didn't link to all the conversations about the thing because there were too many). And as Dylan noted, the fish was legally taken, which - in my thinking - is truly the starting point for this whole circus. That fish this big aren't caught all the time suggests the mess we've ... more made of those rivers, and it would be nice to see the venom directed at Mr. Harrison redirected towards those who fail to recover (or protect) our anadramous fish populations.
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The dwindling population of steelhead should mean no anglers in any state on any rivers are allowed to kill them. period
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Tom, I read your comments as well as just about everyone else's it seems about this guy's catch. In a series of photos showing him presumably fighting this fish and then posing with it, you can clearly see blood streaming from it's gills in one of the pics. As far as whether he was right or wrong in killing it, all I can say is I wasn't there. If it was truly dying in his hands, then I have no problem ... more with him dispatching it and claiming any record he's entitled to. Guido
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Tom, Check out the write up on this over at "The Big Pull" from a couple weeks ago http://thebigpull.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/a-steelhead/
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