Fishing means a great deal to many people, from first foods, to a deeper connection with nature, to memories of spending time outside with family. Stories retold of the big one or the one that got away fill the air at campsites across the Pacific Northwest. There is so much to learn about fish, and they can teach us a lot about ourselves. Salmon, a keystone species, support over 100 different species, an invaluable resource to the ecosystem. Entire industries depend on healthy populations of many different species of fish, illustrating how imperative our stewardship is both for the environment and the economy. For more extensive information on each species, click the scientific name to link to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service site for all sorts of interesting information and cool facts.
Leading off our overview of species is the state fish of Washington--steelhead. Steelhead and rainbow trout are actually the same species; however, steelhead are anadromous and rainbow trout are freshwater only. Unlike salmon, steelhead can survive spawning and, in fact, spawn multiple years. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, steelhead can propel themselves upwards of 11 feet when climbing falls, and they can go from zero to 25 mph in one second. So don’t feel bad the next time one gets away! The National Fish Hatchery System raises over six million steelhead each year for fishing and recovery efforts.
Another anadromous species, Chinook salmon, is the largest of the Pacific salmon species. Some populations have migrated over 2,000 miles. They spend most of their lives in the ocean and then return to freshwater to spawn. Fishes of the Columbia Basin reports that run size used to top upwards of 10 million fish per year. That number is now closer to two million fish per year, comprising mostly of hatchery fish. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the largest recorded Chinook salmon was 135 pounds, but don’t go retooling your fishing rod quiet yet--they average about 40 pounds. With many segments listed as endangered, threatened, or a species of concern, conservation efforts to restore habitat and mitigate dam passage are underway. Many local organizations in our area work to protect spawning grounds and restore habitat along the way. We’ll keep you posted about events highlighting those efforts in our community.
An introduced species to our area, walleye are naturally found in the Northern Territories and midwest. Introduced around the country, walleye prefer shallow lakes and larger rivers. In their native habitat, many conservation efforts to restore the species from overfishing are in process. These fish really know how to play hard to get, perhaps due to their keen eyesight. As one of the tastiest freshwater fish, dinner is well worth the effort. Our cool fact from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service puts the oldest recorded walleye at 29 years old. Both the Columbia River and Snake River are popular fishing spots for this elusive fish.
According to Fishes of the Columbia Basin, smallmouth bass were introduced in the Yakima River in 1925. Additional stocking efforts resulted in their arrival to the Columbia, Snake, Walla Walla, and Grand Ronde rivers. This species takes a few years to mature to legal catch size, but fisherfolks tend to enjoy the challenge of the catch as they are a feistier fish--not to mention delicious. As another species introduced into ecosystems around the world, their management is mostly for recreational purposes.
Largemouth bass are perhaps the most popular species to fish for in the United States, not to mention a multi-billion dollar industry with all sorts of technology and gear. The species has been introduced around the world mostly for recreational purposes. They were introduced in Washington and Oregon in the late 1890s and are found in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. A typical, mature largemouth bass is between 12-15 inches. Though a personal preference, surveys say the meat isn’t quite as tasty as the smallmouth bass. The species has shown an incredible ability to adapt to various conditions and environments, furthering its reputation as a sport fish.
As the name suggests, the lake trout is mostly found in lakes across the United States. Another broadly introduced species, lake trout are the largest of the freshwater char. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the largest specimen recorded was 102 pounds. And the oldest lake trout was recorded at 40 years--some people might have a chance of catching one older than themselves. In our area, likely the nearest opportunity to fish for lake trout is Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon.