An Eco-Rock Opera


In the spring of 2017, I researched and wrote a story for "American Angler" on the plight of wild steelhead in the Columbia Basin, which impacts Oregon, Washington and Idaho. As a die-hard Deschutes River steelhead angler, I was aware that runs were shrinking—but had no idea conditions were so dire. Like so many of the world's environmental woes, most of the factors impacting the well-being of wild steelhead have been instigated by humans. The Last Steelhead attempts to explore some of these factors, a bit of their history, and the attitudes surrounding our behaviors and policies that seem to be standing in the way of taking meaningful action to prevent another extinction. It's my opinion that by using the best available science and re-directing resources accordingly, we can avoid a future without wild steelhead…and The Last Steelhead will be just a piece of music, not an ecological statistic.


--Chris Santella

Migratory fish face a variety of challenges to their health and survival. Please read more about the issues and what you can do to improve our rivers for the benefit of all.


  • 01. Steelhead

    Steelhead Sunlight on the river, winding through painted hills

    Clear, clean water, flowing through my gills

    I've been this way just once before, but I know where I'm going

    The taste of the water guides me back where I come from


    I'm a Steelhead, fighting up the river

    I'm a Steelhead, heading back where I was born

    I'm a Steelhead…. going home.


    There's danger for me everywhere, as I struggle on my way

    But I'm a survivor, I'll fight and live another day

    Battling 'gainst the current, or resting in a seam

    Returning to my spawning ground, is my only dream


    Strong, sleek and silver, I'm a wonder of the sea

    See me in my river you can glimpse eternity


    Ancient times have made me what I am today

    Instinct drives me inland to my future come what may

    If'n I don't make it home, I fear I might die alone

    No progeny to swim another day.


  • 02. Projections

    Projections are in

    And the news ain’t good

    Returns are down

    The fish aren’t coming back the way they should


    At the current rate

    They could all be gone

    Steelhead extinct

    A loss we cannot grasp -- so what went wrong?


    Lewis and Clark called them the white salmon

    Floating the undammed river they swam in

    Dinner, sport -- a whole industry

    Don’t they have a right – a right just to be?


    Do we close it up?

    Nets and rods away

    What a holy mess

    Whatever course we take we’re sure to pay.

    Whatever course we take we’re sure to pay.


  • 03. Life Starts Here

    Clouds of dust

    Rise about us as we crawl

    Into the canyon far below

    Desert pinstripes

    Etched upon my doors

    Battle scars that few will know


    Twenty years

    I’ve been driving down this road

    Searching for a silver ghost

    Waste of time

    The unannointed say

    For us it’s time that matters most


    Life starts here

    As we cross over the tracks

    Slide down the bank where waters roll

    Life starts here

    Where  problems fade away

    And normal life can’t take its toll


    Stepping in

    At Bathtub #1

    Check my knots and change the fly

    Peeling off

    Loops and loops of line

    Send it off into the sky


    Shadows fall

    Across the canyon walls

    Take a step and cast again

    Current slows

    And line comes quickly tight

    Like shaking hands with a dear friend

    I’m shaking hands with a dear friend


  • 04. Power

    There was power in the notion

    Bringing jobs to the depressed

    There was power in the concrete

    A million cubic ton bequest


    There was power in the planning

    For a modern new Northwest

    There was power in the government

    Telling Indians what was best


    There was power in the water

    Churning westward to the sea

    There was power in the power

    Generated almost free


    There was power in irrigation

    Bringing deserts into bloom

    There was power in the smelters

    Winning wars with aluminum

    There was power in the hatcheries

    Replacing what was lost

    There was power in the engineers

    Remaking nature at a cost


    There was power in propaganda

    Making white seem just like black

    There was power in momentum

    Once it’s moving you can’t push back


    The fish didn’t have the power

    The fish didn’t have the power

    The fish didn’t have the power


    No, the fish didn’t have no power.


  • 05. Putting More In

    Putting more in, getting more out

    Putting more in, getting more out


    Clip, clip clippin’ those fins all day

    Clippin’ those fins at the hatchery

    Into the pen and out to the sea

    Our half-tame half-wild progeny

    A good idea once long ago

    Make your own fish and help them grow

    A little bit in and a big return

    So many fish you got fish to burn


    Putting more in, getting more out

    Putting more in, getting more out


    The eggheads say our fish are poison

    Foul up the gene pools, take up space

    One fish is just like the other

    Can’t tell the difference face to face


    Clip, clip clippin’ those fins away

    So license buyers can go and play

    Fish on the bank, fish in the well

    Fish on the barbecue sure tastes swell

    Fewer come back so we put more in

    The cycle goes on again and again

    Big money goes to the farming

    Very little thought to the harming

    Big money goes to the farming

    Very little thought to the harming


  • 06. Believe (Hard Science)

    You believe that hatchery fish are identical to wild specimens

    You believe that there’s no difference in their genetics or ability to survive in the wild

    You believe that hatcheries are the best hope for putting more fish back into our rivers

    You believe that rivers can support infinite numbers of fish – both in terms of food and spawning habitat

    You believe that cats are not an invasive species and don’t harm birds – especially not yours

    You believe that vaccines cause autism and to hell with kids that might catch measles from yours

    You believe that facts are at worst nonexistent and at best malleable to conform to your perspective

    You do not believe in science


    Why – do you deny science?

    What – do you fail to comprehend?

