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Summer steelhead in March? Rare but true

I'm a fan of your Oregon Outdoors section, and since it's been raining pretty much nonstop this winter, I've been reading about steelhead more than actually fishing for them. I keep noticing in your fishing report that summer steelhead continue to be counted at Cole Rivers Hatchery. But we're in the middle of the winter steelhead run. Isn't it possible that the hatchery folks are miscounting winter steelhead as summer steelhead? It's awfully late for summer steelhead.

J.R., Medford

We at Since You Asked Central are in the same boat as you, J.R., the one parked in the driveway full of rainwater because the Rogue River has been so darn high this year from what seems like perpetual rain.

We've also been wondering why summer steelhead keep showing up with winter steelhead in the weekly counts in the hatchery's collection pond each Wednesday.

Turns out, those really are summer steelhead, and they are trickling in almost a month longer than last year, says Dave Pease, the hatchery's manager.

"I really expected it to be done by now," Pease says. "But I looked into the collection pond (Thursday) and already there were a couple in there.

"It should trickle out in the next couple of weeks," Pease says.

It's easier than you think to tell the difference between a summer steelhead and a winter steelhead in March, Pease says.

The summer steelhead are either super-skinny and dark from having already spawned or they're so ripe that the females shoot out loose eggs when you pick them up, according to Pease. The winter steelhead are beefier, brighter and their bodies more firm because they're just getting into spawning mode.

Unlike salmon, steelhead can survive a spawn, return to the ocean and come back to the river as part of future runs.

Most of the late summer steelhead are hatchery fish, but five of the 23 summer steelhead counted at the hatchery last week were wild. That's even easier to denote because hatchery steelhead have their adipose fin clipped.

Pease says he doesn't know why summer steelhead are matriculating late to the hatchery, but it could be the volume of water that's kept you and your steelhead-fishing brethren at home, J.R.

— 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. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.