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Whitefish or steelhead?

1316 Views 4 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Vic
There is plenty of 14"-16" fish in N.F.Stilly . And I thought they was a steelhead... But one guy explained they was not steelhead! but whitefish. They are everywhere in slow pools with sandy and muddy bottom. And they look like feeding on the bottom. But some of them look bigger, maybe even 3-4 pounds. So I'm totally confused. Can whitefish reach such size? Or was it steelhead? Steelhead usually seek protection near rocks but these fishes lying on the sand. So what they are?
p.s.I have never seen live whitefish but smoked are good ones :)
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Vic -

To tell the difference between summer steelhead and whitefish is easy - one takes you into the backing in the blink of an eye, jumping 5 feet into the air, and puts a lump in your throat. Whitefish.... dont. }>

Seriously, you will eventually be able to tell real quickly by a number of things. First of all, it's hard to see the shadow of suckers (which are probably the big ones you see) and other so-called coarse fish on the bottom below the fish, but it's easy to see the steelhead's shadow.

Bright steelhead (and salmon) have an almost luminous silver glow on the fringes of their bodies that is unmistakable, coarse species don't.

But once you spend time staring at them for a while you will be able to tell just by looking at the shape, fins distribution and even the way they move.

If I am not mistaken this is a humpy year and I am surprised you are not talking about many different species being packed like sardines in a pool.

For an example of comparing steelhead to other fish visually, I would suggest the Oso railroad bridge on the Stilly.
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I don't know what is "sucker" 'cause I'm from Russia :)
I think they are relatives of carp family.
I sure these fishes I observed close from shore had adipose fins. That's why I'm guess they was whitefish or another salmon family members. But it's hard to tell them from the bridge - all they look like gray shadows in the bottom and there was big and small ones, and probably different species
Hi Vic,

Were you looking down from the Cicero Bridge on the NF Stilly?? I used to have the same dilemma when trying to spot steelhead from that same spot.

I'm guessing what you are seeing is suckers - they look like big fat dark whitefish, only bigger. The whites only get to about 20" (that I've seen), but I know some of the Suckers I've seen in that pool were 5-6lbs and there are plenty of them in the deeper holes in the NF Stilly.

The way I finally was able to distinguish them is that they have a very small head and are noticably wider at the pectoral fins (wedge-shaped). Summer steelhead are much more streamlined.

A funny story from my Stilly days - we'd spotted several steelhead in the rocks early one Saturday morning and had quietly sneaked into position beneath the railroad bridge to cast to them. As I worked out my 2nd cast into the run, there was a thunderous splash just upstream of my line. When I finally recovered from the shock, I heard laughter from above and watched as the brave little XXXX who'd jumped in surfaced and swam to shore.
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Today I've learned how to differ steelhead form suckers! :)
It was so funny... if you look upstream from railroad bridge there is a fast and deep run in the left side... and I watched fishermen how he worked thru this run. I spot big steelhead (don't know how big... but much more bigger than those suckers in the pool near). As Juro said the shadow was very clear to see and moved when fish was changing position. I tried to point fishermen to the fish but he didn't hear me... And he missed that fish. That's great idea - work in pairs :) Later I talked with him and he said he already hooked one fish this day on dry fly! Lucky guy... maybe he is one of you and reads this message board too? :)
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