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mayflyman 11-21-2001 09:41 PM

Atlantic vrs. Pacific Salmon
How do the two stack up?
Would a king salmon from the Atlantic Ocean fight harder or milder at the end of your line, than a king salmon from the Pacific Ocean?
Has any one out there caught the same species in both oceans?

Pound for pound, which salmon gives you the best fight?

I am looking to hook on to a fish that explodes out of the water and makes dynamic runs. I have yet to use my drag in the 22+ years of fly fishing. :rolleyes:

Hoping that salmon and steelhead fishing will fill this void.

Willie Gunn 11-22-2001 02:19 PM

Unfortunately I have yet to fish for pacific salmon. I think seatrout fight much harder than salmon( Atlantic).

One of these days I will get across to fish in the colonies.

pmflyfisher 11-22-2001 03:43 PM

Atlantic salmon pound for pound fight better than King Salmon.
No King Salmon in Atlantic Ocean that I know of, only in Pacific Ocean and Great Lakes. Hottest fish I have found are fall run steelhead and summer run (Skamina) here in the Great Lakes right after they have entered the rivers. Give those a try, they will get you the drag screeching runs you are looking for. Landing 50% of them is great achievement. You will remember all of them. Catch and release. Have a good holiday !

juro 11-22-2001 10:25 PM

The proper comparison would be species in their own oceans IMHO it's not a good practice to alllow strains from one side to intermingle with the other particularly if native strains are at risk.

That being said, my experience with big salmon is more on the side of the chinook / coho / sockeye / chum / pink than with the atlantic salmon but I plan to add a much deeper knowledge of salar in the years to come. I've a better understanding and appreciation for the pacific steelhead than any of these.

From the few A/S that I have tangled with I respect and admire the atlantics' surface oriented ways and leaping skills but each fish has it's own personality and there are steelhead that will defy any fish's abilities pound for pound just as there are chinook that jump and run on the surface while others sound and run around in the depths. Coho are consistent lightning leapers (did you catch the video clip?) and chum salmon are freight trains that break more flyrods than any other species when they are in the river. I would say that the pink is the least battle-worthy of the lot and from what I have seen of seatrout in Northern Europe and Tierra Del Fuego they rank in the fore runners of the sea run species. Another area I want to broaden in my list of experiences.

For me, it's not the comparison per se - it's about each's merits. They will all take drag in a serious way when fresh.

Good luck exploring the world of sea-run species. For me they are the perfect balance of force and finesse on a fly.

pmflyfisher 11-23-2001 08:37 AM

Agree must be something in the sea run strain of trout and salmon that gives them more power and explosiveness. If I had to limit myself to one fish the rest of my life it would be fresh run steelhead for sure. Second would be fresh run King (Chinook) salmon. Both have torn me up more than I have tamed them for sure. It has been hard to go back to regular trout fly fishing after I got introduced to these 23 years ago in Michigan.

juro 11-24-2001 10:23 AM

Hal -

I hear you have some huge returns out your way. Any knowledge of the history of the introduction of steelhead, etc? I would love to learn more about it.


pmflyfisher 11-24-2001 06:57 PM


Steelhead were stocked in several western Michigan lower pennisula rivers in the 1880's from a couple of west coast strains. However the Michigan DNR thought they were getting rainbow trout ! Some were stocked in the Little Manistee and Pere Marquette (PM). The Michigan fisherman and DNR could not figure out where the rainbow trout went at the following spring's opening day. They were gone (steelhead smolts went to Lake Michigan), and had to fish for the native Michigan grayling which were twindling. Also at that time they started stocking brown trout from Germany into the PM. The PM was the first river in US stocked with browns. At least that is what the fishing history books says. Pretty neat to fish where they first stocked them 100 years ago, which you can do on the PM.

The stocking of steelhead in the Michigan rivers was a wonderful mistake. Legend has the steelhead were not fished for a long time since not many people knew they were there or much about how to catch them, or that they were even in the river until the mid 1900s. This was because the Michigan trout season is the last Saturday in April to September 30th. The steelhead enter the rivers in Oct/Nov and for the most part are out of the rivers by the end of April. I guess not many people knew they were there nor new how to fish for them until the mid 1900s. Michigan gave some rivers a year round open season which had andramous steelhead and salmon. That is when the fly fishing for them started to develop and the locals figured out how to fish for the steelhead. King and coho salmon were stocked in Lake Michigan in the 1960s which also had more fisherman going after them in the rivers. Some old timers I met on the PM 20 years ago told me the steelhead fishery in the 60s was just as good as any place in the world. 20-30 fish on days etc.. Many large wild ones 20 pounds+.

The PM and Little Manistee rivers have had 100% natural wild steelhead for a very long time. The Michigan DNR stocks steelhead in most other Michigan rivers except for the PM and Little Manistee.

You can still have 10 fish days here when you hit it right. That is ten hooked not landed. My best day was 13 on and 3 landed.

PM has a large fly fishing only section (believe about 30 years old)
which last year was also made NO Kill for ALL trout and salmon species. PM has steelhead, king salmon, and brown trout these days all which are wild.