    The methods don’t affirm a point of view

    They’re cold calculus to find what’s true

    Why, why, why why do you deny science?


    Why – do you disbelieve science?

    What – does your worldview portend?

    Confusing facts with just the way you feel

    Doesn’t add up to an honest deal

    Why, why, why why do you deny science?

    Why, why, why why do you deny science?

    Why, why, why why…do you deny science?


  • 07. Nets

    As a boy I watched my father and my uncles working mending up their nets

    To make some extra money off the salmon to help pay off their debts

    Those sunny summer Sundays near the river I won’t ever forget

    Stopping off for soft-serve ice cream before they’d head back out to set the nets.


    My ancestors spent winters just waiting for the salmon to arrive

    The fish stretched on forever but they only took enough to stay alive

    But then the whites arrived with modern canning plants and fish wheels in the air

    The market died and interests went to logging and no one seemed to care


    We do not live in teepees or ply the mighty river in canoes

    We don’t tend to wear moccasins but work boots and hightop Nike shoes

    But in the spring when fish return our neighbors all come out to dance and feast

    We speak the ancient prayers, bake the salmon, turn the fish heads to the east.


    Celilo Falls were gone a long, long time before I took in my first breath

    For the natives rising waters were a senseless, cruel and slowly lingering death

    With our dip nets and our drift nets we still can harvest salmon now and then

    But now to save some steelhead they’ll take it all away – another treaty broken once again.


  • 08. Fisherman Joe

    What are you drinkin’, Fisherman Joe

    Jack in front and a Bud below

    Let me buy a round and hear your river tales

    I can tell just by your clothes

    You fly-fish and think I’m slow

    And you probably drink only micro-ales


    I suppose your dad fished too

    Was a family thing to do

    Even though the stocks were steeply in decline


    Never thought to change your course

    Habit proved a potent force

    Now you’re posing as a victim of our times.


    True I didn’t go past tenth grade

    Saw the living my dad made

    Liked the thought of working outside on my own


    You have no clue what it’s like

    On the river late at night

    When the clouds explode and the mighty west winds moan.


    The seine nets can’t be dropped forever

    If there aren’t still fish left to swim

    Even fly rods will have to go away

    Once the returns become so grim


    What are you thinking, Fisherman Joe

    It’s getting’ time to head back home

    Get some sleep before your next big fish assault


    Doubt we ever will agree

    Bout the future, you and me

    It will always seem to be the other’s fault

    It will always seem to be the other’s fault


  • 09. 4 H's

    The Four H’s

    It’s not ribbons and cows

    It’s all about extinction

    And just exactly how



    It’s drift nets and dip nets

    And spinners, spoons and flies

    Pull fish out of the water

    They gasp until they die.

    There’s always been some harvest

    By humans, birds and seals

    But humans changed the balance

    They’ve taken too much yield.



    The dams came up and

    The fish couldn’t get around

    Ten million year-old salmon runs

    Run right into the ground

    Some fish get up the ladders

    And make it home to spawn

    But little steelhead heading out

    Hit turbines and are gone



    Livin’ in a concrete pen

    Ain’t livin’ in the wild

    You breed a lesser animal

    Less likely to survive

    The few that come back take up space

    On native spawning redds

    And water down the gene pool

    If any smolt are bred



    You can lead a cow to water

    But you can’t make ‘em drink

    They’ll surely trample all the banks

    Til spawning grounds just stink

    And every new development

    Sucks river water out

    You might have greener fairways

    You won’t have steelhead trout


    The Four H’s

    It’s hard to say what’s worse

    Like cancer or a heart attack

    Each one’s a special curse

    It’s hard to fight the battle

    Sometimes it’s hard to care

    But these fish are worth fighting for

    And there’s no time to spare

    But these fish are worth fighting for

    And there’s no time to spare


  • 10. What Does It Matter

    What does it matter if a fish I’ve never seen

    Vanishes away

    My life will go on pretty much the same

    If it swims or goes astray

    Then again – that’s a pretty selfish way to see

    The world – it’s a bigger place than you and me


    They say there’s a tapestry of life

    That holds us all in place

    Just how a creature here impacts a creature there

    Isn’t clear – it’s a partial leap of faith

    Short-term – things probably won’t change

    Long-term – our existence could get strange


    What does it matter if a fish I’ve never seen

    Vanishes away

    I guess the world becomes a slightly smaller place

    A Technicolor palette turning gray

    What to do – write a letter to my congressman

    Or cry – because the fish have all but died.


    What does it matter?

    What does it matter?

    What does it matter?

    What does it matter?


  • 11. Steelhead Redux

    They say my race is shrinking, my future is unknown

    Concrete blocks my rivers, keeps me from my home

    Nets and lures must be dodged, hatchery fish avoided

    No one in the larger world even knows my plight


    I’m a Steelhead, fighting up the river

    I’m a Steelhead, heading back where I was born

    I’m a Steelhead….  going home.


    Whether I’ll come back again, it’s really hard to say

    Science has the answers but no one wants to pay

    Compromises must be forged to help me stay alive

    But given at least half a chance odds are that I will thrive


    I’m a steelhead, fighting up the river

    I’m a steelhead, heading back where I was born

    I’m a steelhead…going home.

    Going home.

    Going home.


©The Conservation Angler (TCA), a subsidiary of Wild Salmon Rivers (WSR) 2017 // Websystem design and hosting provided by WolfPk.