Saturday, May 21, 2011

Skamania

In the late 1800's fate would see the first Great Lakes steelhead introduced into Michigan's Ausable River.  Shortly after organized stocking were taking place throughout the great lakes.  Agencies across the states and provinces of the Great Lakes began their Steelhead programs.  The origins of the brood stock were primarily from key West Coast systems chosen for genetics.  These initial programs and stocking were to develop into distinctive modern day Great Lakes Steelhead strains.  Some of today's better known or more sought after Great Lakes Genetics include the Michigan or Little Manistee strain and Ontario's famed Ganaraska Strain.  By the mid to late 1900's  the states and province of Ontario had established programs and a somewhat self sustaining Wild Steelhead population with annual returns of huge proportions.  The programs were a tremendous success with well established populations and distinctive regional genetics.  The fishery was however primarily a spring, fall and winter fishery.  Enter the skamania.  In 1971 the visionaries of the Indiana DNR sought a strain of steelhead that entered the rivers in the early summer months.  A summer run if you will.  Their search lead them to Washington's Skamania Hatchery which had a successful summer run steelhead program in play on the Washougal River... a Columbia River Tributary.  Their intent was to provide shore anglers with an almost year round near shore fishery.  The summer run genetics would compliment the Michigan strain and Wisconsin strain currently being stocked by the state.  Initially the program was met with limited success but the Skamania's adaptability to hatchery rearing and the commitment of the Indiana DNR to the program eventually led to a world class Great Lakes fishery.  By 1982 the rivers of Indiana were experiencing healthy annual summer runs and today is the premier destination for the Summer Run Great Lakes Steelhead fishery.  Along the way the state of Michigan also attempted their own Skamania program but it too was met with initial mediocre success.  This accompanied wtih the fear of compromising the more favourable "Little Manistee" genetics let to the decision to abandon the program almost completely.  Currently only two rivers in the state of Michigan get annual plantings of Skamania.  One being the St Joe and the second  being the Big Manistee.  A private club from Ontario with assistance from the MNR also embarked on a limited Skamania program.  Stragglers from Michigans programs found their way into Ontario's Saugeen River.  Here along with assistance from the MNR a private club harvested eggs for their own impromptu Skamania program.  For 8 years the program showed signs of potential but the successful returns quickly dwindled and the program was abandoned.  To this day some stragglers or strays from Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin find their way into Lake Huron Tribs.

If you have ever had the privilege to tangle with a Skamania you will know of their raw brute strength and affinity for air time.  Characteristically long lean and slender these fish do not shy themselves from breaking the surface in multiple aerobatic tumbles testing ones nerves and gear.  Their fight is quite simply unforgettable and at times so intense successful release of these fish is not an option.  Lactic acid build up in the seasonally warmer water pretty much renders these fish as table fare.  Personally, aside from recent years limited Big Manistee catches. I can only recall one Lake Huron accomplishment.  Many describe these fish as extremely long, slender giants with big heads and giant googly eyes.  The one I encountered most certainly met the criteria as she taped out at 34" with all other characteristics matching the ID.  She was caught on a smaller Huron system and thankfully so as the limited pool size only helped my case and eventually led to a subsequent landing.  I can say without any doubt that this fish would have most likely found freedom within moments on a larger system.  Nonetheless we had the pleasure of the experience and  an encounter I will never forget.

As of recent I have found myself away from the river and thinking about future opportunity for the 2011 calendar year.  With the acquisition of the cabin in Wellston and the proximity to one of Michigan's only two stocked Skamania Rivers my curiosity went into overdrive.  It would only be foolish to overlook this opportunity and more foolish to go into it blind so my quest began.  As you have just read the research has been compiled and a game plan has been formulated.  Now it is up to Mother nature and fate.  Hopefully I will have some reports of successes in the coming months along with some stellar images of chrome missiles.
These fish will certainly put the new Imperial through the paces and provide a much needed injection of chrome during the summer months.

7 comments:

Harv said...

"long, slender giants with big heads and giant googly eyes..."

huh - I think I am going to start calling you 'skammie'....

I can recall catching a few of these in the summer months trolling Georgian Bay out of Owen Sound - damn things would literally almost jump in the boat with you!!

Trotsky said...

Both you guys are stunned...
I have a long slender giant with a big head hanging between my legs..
I wonder if it is a "Skammy"...Maybe you could catch it on the "Geener" or the "Maity"....
POS

Steeliemax said...

I,ve had the pleasure of catching one a few years back on the Maitland. It was 32 inches and weighed 12lbs. biggest rainbow i have caught to date. It was a silver bullet. Love to tie into another one of these beast some day

GT said...

Thanks for the education Brian. I got one in the Saugeen back in the the early 90's. Incerdible and I found it odd that a " pre-fall" runner was so skinny. I have not encounterd nor seen another since.

Angling Obsession said...

Awesome. Looking forward to seeing some summer chrome.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info Brian. These truely are a great fish to catch. I have a place north of St. Joe Michigan and these fish are running at my local pier right now. I have been so lucky as to catch 3 of these fighters in under 2 hours off the pier. I have caught many over the years and cant wait to get after them every year. These are the best tasting of all the trout and salmon in the lake.

Mark Gibbons said...

Mjgfisher i rember one in the mid 80s ,it jump of the cedar hole on the nine mile on to the claybank ,only to flip back in the hole and ran right back at me ,under attack ,shit you not, it spent more time out of the water rolling and twisting ,when it finished it leaped on to the other side of the river bank across from the first claybank moment ,it was wound up in two pound Garcia royal bonanly tippet twice ,wrapped in front of and just beyond the pec. fin! It wasnt huge but about 8 lbs ,i wasnt sure of the type for a year or so than i realized from Michigans Fins And Feathers Mag it was a silver bullet .I kid you not ,it was on the riverside motel in southampton wall for years ,not there now ,they closed down . One of the rewarding fights you love to talk about !