First 20 Pounder [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: First 20 Pounder

04-29-2006, 09:34 PM
The trophy mark for steelhead has been conventionally set at 20#

When and where and under what conditions did you bring to hand your first 20 pound steelhead?

After throwing flies and dynamite (whatever works) for 30 years, I've never landed a 20# steelhead. Some anglers get one on their first cast.


-- Eric

04-29-2006, 10:45 PM
Has anyone landed a 20# steelhead on their first cast, even including gear? Given the number of casts per steelhead, that would be better than winning the lottery.:hihi:

04-29-2006, 11:22 PM
i sure havent landed a 20 pounder personally. I guided guys into some fish this past summer that were close, but most likely didnt quite get to 20. And of course i hooked a couple that we never landed but we could swear were 20 :) if not bigger. :)

04-30-2006, 11:35 AM
I don't have it at my fingertips, but I recall reading in the Skagit/Sauk Steelhead Journal, that the great Dec Hogan (no disrespect, he KNOWS his sheeeit!) didn't catch one for decades. Think about the number of hours on the water... QUALITY BIG FISH water... that he has under his belt, especially in his early days before fame and full bookings. Proof positive that fortune plays a huge part in catching a "trophy".

Saltwater is easier in my opinion. You go where the big ones are, and you catch them, maybe not the fish of a lifetime, but bigger than normal. Steelhead? I go to the Skagit, and if I'm lucky enough to catch a fish in a season it's a 6 pounder :roll: And I'm so grateful, I do a little dance and annoy everyone I know for a week. "There I was... Most people wouldn't have even fished that spot, but I knew... Oh yes... I knew..." :roll:

04-30-2006, 12:02 PM
I have landed one bug buck over 40" (estimated 42") and although it was carefully released without weighing I am sure it was my 20 pounder. I had offers for witnesses to get their camera from the parking lot, but I could not dream of holding this fish for what would probably be over a half hour for a picture. The memory is good enough, and two witnesses. I will probably never catch another fish like that again, although I have seen them caught by others. Most of the biggest I've seen in the lower 48 came from lower river sections late spring. I have seen them every year in the same river where I got mine, a 'sleeper' stream with a very early season closure designed to protect the lesser known run of natives which has become very strong as a result. Sadly most of the biggest fish I've seen in this river are caught by plunkers with huge spin-glos and gobs of eggs that would choke a horse near tidewater. I would commute the river road every day after the closure when I lived here and I would see submarines making their way unmolested up river. Since the regs have not been changed, I assume some of these big nates are still growing bigger.

My biggest summer fish top out at between 17-18#, all these being bucks - my biggest winter hens top out at around 16#.

04-30-2006, 03:21 PM
I've had only two over 20#'s, the first was out of a small 'hole' on the Pilchuck river in Washington. Fished ALL day with zip to show for it, so walking back to the car came to this one small section with the "river" bouncing off a root ball, spreading out into a pool.

What the heck, why not (even though I'd hit this thing on the way up stream)? Second cast the rod tip doubles over; poop I've hooked the root ball. Jurk, jurk, jurk .. and one huge JURK back. Only good thing about the 'fight' is the fish didn't want to leave the pool.

Had met a young game warden/checker on the way up stream and he came by as I was playing the fish. He estimated the fish at about 20-22 pounds based on measurements. Scale sample and off he went back into the water.

The biggest I've beached/kept/weighed was 26# 8 oz out of the Sixes River in Southern Oregon. That one was on a bait rod running a plug. Again a 'slug' but very little in the way of 'Oh Boy.' Rather disapointing; I've had more YA HOOOO's from fish half the size.

Todd Ripley
05-02-2006, 12:18 PM
My first fish brought to hand was a 42 was 1977, and I was all of 7 years old. Weighed in at slightly over 22 pounds.

I was 17 before landing my second 20+ fish, and now that I am 36, I've managed a total of seven 20+ fish...none have come on the fly, but I mostly flyfish in the summer when those fish are pretty much non-existent.

