Oct 7th 2021

Wild Steelhead: A Call to Action

Wild Steelhead do not have a voice of their own. We rely on biologists, activists, and guides to be their voices and sound the alarm when the fish are having trouble returning to their native rivers.

Steelhead management is a jig saw puzzle at best with so many pieces missing that we will never fully understand the full picture. But what we do realize as anglers is that our chance to encounter one of these fish is getting tougher and tougher as the years go on.

While we might be more effective on the water and continue to find success, the number of fish returning year after year in most systems is going the wrong direction.

In the following text we get to hear from our Signature Tyers Jeff Hickman, Josh Mills and Trout Unlimited’s Jonathan Stumpf about what pieces of the jig saw puzzle they know and understand.

If by the end of this you are frustrated or disappointed with the returning number of steelhead, take action and make your voice heard.

Help to be a part of a solution however you see fit, but please don’t be complaisant or silent if you want to see a change for how Wild Steelhead are managed.

Jeff Hickman


Umpqua Signature Tyer

Owner Operator of Fish the Swing

Home Waters / Deschutes River, OR Coast, and Dean River

How to Take Action / Contact WA & OR Elected Representatives

This is a dark time, but this is the situation we are in. While a fishing closure is painful and this one is most certainly not perfect, it is something significant and we must acknowledge and show support to ODFW for taking this difficult stance to protect wild steelhead.

We realize this is a small band-aid on a much larger problem. But the important thing is that Oregon has acknowledged the true emergency we are in. We all need to sacrifice and compromise. If us fly fishers who arguably have the least impact of any user group compromise then so must the dam operators, gill netters, sport anglers at every Washington Columbia Cold Water Refuge Area, on down the line.

We all have an impact on these fish and the first step to fixing the problem is acknowledging we are all part of the problem.

We also recognize that this will have very real consequences and hardships to people both recreational anglers and professional guides and support staff that rely on income that is created by these magnificent fish. We feel your pain.

We must demand that Oregon declare a fisheries disaster so that us fishing related businesses can apply for assistance. Let’s not fight amongst ourselves, instead let’s keep our focus and anger on those that can make a difference to save the last of our fish. We must all work together, now more than ever.

Below is a copy of an email I have just written and submitted to the Governors, Fish Agency Staff and Commissions of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. If you are as scared and angry as I am, then I encourage you all to send in your own emails and comments. Feel free to use my language and copy and paste as much as you would like (target email addresses below message).

We all must stand and make as much noise as possible. We cannot let these fish slip away. This community is very powerful and together can save wild steelhead.

Josh Mills

Umpqua Signature Tyer

Wild Steelhead Coalition Board Member

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Conservation Partnership Coordinator

Home Waters / Snake River, Grand Rhonde, Clearwater River

How to Take Action / Sign on to the Removal of the Lower Snake Dams

Steelhead are such a gift to anglers, and in particular to me on my home rivers of the Snake, Grand Rhone, and Clearwater. Born in the gravel, out to sea over 8 dams and then eventually back, again over the 8 dams, through the slack water, through the artificially hot water in the Columbia and Snake to deliver on its genetic promise. Go to sea, get bigger, return.

We as anglers and the general public should never be satisfied or even apathetic failing returns and downgraded ecosystems. Let the rivers run and allow these gifts to keep returning year in and year out forever.

For the guy or gal who's never fished for Steelhead, here's why I want you to care. It's all about the promise that you could someday. Someday a 12lb hen with a blush of rose on her gillplate could meet your fly on the Deschutes or Grande Ronde and change your life.

The possibility of that happening should drive you, as steelhead are the pinnacle of functioning rivers and ecosystems. Don’t let this canary sing her last song. Get pissed off.

Jonathan Stumpf

Trout Unlimited

Washington Advocate, Wild Steelhead Initiative

Home Waters / Puget Sound Rivers and Olympic Peninsula

How to Take Action / Sign the Wild Steelheaders Credo

In my early days as a steelheader, I recall learning of the listing of Puget Sound steelhead to the Endangered Species Act. I remember hearing from those with experience in the fish conservation community about how anglers were standing on the edge of a proverbial cliff for the species, across the West Coast, and time was running out to save these fish. Looking back now, if we were looking over that cliff edge into the extinction abyss of steelhead, today, in 2021, we’re already over it, dangling by one hand, trying to claw our way out of a fish management mess. And we only have ourselves to blame.

