Steelhead start to show along coastal rivers

Jim Rawson Chetco Steelhead
Jim Rawson holds a nice Chetco River steelhead

Heavy rains in December brought anticipation for early steelhead and as some have shown, the numbers look low to start. It came as a surprise that steelhead were not in every pool after such a strong start to winter and rivers were in good condition for the new year.

It is still early in the season but coastal rivers from the San Lorenzo to the Oregon boarder have been in prime shape to fish for a couple weeks and the counts do not look high so far. I always start getting my steelhead gear together after the winter solstice and figure the first week of January kicks the steelhead season off. This year I followed suit and have fished locally as well as the Eel, Smith and Chetco River in Oregon. I feel fortunate to have put my hand on several steelhead in the process of releasing them but was surprised at the level of effort and hours it took. My story is not the only as the American River hatchery has the lowest return in many years so far, as well as the Hatchery at Warm Springs on the Russian River. Angler surveys done from word of mouth to forum boards seem the same; zero to 2 fish a day is the norm while fishing in beautiful river conditions. I have to remind myself “if you catch one or two steelhead that’s a good day”.

January has proved fairly dry so far and many rivers are in need of a fresh rain. The San Lorenzo is open as per the regulations and schedule; Wednesdays Sat, and Sundays including legal holidays. The flow is down to 40 cubic feet per second and has produced very few steelhead for the people trying. The San Lorenzo could also use more rain and fishes well around 100 cubic feet per second.

Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project met at the Rubber Dam in Felton to coordinate these seasons’ efforts for the collection of brood stock steelhead. The Project is ramping up with upgraded equipment at the Big Creek Hatchery location to handle these steelhead and collect eggs for future stocks. The adult steelhead eggs are harvested and then the adults are released back into the San Lorenzo system. The project can host up to 40,000 juveniles, after they are raised to smolt stage they are released into the San Lorenzo a year later.

With the hope of more rain many more steelhead should be showing up. Remember to turn in last years steelhead report cards by the end of January and replace it with this year’s card. Handle these magnificent fish with care and check the regulations before you go.

Article- Mike Baxter

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