The first was out of the Sammamish, the second out of the Wallace, one out of the Skykomish, two out of the Hoh, and two out of the Sauk. Two on plugs, two on pink worms, one on eggs, one on a spoon, and one on a in December, one in February, two in March, two in April...and one in July, a 42 inch winter run buck, unspawned, that surprised me and my summer run gear immensely.

Seven 20+ fish sure sounds like a lot to me, but if I averaged it out over all the fish that I've caught, especially with all the March and April time I spend on the OP and the Sauk/Skagit, it comes out to about one every four years, which is one every 200-250 fish...and every single one is etched in my memory. I've never landed two in a season.

(This year's Feb.-Apr. fishery produced 56 native fish, the biggest being a 38.5 incher that was estimated at 19 pounds and legit 20 pounders for me in the past four years...I'm due!)

Fish on...


P.S. I'm with Fred on this one, too...20+ bucks are big fish, and look great in pictures, and make your heart leap into your throat when you see one roll and see the size of the tail on him...but are mainly like catching a big Chinook or chum...strong, but steady. For sheer joy and terror, I'll take a mid-teens hen any time over one of those pig just can't beat a sixteen pound hen tearing down the pool spending more time in the air than in the water, and then turning around and stripping line upstream like you weren't even there to slow her down.

05-03-2006, 10:59 AM
I have to agree that being lucky can play a large role in catching on these "trophy" fish. Over the years I had the pleasure of checking/handling a pretty fair numbers of those fish - heck I may even have sampled Fred's fish on the Pilchuck I can recall at least such fish that were caught by anglers on their first day of steelheading. One was caught on a hot shot fished with a guide in a drift boat in the first hole fished - don't know if that counts as the first cast.

I can relate to Dec's tough time - for myself I had caught well over a 1,000 steelhead prior to successfully landing a fish that I felt was a true 20 #er. Since that time I have been blessed with a fair number of those fish. One thing I have noted is at least for north Puget Sound that it seems that the return of those special fish is cyclic. The mother of all years for big fish was 1983 where I saw a surprising number of really large fish (including 2 over 30). That year I alone caught 13 (12 winters and 1 summer) fish I judged would easily surpass the 20# mark. That included an unbelievable day with 3 such fish to hand.

While most of those large fish have come on gear I have taken at least 6 that would surpass that mark on flies. One surprise is that most of those fish on the fly have been "accidents" while targeting Dolly Varden/bull trout. Of those 20 #ers I have caught 3 have been hens and only the one summer fish. All my fish have come from North Puget Sound rivers, North and South Fork of Nooksack, Skagit, Sauk, North and South Forks of the Stillaguamish and Pilchuck with the majority from the Skagit/Sauk. Including the fish I have checked I have seen 20# fish in the north Puget Sound region every month of the year except Sept. and Oct. For wild fish prime time for those giants would generally be from mid-February to mid-April.

While it has been popular to bash current steelhead management the number of 20 # fish have become much more common. Many of the "old timers" (I think I have become one) that taught me the ropes of steelhead fishing had never caught a 20 # steelhead. The number of 20s being reported today must be nearly an order of magnitude large than in the 1960s and 70s.

Tight lines

05-18-2006, 07:19 PM
I have brought two fish in over 40". One last year, one this year, but suprisingly, with how much time I spend on the Skagit/Sauk rivers, neither were from there. Both were taken small-stream fishing. I don't know if I will ever do it again, or if I will ever be fortunate to get one that big on a fly, but I won't stop hoping. I consider myself lucky to have been able to experience those fish at such a young age and won't take my luck for granted, that's for sure.

Todd Ripley
05-19-2006, 03:11 PM
"the number of 20 # fish have become much more common."

Curt, concurrent with the higher occurrence of "20 pounders" is another phenomena...the phenomena of fifteen to seventeen pound fish that are called twenty pounders. It seems that over the last several years, especially, I see pictures of fish that look to be about fifteen pounds, if that, with utterly ridiculous measurements being reported...