Today, runs are at historic lows and the closures to fabled fisheries keep coming in. Whether you fish B.C.’s Skeena, enjoy Idaho and Washington’s Snake or Oregon’s Deschutes and North Umpqua, many steelhead rods are gathering dust this year simply because these runs can no longer support a catch and release fishery. We’re at a point where every fish on the spawning gravel matters.

It’s easy to point the blame, too. Ask anyone who calls themself a steelheader and you’ll get probably just as many reasons why runs are crashing as there are flies to fish for them. Dams, loss of habitat, influence from their hatchery cousins, decades of over harvest and utilization of the sport fisheries, climate change, too many people, poor ocean conditions. And that’s from a very high level. Get more granular, and you’ll wonder how steelhead have hung around this long. It’s easy to see with the various limiting factors to healthy runs of steelhead why it might be just easier to throw down your rod in defeat and walk away from the sport altogether. It’s all very overwhelming.

But here’s the reason you can’t (and shouldn’t). Steelhead are one of the most resilient fish to swim in the rivers and streams that flow into the Pacific. If they are given even half a chance, because of their life history diversity and an overall unique biology, we can have fishable runs of steelhead into the future, not just for our generation, but more importantly our kids and grandkids. Look at places like Washington’s Elwha River, where after over a hundred years, two fish-blocking dams were removed and less than a decade later, the river boasts quite possibly the largest run of wild summer steelhead on Washington’s coast.

The two dams on the Elwha River didn’t remove themselves. It took decades of pressure applied on decision-makers led by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and dam removal advocates to once again have the Elwha run wild and free. Regardless if you fish for steelhead, the story of the Elwha should serve as a small ray of hope as to what a wild river, with wild fish can look like when we all work toward recovery of a species and renewal of a wild place.

Today, as the opportunities to fish for steelhead decline and closure hits our favorite rivers, it’s easy to point the blame elsewhere. To me, these closures are only a reflection that collectively we have not done enough as anglers--the true advocates of these fish--to ensure their future. If we want to have sustainable steelhead fisheries in our future, we need to get loud. We can’t point the blame at others or minimize our impacts as anglers.

Find an organization or group that aligns with your ideals and works on behalf of the interest of wild steelhead and our ability to fish for them. I’m of course partial to Trout Unlimited’s Wild Steelheaders United (sign our credo and join the cause). But there are plenty of other groups out there doing strong work too that might align better with you and your beliefs.

Learn as much as you can about steelhead, because in this game of advocating for better management, more knowledge of the species only improves your ability to speak on their behalf.

Many fisheries decisions are made by your state’s fish and game commission. Start attending meetings. Reach out to the commissioners. Tell them what you’re concerned about and if they’re doing a good job or failing our fish, let them know. Find out who represents you in your state legislature and tell them you are a steelheader and are concerned about these fish and losing them would devastate rural communities and the economies that depend on them.

Ask your favorite brand or gear manufacturer how they are helping to improve the situation for steelhead. Do you have a favorite guide you might use on occasion when pursuing steelhead? Ask them—no push them—to get involved if they’re not, because these are the folks that are making a living off the backs of these fish and should be out in front, leading this charge.

We all have to start somewhere and right now it is absolutely urgent that anyone who fishes for steelhead to get involved, however they can.

So how will you respond to the above perspective of three passionate steelhead anglers? If you feel angry, disappointed, frustrated, or want change, add your voice. Here are the right people to contact.


Commission: odfw.commission@odfw.Oregon.gov.

Director Melcher: Curt.Melcher@state.or.us


Commission: commission@dfw.wa.gov

Director Susewind kelly.susewind@dfw.wa.gov


Commission: magicvalley.commissioner@idfg.idaho.gov

Director Schriever ed.schriever@idfg.idaho.gov

OR Gov Brown: kate.brown@state.or.us (https://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx)

WA Gov Inslee: governor.jayinslee@governor.wa.gov (http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/contact/send-gov-inslee-e-message)

ID Gov Little : governor@gov.idaho.gov

WA State Legislature: app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder

OR State Legislature: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/FindYourLegislat...

ID State Legislature: https://legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/contactl...