If you’re reading this post then there is a pretty good chance you saw this picture of a gigantic wild steelhead floating around on the interwebs last week. Allegedly measuring 46.5 inches long it was pretty hard to miss, especially after countless fly fishing media outlets shared it.
In the fly fishing media world, there is a fine line between promotion and exploitation. It’s a line everyone is aware of and that most work hard not to cross. However, determining that line is impossible since it’s subjective and varies widely depending on the eye of the beholder. As a result, everyone develops their own standard of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
From the Chum’s perspective, we abide by what we call the “Potter Principle,” named for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who famously said that while he can’t define what pornography is, “I know it when I see it.” Similarly, we can’t define exploitation in the fly fishing world, but we know it when we see it. And we see it with this angler and how certain media outlets decided to tell his story, which jeopardize this incredible resource.
- Wild steelhead populations on Washington’s famed Olympic Peninsula (OP) are slipping toward collapse. Returns on the Hoh are currently a small fraction of historical abundance. And recent runs of less than 4,000 wild fish are not even half of what they were in the 1970’s.
- On hallowed OP waters such as the Hoh, where this fish was caught, wild steelhead have failed to meet escapement seven of the last 14 years, which means that not enough fish are returning to spawn to maintain the existing population.
- The combination of diminished run sizes and unprecedented angling pressure means these struggling populations are getting hammered. On rivers like the Hoh, it is not unusual for catch rates to exceed escapement, meaning the average returning steelhead is caught more than once before it spawns.
Essentially, the last thing threatened Hoh River wild steelhead need is more people out on the river increasing pressure on them. That’s why we were disappointed none of this was mentioned in any of the stories (here and here) about this fish. Bottom line, it was a huge missed opportunity to educate the angling world about the state of Hoh River wild steelhead.
Wild Steelhead need more advocates, not more exploitation.