Steelhead And Trees II

Steelhead And Trees II

This steelhead, caught several days ago, apparently ran afoul of a commercial net or a large lure with trebles, the careless removal of which disfigured it for life. Or, since it's obviously long since healed over, perhaps it's a birth defect, or the result of a run-in with a bird or other predator when it was but a wee parr.

Undaunted, the spirit of the animal was unaffected. It persevered and obviously thrived. Had it not been able to find enough food early in life, it wouldn't have such a healthy pr0file today. Many fortuitous turns, over the past four years, allowed this steelhead to escape the fates suffered by about 95% of its brothers and sisters born in the same riffle at the same time. And, from the very first moments in the life of this fish, it benefitted from trees.

Walking along rivers in forests, like this one, I sometimes wonder how many anglers are aware of the direct relationship between trees and fish. In many cases involving trout, salmon, and steelhead, trees are the difference between a thriving fishery and no fishery at all. With no trees on the bank, gripping the soil with roots, the spawning site where this fish was born would have silted in long ago. The river would widen and grow shallower, and the sheltering pools would fill in with sediment. Perhaps most importantly of all: With no trees on the bank to shade the water, the river would get warmer. Many degrees warmer. Too warm for cold-water fish like onchorynchus mykiss. Natural reproduction would become a thing of the past.


And that's just the beginning. I read a published study once revealing that a fully-grown hardwood tree with branches hanging over a river or lake can provide hundreds of pounds of food per year in the form of fallen ants, spiders, inch worms, tent worms, flies, rodents, baby birds, etc. What percentage of the food that guaranteed survival for the fish in the photo above was provided by overhanging trees? No one can say for certain, but as it progressed from stage-to-stage, from hatchling to parr to smolt, it seems safe to say that some significant portion of its forage originated in the terrestrial world.


With nowhere to hide from larger brown trout, kingfishers, raccoons, and predatory insects, entire year classes of steelhead can disappear due to predation. Enter the fallen tree. The branches and trunks of laydowns provide hiding places that could be the most significant factor in the production of great year classes of steelhead in many of our slower and shallower forest streams. Steelhead rivers tending to be rather cold and sterile, those laydowns also provide nourishment for other aquatic invertebrates that steelhead parr depend on.


Trees are also used as perches for those same kingfishers and other predatory birds. And we humans use them to hide behind as we survey the pools for the sleek, powerful ghosts that visit there from time-to-time. Any unchecked population of living things soon throws the system out of balance, though we can choose not to kill our catch (and we rarely if ever should, in streams where natural reproduction occurs).

Rules that forbid clear cutting to the river's edge just might be one of the most significant factors in the production of great year classes of steelhead. Just as significantly, such rules keep our steelhead rivers wild and beautiful. Can you have steelhead without trees? Yes — in big, relatively fast rivers running through regions with relatively cold climates. But trees never hurt, and obviously provide awesome benefits that should never be overlooked by anglers entrusted with the safety of the fishery.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Balance is the goal when tipping jigs with trailers. Bass

Rigging Soft Bass Baits Correctly

Matt Straw - May 15, 2018

Balance is the goal when tipping jigs with trailers.

The range of walleye hardbaits encompasses multiple categories and a dizzying number of lures. Walleye

The Lowdown on Walleye Hardbaits

Steve Ryan - May 28, 2019

The range of walleye hardbaits encompasses multiple categories and a dizzying number of lures.

These secrets will put more and bigger bass in your boat! Bass

Topwater Lure Secrets for Bass

Jim Edlund - April 26, 2018

These secrets will put more and bigger bass in your boat!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Bait Choices from Skeet Reese

Bait Choices from Skeet Reese

Pro angler Skeet Reese is a Major League Fishing champion and a winner of the Bassmaster Classic and BASS Angler of the Year titles. Throughout his years of bass catching success, as he tells World Fishing Network personality Chad LaChance, Berkley baits like the Deal and Straight Money have played a key role in what he has accomplished out on the water.

Sight Fishing Carp

Sight Fishing Carp

The In-Fisherman staff slips into stealth mode sight tactics for barrel-shaped carp.

Softbaits for Smallmouths

Softbaits for Smallmouths

Doug Stange uses softbaits from Berkley to entice finicky smallmouth bass.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers nationwide. Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers...

It was an August evening and I was wading the flats in Brewster, MA with my cousin. Here you can Other Fish

Must-Have Striped Bass Tackle

Rick Bach - May 04, 2017

It was an August evening and I was wading the flats in Brewster, MA with my cousin. Here you...

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is simply a matter of putting a good bait in the right in front of them. Catfish

The Best Catfish Rigs

In-Fisherman - January 11, 2018

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is...

See More Stories

More Trout & Salmon

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as girth Trout & Salmon

Chinook Salmon Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 03, 2016

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as...



Placid water stretched across the seventh largest lake in the world, extending into that texture Trout & Salmon

Quest for a 40 Revisited: Lake Trout Fishing

Matt Straw - January 14, 2014

Placid water stretched across the seventh largest lake in the world, extending into that...

Stream trout were the glamour fish of the early-to-mid twentieth century. Wild settings, clear Trout & Salmon

How To Fish For Trout: A Stream Trout Primer

Matt Straw - July 03, 2013

Stream trout were the glamour fish of the early-to-mid twentieth century. Wild settings, clear

See More Trout & Salmon

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.