...such as a fish that is 36 inches long, but with a 24 inch girth, putting it at 23 pounds or something like that...ridiculous. A steelhead of that shape is a complete myth...they don't come like that. As it is, a legit 40x20 twenty pounder looks like a Chinook...a 36 inch fish with a 24 inch girth would look like a silver Giant Sunfish.

I'm not sure if people are bad at guessing, bad at measuring, or just flat out making it up, but I wouldn't place a lot of stock in reported twenty pounders without getting a look at either the fish, a good pic of the fish, or relying on the past proven integrity of the person making the report.

More 20# fish now than before? Maybe...but maybe not.

Fish on...


05-19-2006, 04:13 PM
I have to doubt that there are more large fish now than before. Runs are lower, so there would have to be a much greater proportion of large fish in the run to have a higher count of those big 'uns. Perhaps it's so, but I have to question it. Do you have any hypothesis to explain how this might happen Curt? I'd be interested to hear it.

I absolutely agree with Todd Ripley about the blatant exageration that occurs about the size of fish. This occurs both in print and even with the pictures. I've seen a few fish photos posted right here on this very website that are much smaller than claimed.

05-19-2006, 05:59 PM
Yea, but I cheated. Caught it in Kamchatka 10 years ago.

05-20-2006, 09:36 AM
My first 20 on a fly was caught at the old Lyman bar which was washed away in the '03 flood.

Not sure what year it was but sometime in the late '90s and it was right before the middle river closed so I would say mid March. Usually I wouldn't fish Lyman at this time of year because it gets pretty crowded but on this day I had been upriver fishing and decided to stop and fish the bar on my way home. The time would have been around 3 in the afternoon. When I arrived at the bar to my surprise no one was fishing it except two old guys at the plunker's shack. I strung up and headed to the bar.

Mid way through I get a nice tug. A few minutes later I unhook a bright 12 lb. hen. Nice. Glad I stopped. Back into the run and a few casts later another tug. Cool, this has never happened to me before, 2 fish on within a few casts of each other. This time a 5 lb. hatchery hen. What is she doing here? Bonked it to give to the old guys plunking. Again I start fishing the run and within 10 more casts another fish on. This is unbelievable.

Something was different this time. The fish doesn't make any great runs or anything but I can't move it. This is a very strong fish. After 10 minutes or so I get the fish up to shallow water for the first time. When I see the big buck my jaw drops. I have never had on or maybe never seen a steelhead this big before. I literally start shaking. Every time I got the large fish to the bank he would turn a swim back to the middle of the river. He was so strong there was no way I could stop him. This happened 2 or 3 times until finally he rolled over on his side at my feet as to say you win.

He was a big beautiful buck with all his spawning colors. I marveled at his beauty and his size. I measured the large fish with my rod. His tail at the butt of the rod his head was past the stripping guide on my 8124. Wow! I set the rod down to remove my fly and send him on his way. When I reached to remove the fly he decided he had enough of me and again took off towards the river. The huge steelhead was moving fast and I thought for sure he was going to take my rod with him. Just as the line was starting to come tight I managed to grab my rod. Plink, my leader breaks as the line came tight and the fish swam away with my GP still in the corner of his mouth. I stood there for a few minutes just shaking and wondering if this fish was really as big as I thought he was.

I grabbed the small hatchery hen I had bonked and headed back up to the parking lot. I gave the hen to the 2 plunkers at the shack and they asked me about the long fight I had with the big steelhead. I told them about it and showed on my rod where I had measured the fish. I don't think they believed me but didnít say anything probably because of the fish I had given them.

When I got to my truck I broke down my rod and removed my waders and the rest of my gear then looked around for a tape measure but did not have one in the truck. During the 20 minutes drive home I was still shaking thinking about that fish. When I got home I found my tape measure and measured the rod where I had measured the length of the buck, 44 inches.

To this day he was the largest steelhead I have caught or seen.

