|Put a cap in bobber-boy's ass|
I've a tendency to focus my less than empirical eye - however momentarily - on the obvious. West Coast steelhead are anadromous while Great Lakes fish spend their lives in fresh water. After much research, I believe that this may be the only indisputable fact in what has been a prolonged and sometimes onerous debate. Aside from this nugget, there is little objective evidence of any difference between fish on opposite ends of the country.
Two strains of steelhead inhabit the Great Lakes, and as best I can tell, two strains of steelhead inhabit the West Coast. The first is Skamania. Skamania steelhead - as I'm sure you know - are a summer run fish that generally move into Great Lakes and coastal tributaries in late spring, and will sometimes continue on their spawning runs until early September. The second variety of steelhead found in each watershed are Washington strain. These fish begin their spawning runs in September, and will remain in the river until late spring. Both fish present intrepid bug chuckers with tremendous angling opportunities, especially during the winter months when one is generally limited to tying flies or spending time with the wife's family.
Science tells us the fish swimming the Great Lakes are genetically identical to those fish found out West. Indeed, the first plants of steelhead into the Great Lakes were done in Michigan, and the eggs used in those original stockings came from coastal fish. If Great Lakes steelhead are simply rainbow trout, then so too are those fish on the coast. Why then do some folks insist on calling Great Lakes steelhead, steelbows?
Seems to me that if they're steelbows here. They're steelbows there.
|If you didn't know I was a Great Lakes fisherman, would you know this was an East Coast fish?|
I think the demeaning chatter we sometimes read or hear about Eastern and Midwestern fish comes primarily from two sources. First - as one might expect - Great Lakes steelhead have any number of critics on the West Coast. These folks feel that for a steelhead to be a steelhead, the animal must be anadromous, spend the vast majority of it's life in the Pacific, and only enter coastal rivers when it is ready to spawn. Any steelhead that does not spend a significant portion of it's life in the salt is simply an outsized rainbow trout.
Again, science tells us that these anglers are absolutely wrong. The fish running West Coast rivers are the genetic dopplegangers of their East Coast counterparts.
These same folks might concede the common genetic roots of East Coast and West Coast fish, and instead choose to argue that while Great Lakes and ocean run steelhead share a common ancestor, they experience very different lives. To survive life in the world's oceans requires an animal to be made of hardier stuff than composes a freshwater fish. Coastal steelhead grow to larger proportions and fight with a ferocity that is generally lacking in freshwater steelhead. In a way, this is the piscatorial equivalent of the nature versus nurture debate. Fish are products of their respective environments.
Again, I cry shenanigans. An animal's environment may have an effect on that animal's behavior, but it does not change the fundamental, genetic character of the animal. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
And while I'm thinking of it ... can anyone ... anyone ... explain exactly how life in the Pacific makes for a gamier game fish than does life in Lake Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, or Ontario?
On to the second group of pundits.
These folks hail from the East Coast and the Midwest, and they actually fish the Great Lakes. They enjoy catching Great Lakes steelhead (although they might not admit it), but they want to be part of the West Coast club. Perhaps they need recognition. Perhaps they suffer from deep seated feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps their daddies never played catch with them. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same. Whether for feelings of inadequacy, the need to be accepted by West Coast naysayers, or the absence of paternal love, Easterners that refuse to embrace their own steelhead ... well ... they're just sad.
In the final analysis, I have to admit that I would love to fish for West Coast steelhead. The Olympic Peninsula appears to be a beautiful place, and I think I'd like to experience that kind of beauty. If that day ever comes, I might even concede to fish with a Spey rod and traditional flies. Why not? That does not mean, however, that I'm not grateful for what I have. The Great Lakes are tremendous fisheries, and I could do a lot worse than to fish here the rest of my days.