He grandly ignored the fact that he had not been hired as a policy maker. He rebelled against the idea of stocking streams with small trout when—or so he raptly believed—it was possible to cheaply stock thousands of big ones. He believed that in stocking steelhead it might be possible to ignore one awful limiting factor which has hampered fish culturists since the beginning—that there is just so much feed in any given stream or lake and that they will support just so many fish.
STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE
The steelhead, Pautzke reasoned, gets its growth at sea where feed is limitless. It is so fat and strong once it returns to its home stream it can go for months on a starvation diet, and like the Atlantic salmon it returns to the sea after spawning to eat and grow again. A steelhead spawned naturally in the gravel beds of a river is subject, it is true, to all the trials and difficulties of other trout, for it must struggle for existence in the stream for two years before it grows large enough to migrate. But what if steelhead eggs were artificially hatched and the tiny fish were raised and fed in rearing ponds until they were big enough for the downstream journey? Wouldn't they go to sea immediately? And, if so, why couldn't they be stocked, literally by the millions, and still be expected to return huge and full of fight after their ocean sojourn?
The answer, time has proved, is a stirring one: an astounding 15% come back, no matter how many are planted. But the answer was a long time in coming. When Pautzke began his crusade, the life cycle of the steelhead was a mystery. With another biologist named Robert Meigs (who has worked with him throughout the steelhead program) he spent years simply learning the basic facts of the big trout's existence. In 1939, however, he planted a crop of tagged 7�-inch fish in the Green River (its catch has risen from 1,800 to 12000 fish since) and, in 1940, got big fish back.
But Pautzke still had a long way to go. For one thing, World War II intervened and he went into the Navy as a chief petty officer. For another, Pautzke decided he had to change the habits and philosophy of all the trout fishermen in the state. "A lot of people had sentimental ideas about fishing a babbling stream and catching little 6- to 9-inch rainbow or brook trout. We were developing a put-and-take fishery. I wanted to concentrate on steelhead and let nature pay for rearing big fish instead." He also wanted—despite vehement opposition—to keep fishermen off streams until June because his little steelhead went downstream in April and May and were being hooked by the thousands on the way.
To lure the stream fishermen away from his babies he saw to it that 10- to 15-inch trout were stocked in scores of lakes. He made endless speeches. He was heckled. One night he saw red. He took off his coat. "All right, you guys!" he bellowed. "I may not be any damn good as a speaker but I can fight. If you don't listen, every damned one of you is going to find it out. Now either shut up or take off your coats and line up." Silence fell. He spoke. He was cheered.
Meanwhile, in an old rainbow trout hatchery on Chambers Creek near Tacoma, Pautzke and Co. were not only raising tens of thousands of baby steelhead but developing bigger and bigger strains of fish. In 1950 he planted seven rivers. In 1953 he planted 760,000 7�-inch fingerlings in 35 rivers. Last year he dumped a million small steelheads into the same streams. The results were electrifying.
The winter steelheader hunts his fish in deep runs of water which move at the speed of a walking man—three or four miles an hour. He must do so at long range—by casting a hook imbedded in a clot of salmon eggs or a round red wood and metal lure known as a cherry bobber across the stream and letting it drift gently on the bottom in a long arc. It is a frustrating process, for the steelhead usually stops the bait gently rather than striking it. Endless rocks and snags stop it too and the sensations are similar; when the fish were few, men sometimes invested years of patient misery in learning to hook and land one. But in the last two years old-time fishermen have sometimes gained the impression that the fish were hungrily stalking them.
In 1947-48 a total of 18,964 fishermen caught 22,757 steelhead. Last year, fired by the news of Pautzke's silvery bonanza, 89,350 fishermen thronged the streams. They were rewarded by 162,550 big trout. This year more than 100,000 people have caught the craze; by the end of this month they will probably have caught 200,000 fish. Last week in western Washington the steelhead was a hotter topic of conversation than Marilyn Monroe, the University of Washington basketball team or the murder of Serge Rubinstein. The state legislature talked excitedly of naming a "state fish"—the steelhead. The State of Oregon and the Province of British Columbia were preparing to follow in Pautzke's footsteps.