Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ruminations on steelheading in Montana

As I plan a trip to the Olympic Peninsula this February (my first foray into sea-runners), my thoughts end up on the fish. Which got me thinking - what exactly is a steelhead?  
Merriam-Webster defines a steelhead as: "an anadromous rainbow trout ". Merriam-Webster defines anadromous as: "ascending rivers from the sea for breeding". Merriam-Webster defines sea as: "a great body of salt water that covers much of the earth" (among other definitions).
Montana steelhead
But the Great Lakes' tribuaries have steelhead, and the Great Lakes are not seas by that definition. And frankly some of Lake Superior's "steelhead" pale in comparison to some lake-run rainbows of the Rockies. So why can't we call our lake-run rainbows steelhead? Why do they, if they're not technically "sea-run" (they're "big-lake-run"). Where do you draw the line?
I propose we call our big-lake-run, bigger-than-some-of-the-great-lakes'-steelhead rainbow trout "steelhead" as well.
And without a dime of taxpayers' money, Montana could boast some delightful "new" fishing opportunities.

10 comments:

JGR said...

Your "Montana Steelhead" would be considered an average fish off of Lake Michigan/Lake Erie. Not sure if Lake Superior has much of a run.

Josh said...

I understand. Really, I'm just taking issue with inconsistent terminology.

Anonymous said...

do we really want to bring on a mob of lawn chair sitting lead chucking rednecks just to call some fish steelhead?

Joshua Bergan said...

Anonymous, you can at least make up a fake name to hide behind. I happen to think slightly higher of steelhead anglers, so I'm not too worried about the hill-billy contingent. Mostly just making a point about the semantics of the situation. The fish by any other name will be as big.

Unknown said...

One category you have not mentioned regarding the steelhead in either Montana or the Great Lakes region is the origin of steelhead. GL fish came from eggs from NW steelhead. They were genetically the same. Big Montana rainbows might become a fish that behaves like a steelhead in food barren rivers of coastal range in Oregon. That is one theory as to the cause of the migration. No food so the fish go to the ocean.

There is also a lot we have yet to learn. Was it ever possible for steelhead to reach Montana from the rivers and streams of the Columbia basin?

Joshua Bergan said...

This is a good point, and I actually meant to mention that fact (that the original plants of those fish might've been steelhead, not fluvial rainbows).
I am just getting into this stuff - it's fun.
And in response to your question - I am under the impression that the furthest steelhead ever got to Montana was the eastern side of the Idaho panhandle. They still get to the Salmon River, which is about 15 miles from the Montana border.

Vince Lovejoy said...

There are no Steelhead in Montana boys. I live here, I know. The closest place to fish Steelhead is either the salmon or the Clarks Fork in Idaho.

Joshua Bergan said...

Thanks, Vince.

matt petersen said...

I love these discussions. My friends and I like to sit around the campfire, speculating on the possibility that at one time steelhead may have reached into Montana. It seems entirely plausible if you consider that the Flathead and the Clarksfork all drain into the Columbia. I live in Bozeman and fish the South Fork of the Clearwater religiously for steelhead. So I have had plenty of time to day dream of fishing for steelhead closer to home as I drive the five hours to Kooskia, ID.

Anonymous said...

I have always said that the best steelhead fishing in Montana is in Idaho. ;)