Last Thursday night, I headed up to the Trinity River to go steelhead fishing. I met Tim and his friend James in Williams, where we parked my car and continued in James’ SUV to Steiner Flat campground, near Douglas City. We stayed for three nights, so we had a full two and a half days on the river. It’s a long way from San Francisco, but very much worth the drive. This is Part Five because I’ve done a similar trip several times before, but never with this much success.
In recent years, steelhead fishing has become the ultimate angler’s challenge for me. It’s a whole different game than trout fishing. With trout, you have some idea where the fish will hold in a river, based on where they will find food and protection from predators.
Trout will often find a niche and stay there. Steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout, but they behave like salmon, migrating downstream to the ocean where they live for several years before returning to their birthplace to spawn. When they are moving upriver, they are not actively feeding, nor are they holding in one place. Finding the fish becomes fairly difficult, and getting them to bite even more so.
Given the rarity of success, steelhead anglers adopt certain mantras. Steelhead are believed to have a prodigious sense of smell, perhaps even better than that of trout. Rainy weather just before fishing is good, as it causes an increase in flows that breaks the sandbar at the ocean and brings the scent of the spawning grounds to the steelhead waiting to run upstream. Overcast weather helps keep the fisherman less visible while casting. An early start is best, and most fish are caught before the sun hits the water. There seems to be some truth to these beliefs, but following them will not guarantee success. As James said, “you can’t catch the fish if your fly’s not in the water.” Whatever the facts, fighting a steelhead is an epic experience, one that keeps me coming back even when I strike out.
I caught three adult steelhead, one on each day, which is the most I’ve caught in one trip. Before this trip, I had only caught one.