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Tips for Releasing Steelhead


I consider myself so fortunate to live and work in such an amazing part of the world chasing these unbelievable creatures we call Steelhead.  It’s truly a marvel to hold a fish like this for a few brief moments.  Their aggressive nature and powerful battle leaves you shaking and gasping for air.  It’s also a reminder of the razor thin balance these fish hold onto for mere survival and our role is so important.  How we fight, land and handle these fish is of the utmost importance and each Steelhead encounter is another opportunity to be at our best for these fish and helping ensure opportunity for years to come.

It’s easy to forget the influence we bring to the waters of these fish.  More and more anglers means more pressure and more impact on these fish not to mention the ever increasing numbers of seals and sea lions.  (It’s a pleasant surprise this season to catch a fish that doesn’t have scars or chunks missing from a narrow escape with a seal.)  Impact can result simply from a fish that is hooked too deep or a poorly released fish.

The awesome wild power and fragile existence of these fish begs me to remember to handle each fish with care and Keep – em Wet.

Tips for releasing steelhead

  • First, use the right gear for the fish you are after. Appropriately sized rods and line ensure that you tire the fish in a reasonable time before they are completely exhausted.
  • Fighting fish; learn how to put pressure on a fish and how to pump the rod gaining on fish. Often by fighting fish too long you increase the risk they will not recover.  It also increases the risk of loss as the hook can wear a hole in their mouth.  Keep a good parabolic bend in the rod to keep appropriate pressure during the fight.
  • When using a net; use a rubberized mesh net to reduce impact on the fish.
  • Grip steelhead behind the adipose and in front of the tail. How you do this is super important.  Don’t grab the tail like you would a baseball bat.  Squeeze the top and bottom of the tail like a vise.  This gives you the best hold.
  • Hold fish on their side- they stay much calmer and reduces the amount of time before release
  • Keep fish underwater- yes, the water is cold – suck it up! Get your hands wet.
  • Have pliers handy on a belt for extra help getting out a tough-to-get hook.
  • Hold fish head first into the current. It doesn’t work holding their head downstream.
  • Be careful to keep the water clean where you are reviving and releasing a fish. Mucking up the water is similar to you running a race then being stuck in a car full of cigarette smoke.  They need to breath after such a work out- keep the water clean.
  • For the release; cradle fish with one hand behind the pectoral fins while holding the tail with the other hand. Face fish into the current of clean water and release when they kick out of your hands.  After a long battle this might take a bit- again keep those hands in the water!

Best of luck to you out there on the water!

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