PM is a great river to fly fish and still has great runs. Only problem is the crowds that have developed over the last ten years and drift boats which were not existent when I started fishing it in 1979.

Give Michigan steelhead a try some time. The Big Manistee and Muskegon are the two rivers which equate best to western steelhead fly fishing.

juro 11-24-2001 07:16 PM

Wow! Great history, thanks. I will give it a try one of these days. I had a business trip to Muskegon (Shaw Walker) one October and was itchin' to try some fishin'. Got to see the big lake though - very impressive seeing a lake where the other side isn't visible. I walked out onto a big breakwater, fish everywhere - mostly yellow perch and baitfish. Guys fishing were telling me that in the fall the salmon are caught with spoons from the jetty. I drove over the Muskegon but didn't have a chance to stop before high-tailing to catch my flight at Cedar Rapids. Should've stayed the weekend!

pmflyfisher 11-24-2001 08:06 PM


Yes I know where you were in Muskegon harbor. Lake Michigan is about 90 miles across to the Illinois side from Muskegon. It is almost 400 miles long. They call it a lake but beleive me it is a fresh water ocean. Lake superior is larger. You were about 90 minutes from the PM and 45 minutes from the good fly fishing areas on the Muskegon river. From Grand Rapids north the good trout, salmon, and steelhead fishing starts in Michigan From those piers and breakwaters you saw they have some really hot fishing for steelhead and salmon in the spring and fall. Mostly spin fishing though with spoons. Fly fishing is difficult but possible I guess from the piers and beaches.

Give Michigan a try some time. The rivers there are never no closed due to low returns of fish like what has been happening on the west coast lately. How will I ever plan a steelhead trip out there when you don't know if it will be open or not when you plan to be there ? Have always wanted to fish the Skagit/Sauk, North Fork Stilly, or Olympic Pennisula, Sol Duc, etc.. Will get there soon, hope there are still fish there.

pmflyfisher 11-24-2001 09:31 PM

Took, a look at my PM history book (you got me interested) the original planting there was 25,000 McLoud River steelhead in 1883. From 1880 to 1893 other stockings were done throughout Michigan rivers from the Shasta, Mcloud, Klamath, Wilmette and Rogue rivers which have gentically developed into wild Michigan strains the last 100 years. By 1914 the runs were so thick on the PM that laws were being considered to allow for spearing and netting. They never were. Seeing how big the runs can be now, I can hardly imagine what they were back then. Talk about steelhead heaven, this must of been it !:)

juro 11-24-2001 11:05 PM

Yes, the Cascade, Columbia and Olympic streams still have plenty of fish, but the question is are the runs 'healthy'? Run health is relative and the thresholds of escapement/harvest and even catch & release are not and must not be measured by recreational metrics. These are the last remnants of native steelhead in the lower 48, indigenous steelhead hanging on despite dams, logging, tribal gillnetting, siltation of spawning areas, waterway modifications for suburban sprawl. etc. These are native steelhead, the real McCoy, very much a national treasure to be guarded with caution. One only needs to look at atlantic salmon debacle in the northeast to see how quickly such a run can vanish from the face of the earth. The health of these populations is a topic of much debate and lies squarely in the center of a huge social, economical, political and scientific dilemma in the pacific northwest.

For me the urgency in the pacific northwest is not about a fishery, it's about protecting the sacred concept of a fish that wiggles from the gravel in a glacial headwater and battles to survive a 7,000 mile round trip across turquoise seas of the north pacific to find it's natal stream and perpetuate it's legacy as it has for many thousands if not millions of years. It matters enough not to fish a river even when several thousand fish return because there needs to be a threshold of survival to ensure the next generation.

In Washington alone there are hundreds of other places to vent such frustration. Once you include Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, there are no excuses for an angler whose pet river has been closed. In fact one Columbia tributary that never closes has produced something in the order of 16 thousand rod and reel caught steelhead in a season. The Columbia River has perhaps a hundred significant tributaries herself, most of which have runs. The steelhead counts on the Bonneville fish ladder during 2001 were up around 700,000 steelhead last I checked. You wouldn't have had any lack of fish to swing a fly at this year, that's for sure. And many of these are summer fish, short sleeves and dry flies for hot summer run steelhead. On top of that there are five species of salmon, sea run trout, and ocean fishing for numerous species but most uniquely the feeding salmon in the ocean on flies.

But I don't want to paint a rosy picture. Not withstanding 2001 returns, the Columbia produces only about 13% of it's salmonid on average when compared to runs during the 1930's, so the impact of our poor fish management practices is undeniable. But it's hard to say that the pacific northwest can be considered unworthy of a visit for an angling venue. All I ever need is the slightest excuse and I am there ;)

Call me a sentimentalist, but for me steelheading isn't about the fish. The magical Skagit and Sauk, Skykomish etc - are legendary places to be never mind fish for steelhead. Even when there are plenty of fish it's not an easy fishery, and even when the runs are down you still might hook a chrome freight train that jumps like a tarpon. When and if you catch up to it, you might find that it is a native, a fish whose years of it's ancestry in that river defies our mere comprehension, and that we had nothing to do with it's being there except for the privilege of the encounter before release to continue it's important calling upstream. It goes much, much deeper than sport. It's downright religious.

