By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Tie your flies and ready your forks. Steelhead and salmon are running five times stronger than last year.

Its starting off as a good year. It could drop off, but it doesnt look like it will, said Bob Will, manager of the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery in Smith River.

Will said if the rain brings up the water level in local streams and rivers, the fishing should be better than it has been in years.

Last year at this time, only nine Steelhead males were caught in the hatcherys trap and only two females were used for spawning.

This year 48 males have come in and 11 females were saved for their eggs.

And this is only the beginning of the season. Between November and March, salmonids come into Rowdy Creek and Smith River from the ocean to spawn. Will said most of the fish come up in January, so the numbers will keep climbing.

Roughly 3,000 eggs are harvested from each female. Of those, about 2,700 become fish.

Only a fraction of those make it back from the ocean.

It costs us about 48 cents to produce a yearling at the hatchery. So few come back that when a fisherman catches one it actually costs $10, Will said.

What happens to the steelhead that dont make it back?

They got eaten its survival of the fittest out there, he said.

Sharks, bigger salmon, last years steelhead and sometimes bottom fish feed on the yearlings, which are about 6-inches long.

In turn, steelhead yearlings do a lot of eating themselves. During the average two year stint in the Pacific, the young fish go from four ounces to nine pounds.

Besides anchovies and smelt, salmon and steelhead eat anything they can get their mouth around, Will said, including their brothers and sisters.

He said if you watch the fingerling tanks long enough, its easy to spot a baby steelhead with someone elses tail sticking out of his mouth.

The one that learned how to eat his brother or sister is the one thats going to be big, Will added.

Hatchery fish make up about 25 percent of the total salmon and steelhead catch. Hatchery fish are identified by the absence of their adipose fin, the one on the top side of their body, half-way between the dorsal and tail fins.

Rowdy Creek hatchery is looking for volunteers to help clip adipose fins on this years crop. Resident biologist, Andy Van Scoyk said they have about 120,000 little fish to clip.

Its quite the big job, he added.