05-20-2006, 11:32 AM
A 44 inch fish is truly a gaint of a steelhead - a fish of many lifetimes!. Of all the many Puget Sound steelhead I have seen I could count the number of 44 inch I have seen caught on 1 hand (seen a few others in the rivers/creeks).


Pescaphile -
My comment about being more 20#ers today than in the past was mostly t.i.c.

I would attribute most of the "increase" in number of trophy fish to what I would call angler "enthusiasm".

I am not surprised that a few more 20#ers might be reported being caught. Over the years I have noticed that it seems that the larger fish in the population tend to return earlier in the season. With lower run sizes it has not been uncommon to see a shortening of tribal and "bonk" seasons on many seasons. As a result some of the 20s that were being caught in tribal nets or plunk fisheries are being caught by upper river fishers which tend to talk more about those larger fish on the internet sites we frequent. This would create a impression that there are a few more 20s in the run.

Tight lines

05-23-2006, 05:58 AM
Many nights, many years fish like that have haunted my sleep. To have one like that at your feet must have been something Kerry!

Todd Ripley
05-23-2006, 10:05 AM
Excellent story, Kerry! A 44" Skagit fish, especially if he's headed up to the Sauk, could be truly monstrous...mid- to high-twenties, ya figure? I caught one that long out of the Skykomish, but it would be pushing it to call it better than 23 or 24...those Sky fish are pretty snaky compared to a big shouldered Skagit brute!

I'm still dreaming of being attached to a 30# on a Washington stream...that dream gets me out of bed awfully on a lot of spring days!

Fish on...


06-03-2006, 09:34 AM
...I would agree that the increase in 20#ers is due to "overenthusiastic" anglers. It is fairly obvious when the "common" size range of steelhead is 8 to 12 pounds and then skips to 20 pounds as reported by most of the anglers one talks with, especially flyfisherman. I too feel that most reported 20's are in actuality around 16 pounds. A 12 pound steelhead is very visually impressive - a 16 looks absolutely huge, especially to anglers that just haven't yet accumulated much experience at fishing. Also, I have been witness to quite a few measurement takings of fish. Most people I have observed, even with TWO people involved in the process, cannot accurately measure a fish. Whether this is due to excitement or an on-purpose "accident" I don't know. Slipping of the tape, thus adding 2 to 3 inches, seems almost guaranteed in most cases. And then there are those that DO have the experience (at least one is led to believe so) but still manage to catch unbelievable numbers of outsized steelhead. Hell, I know a couple guys that "usually" catch 3 to 6 20's each winter season!

I have beached 5 20 pound winter fish since starting to flyfish in the PNW around 20 years ago (a few BC summer fish also make "the mark"). It takes luck, time, and if one can stumble across into them, special circumstances can increase the odds. 4 of my fish came off of Lyman Bar in about a 6 year time frame, 3 of them in ONE season!. That (Lyman Bar) was a special circumstance which I doubt will ever be seen again (my eyes are tearing-up just thinking about it). Prior to that, in about a 15 years of fishing the Sauk/Skagit I had NEVER landed a 20...several in the 18 and 19 pound class, but no definite 20's. Since the extinction of Lyman Bar, I have added one Sauk/Skagit 20 pounder to my list.

Most all of my 20's have been fish that were 20 to 22 pounds, fish that I thought upon landing them "this COULD be one, but could be 19", and it took an actual girth/length measurement to make the distinction. I have two that upon landing had no doubt were 20+ - one Kispiox fish that measured at 24 1/2 pounds, and one Skagit fish (not measured as I was by myself) that I thought was as large as or slightly larger than that Kispiox fish.

Of my 5 winters, the minimum length was 38.5" (girthed at 20")

Also, my BC summer steelies were the "typical" Chinook-like drag-out fight. However, all my winter steels were spectacular fighters - running far and/or fast into the backing and jumping from 3 to 5 times - very scary, incredibly memorable, and awesomely breathtaking experiences. Of relation to how they fought may be the fact that all my Skagit/Sauk 20's were absolute chromers - most still had sealice on them.