Wild Steelhead Need More Advocates, Not More Exploitation

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.

Here’s why:

  • 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.

12 thoughts on “Wild Steelhead Need More Advocates, Not More Exploitation

  1. HMM? Is Slab of the Month Exploitation https://moldychum.com/?p=3307
    Careful who is calling the kettle black boys. How many OP fish have been posted on the Chum??

  2. Pingback: Wild Steelhead Need More Advocates, Not More Exploitation - Spey Pages
  3. The angler on the left in the picture, who actually caught the fish, was new to fly fishing. He was so excited by the catch and educated by his guide (right) that he made a $200,000 donation to TU’s wild steelhead initiative. True story; just saying.

  4. Thank you! And please note that the wild winter run steelhead of the Hoh River have failed to reach the escapement goals, at well below 2500 spawners, for most of the last 20 years. These fish need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. No fishing. No harvest. No nets.

  5. The published stories related to this fish, the angler/guide and fishery completely missed the mark. Your post on this story completely misses the mark as well. The real story here is about an angler who was inspired to financially promote conservation of wild steelhead due to the ineffable experience of catching a specimen of this rarity in a fragile environment. A life changing event for him that has potential to change the playing field for conservationist efforts in the OP. MC has an opportunity to tell the true story and instead chooses to focus on the notion that a fish pic will bring more angling pressure to the OP? LAME! I guess MC contributors should stop fishing the OP and stop posting pics of swung fly caught wild steelhead.

  6. Potter principal huh, I noticed your Slab of the Month contest featured an OP trophy ( The welcome to Washington fish ). Maybe you don’t know porn when you see it. Seems to be kinda a double standard. Also maybe you should research the details of the story behind the photo before you type. There might be more to the story beside the uninformed assumptions that you have made.

  7. I would like to add that I do agree with some the points in your article. Yes, the writer of article missed an opportunity to shed light on the many issues which wild steelhead populations face. Was the article exploitive, the evidence is not as black and white to me as to make that judgement. The point is Moldy Chum regularly post photos of trophy Steelhead which also bring un needed attention to a already stressed fishery, but Moldy Chum has also posted article which have been informative to the issues which steelhead face. Unfortunately almost and photo or article posted has potential negative exposure to already stress fisheries. We can only hope that some good comes from the donation which the angler made and also from the articles on steelhead issues which Moldy Chum post. I would also agree that wild steelhead need more advocates, and I believe that is one of the main points that you were trying to get at. We all need to keep in mind that we need to give and not just take from this resource which gives us so much.

  8. Totally agree, not to mention that the photo itself is illegal…or at least putting the toe as absolutely close to the line as possible, as per Washington state regulations.

  9. Then by your account, this website is a porn site pure and simple. Fly anglers are by and large the best advocates these fish have. The miracle is that this fish was able to pass the countless gill nets strung across this river “legally” set due to outdated and misguided tribal treaties. Catch and release fly anglers are literally the least of this fish’s concerns.
    That said, I personally think this photo captures what is wrong with a generation that can’t eat a bowl of soup without posting it on the internet. 20 years ago this picture would have sat on this gentlemen’s mantle for him to personally recount this amazing experience. Nowadays, it serves as a glowing and cheap advertisement to others that will chase this standard for all the wrong reasons.
    And while you, Moldy Chum, are not entirely to blame, you certainly have your part to play. You are the dealer of this drug, the marketplace of this solicitation. And if this website brings you one penny of financial gain, it makes you the pimp of exploitation.

  10. I’m late to the party….but why are the escapement rates low….off shore pressure…..what’s going on down the river? Are numbers being properly recorded? Lots to think about. Thanks for the donation.

    1. It’s a combination of the 4 H’s – hydropower, harvest, habitat, and hatcheries. Check out www.wildsteelheadcoalition.org for more info.

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