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Experts know fish from fish

I read in your Fishing Report each week that the guys at Cole Rivers Hatchery collected such and such number of summer steelhead and 10 or so winter steelhead. They're catching them at the same time in the same pen. How are they sure they can tell the difference between a summer steelhead and a winter steelhead?

— Anonymous coffee shop rant

Now, before we answer your question, Anon, we just want to make it clear that we're fair game to be questioned about anything if you spy us out and about. The coffee shop is fine, but please don't interrupt us at the gym, because if we lose count on the crunch table, we have to start all over again, and that's not very neighborly.

That said, Cole Rivers Hatchery Manager David Pease says he and the technicians who sort Rogue River steelhead that enter the hatchery's collection pond are pretty well-schooled in telling the difference between the two.

First, the winter steelhead are larger and brighter than summer steelhead captured in January or February, Pease says. Also, the condition of the fish is a clear giveaway. Early-run winter steelhead are a few months away from spawning, so they are far firmer than summer steelhead, which by now could be leaking eggs or milt when handled.

It's not real scientific, but it's pretty darn reliable, Pease says.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.