The Stream Doctor

July 28th, 2003

Email YOUR Questions directly to the Stream Doctor. This is your opportunity to get an experts professional opinion on anything stream related.


Q. From Wadedeep: While fishing a creek in WA state I was pleasantly surprised to find literally thousands of chinook in the stream. I purposefully did not target fish actively paired up and working on redds. I did however fish the deeper pools with some success. Is it logical to assume that fish holding in deeper (6'+) water are not yet actively spawning? Have there been any studies that document mortality rates of pre-spawn fish that are hooked, played and released? I would love to continue fishing this spot, but am hoping to avoid "fishing hell" when my time comes. Is this angling strategy the equivalent of a mortal sin against fish preparing to spawn? Thanks in advance for your scientific (and perhaps theological) opinion!

A. I called a fishery biologist whom I formerly worked with in Washington State, who has more experience with salmon biology than I. He said that although the fish you were catching in the deeper pools were probably not yet actively spawning, it doesn't mean that they might not be soon. Thus, it is a pretty fine ethical line that you are treading if you don't want to impact spawning. They might not be spawning when you hook them, but who knows when they might. As to hooking mortality of pre-spawn fish, there is evidence that it can be as high as 40%. These fish have accumulated a finite amount of energy reserves to carry them through spawning, so any energy exerted in activities not related to spawning, such as being played by an angler, is that much energy they won't have to carry them through spawning. Thus, I'm afraid that I cannot give you complete absolution; besides, I'm not ordained for that kind of thing!
~ C. E. (Bert) Cushing, aka Streamdoctor
105 W. Cherokee Dr.
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 970-577-1584
Email: streamdoctor@aol.com

The 'Stream Doctor' is a retired professional stream ecologist and author, now living in the West and spending way too much time fly-fishing. You are invited to submit questions relating to anything stream related directly to him for use in this Q & A Feature at streamdoctor@aol.com.


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