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Summer Steelhead by Dr. David Burns

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Within the native range of the fish the jargon "summer steelhead" is generally applied to fish that come into fresh water between May and September or thereabout.  Sometimes immature "half-pounders" are included as summer steelhead and the term is reserved for adult steelhead that spawn in the spring.  Summer steelhead are generally discussed separately from "winter" steelhead that enter fresh water from October through May and spawn during the same winter or spring that they migrate to fresh water.  The separation is purely a common designation, because all life history forms are an expression of diversity in the same species.  The diversity is largely recognized as a hedge against extinction that would be more likely without it.  I won't give much time to the bizarre steelhead-Franken-fish created for distribution across the planet where they are invasive species.

For purposes of my discussion the diversity in summer steelhead is greater than in the winter groups.  In the Southern part of their range some individuals run intermittent streams and hold all summer in pools that are separated by dry river beds.  Summer steelhead run rivers as smaller half-pounders that may be sexually immature and actively feed in freshwater.  Many people think that all summer steelhead are the Skamania race from Washington that has been spread like Johnny-apple-seed across the world.  Then there are the younger "A" run steelhead of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and the older "B" run steelhead native to the Clearwater and Salmon River basins, the latter being the largest average size steelhead race in the United States with males averaging just short of 36 inches.  These latter Columbia river groups are genetically programmed to migrate hundreds of miles and have large fat reserves compared to coastal run fish with shorter migrations.  This fantastic diversity means that summer steelhead provide a myriad of different angling opportunities.

Flies for summer steelhead range from diminutive sparse flies, natural nymph and eggs imitations, to huge dark monstrous flies that ply the depths of winter waters for Idaho's "B" runs.  A 4/0 Akroyd-like Dee-style that will catch a Salmon River "B" run wouldn't normally get a look from a 16 incher on California's Smith River.  The stamina of the fish, their diversity, and the diversity of flies that take summer run steelhead all add up to angling fun.  In many ways that diversity and special character of steelhead in their native range has been lost because of Willie-Nillie stocking programs over the course of history.  It is nice that somebody in Michigan or Argentina can experience a steelhead, but at what cost for local fishes.  Some would say that the cost was worth it.  Others will ponder what ecosystems could have provided had they been protected.  I tend not to think about it too much one way or the other when a chrome-bright 30+ inch fish is rocketing across the river on the end of my line, or that 16 incher is tail-walking for what seems like eternity.  Musing about past mistakes of history is left for evenings over a wee dram of good whisky.


Dr. David Burns fly fishing the Secesh River

Dr. David Burns, Master Fly Tyer, conservationist, and fly fisherman, is currently enjoying his time in retirement after serving a distinguished career as an educator, a 3 year stint with the Washington Department of Game, and 30 years as a fisheries biologist with the USDA-Forest Service. During that time he has written, published, or presented many professional reports and papers dealing with fisheries science and conservation and has been an active member of several professional organizations. Read more about him on his Contributing Fly Tyer page, The Flies of Dr. David Burns.


Webmaster Notes: Before I asked Dr. Burns for his "thoughts about summer steelhead, I asked him for some updates for his page. He kindly obliged with some new flies (see below) and this photo of his steelhead box with the explanation copied below the photo. I hope that he does not mind that I took the liberty to quote his email, but I think it's important because it says something about not only Dave's philosophy, but that of many fly tyers who believe in preserving the classic traditions and the art in tying for steelhead.

Dr. Burns' Steelhead boxes with fully dressed flies

Click on the image to enlarge and fully appreciate it.

"Being retired I could fill one of my steelhead boxes with fully dressed flies; you might find all kinds of interesting variations in that picture; try to guess at them all.  There is one row of Jock Scotts & variations.  I am also including an individual picture of Kelson's Black Doctor tied for fishing; see if you can spot it in the box!  Some people say that these flies are too much work to tie for fishing.  I believe that is our lazy "I want mine now!" attitude in today's world."

Dave

The flies you see below are some of the latest additions to The Flies of Dr. David Burns. They will be added to his page after this issue.

The Flies


Click on the image to enlarge

Bimps Cutt - a special creation for a customer Kelson's Black Doctor - tied for fishing McCall's Special - recently completed and framed for a Shepherd's Home benefit auction Turkey with Blues - tied for a National Wild Turkey Federation auction

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