I care far more that we as a species are doing the best thing to ensure the welfare of the steelhead as a species than about my angling pleasure. For me it's not whether I get to fish or not, it's whether the steelhead thrives so that I can fish for them without it being a problem. If it is a problem, we should leave them alone.

Despite all that, I am admittedly also an avid sportsman. It's really great to hear that the steelhead are thriving in Lake Michigan tribs and I would really like to come experience this 120 year old wild run you have going. Apart from my passion for the fight for native steelhead in the PNW, I'm sure I would be thrilled to experience the Upper Peninsula winter runs and hope I get the opportunity soon. Thanks for the insightful information on the region. Hopefully we can 'hook up' sometime.

pmflyfisher 11-25-2001 12:03 PM


Thanks for the current insight on the PNW wild steelhead fishery and I agree with all of your comments. I can see you are very knowledgeable on this. When I fish the PNW again, it will not matter if I catch many fish. Just fishing those rivers and experiencing them after reading about them all of these years will be enough. By the way I have not kept a steelhead since the mid 1980's. Learning fly fishing on the first US no kill trout river (NYS - Beaverkill) in the 1960's instilled in me the catch and release ethics a long time ago. Hope the PNW state governments understand the issues at stake and act accordingly. Many more blue ribbon trout and salmon rivers through out the world need to be no kill in my opinion to save these wild resources for future generations. By the way is that 16K steelhead river the Chiliwack/Vedder in BC ? I fished there while on business in Vancouver in 1985. Not a bad river but I don't think I saw another fly fisher all day. Lots of Silex spin and float fisherman. Had a BC game warden which checked me for proper license and equipment 2 or 3 times that day. I was impressed, fished Michigan for 20 years and been checked twice for license and proper fly equipment. Not enough by any means with all of the other illegal fishing going on in that states blue ribbon trout and salmon streams. The illegal fishing really sickened me to the point where I don't even bother for the salmon any more. Just trout and steelhead and some stream smallmouth bass on the fly rod these days in Mid West.

Best Regards

juro 11-25-2001 12:28 PM

Ah the Vedder! There are folks on this board who can talk about the Vedder in detail.

The river I was referring to was the Cowlitz, once a magnificent river that must have been the equal of the great northern steelhead rivers before several dams truncated the great runs of salmon and steelhead to a largely hatchery driven facimile albeit the original strains are loosely perpetuated in the hatchery system. There are still many wild fish in the system with much free spawning in the mainstem, branches and tributaries but for the most part these fish have been drastically modified by Mayfield, Riffe and other giant dams.

These steelhead once made their way up to the gravel moraines that spill from the sides of the Cowlitz towers on the Mt. Rainier peak's fringe. Now they do not get any futher than the first barrier dam.

Once again as a sportsman I have battled many of the Cowlitz steelhead over the years and they are an impressive breed for one that has had to survive conversion into rearing ponds, but I have never visited that river without some contemplation on what she must have been like before the adulteration of dams and hatcheries.

Like the Vedder, many cringe at the sound of the name Cowlitz. In certain areas the concentration of anglers is literally shoulder to shoulder. These areas are the result of staging hatchery fish in the thousands concentrated in a single area, a situation created by man. Amazingly, the rest of the river is reasonably populated with anglers and very productive.

Looking beyond the situation that we have created, the river is an amazing, robust, big river that in another context would be considered one of the legendary rivers of our time, had we not messed it up. Still it kicks out incredible numbers of fish as if to defy all the abuse. More than any other in the state in fact. You can't blame the river for her current state, she does her part to produce. It's likely that she will never run free from the headwaters again, sadly.

I hear fom Sean that the Elwha project is going to be moving ahead soon...

sean 11-25-2001 12:47 PM

I guess the elwha project is not going ahead as quickly as I thought but 2004 is not that far off.

It sure is a pretty river and will be interesting to see how quickly the fish stocks recover. Hopefully they do rebound quickly and will be a catalyst to get other needless dams removed.


pmflyfisher 11-25-2001 02:11 PM

Juro, yes have heard of the Cowlitz and its crowds and fish. Elway also, but did not realize it was in such a bad shape due to the dams. In ways I am glad I donot live in the PNW seeing the ways they have neglected these great natural resources for future generations. I can't see why more people cannot accept no kill fisheries through out the U.S. and the preservation of wild fish. I guess we are the minority. Getting some great links from this site, to gain further knowledge on the PNW fisheries. Have to do your research before fishing unknown rivers and the web has certainly helped all of us in that way. The Ruddick fly shop in Vancouver pointed me to the Vedder thinking that would be the river with the most fish and easiest for me to access and fly fish. Really wanted to go to the Squamish but trying to drive that 2 lane road north out of Vancouver to it, in a snow and ice storm in a rental car changed my mind. Saw several cars into the rock walls, and said to much risk here for me, BC steelhead chance or not. Turned around, went back to Vancouver, and went skiing instead. Next weekend went to the Vedder for two days in another snow storm ;)

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