WEAVERVILLE, Calif. — The last several years, salmon and steelhead season has been ho-hum on the Trinity River. It hasn't been bad enough to deter people from coming altogether; however, it's been disappointing. Expectations haven't been met.
On the other hand, early indications hint that the steelhead may stand taller this year. In early October, Trinity River guides saw a greater-than-normal presence of steelhead in the system.
In addition, guides on the lower river near the Klamath Glen area reported excellent numbers of fish in August and September.
"The steelhead fishing was phenomenal on the lower river this year," said guide Wally Johnson.
"And those fish are now heading into the Trinity and upper Klamath."
Steelhead have been creeping into the system since late July and milling around in the Lower Klamath. However, the time has come for them to migrate up the system.
"Fish and Game sure got it wrong this year," adds guide Mick Thomas.
"The salmon and steelhead fishing on the Lower Klamath was great. And, the size of the steelhead was incredible. We consistently caught fish to 12 pounds."
And, for a change, so did other guides. Reports across the board were consistent.
Anglers were terrified that this year's salmon and steelhead run on the Klamath and Trinity would be one of the worse since we've been alive. And, the Sacramento River's run was slated to be one of the best in decades. Ironically, the opposite happened.
"This is great," said Liam Gogan of Trinity River Outfitters (530-623-6224). "We've been catching the steelhead for a few weeks now."
The message and early indicators hint towards a better-than-normal run of steelhead on the Trinity.
At press time the Lower Trinity on up to roughly Douglas City already had sufficient numbers of steelhead. By the time this hits your mailbox it's likely the entire system will harbor fish.
"What I'm really excited about is the quality of fish we are seeing already," said Gogan, who's seen fish to 12 pounds on the upper end.
"I think the average fish is a pound or two bigger than we've seen in recent years."
Anglers can expect to hook mostly 3 to 6-pound steelhead. However, it's fairly common already this year to hook at least one steelhead in the 5 to 9-pound class.
Keep in mind the Trinity isn't normally a river that yields trophy steelhead. A 10-pound fish is a hog here.
"What's good about this river is that we don't see a lot of half- pounders," Gogan said. "You'll catch a lot of good fish."
October is considered the beginning of the steelhead run on the Trinity. Historically, fish move in now and tend to establish themselves through early November. November and December are excellent months to fish. January and February can be good, depending on weather.
The steelhead are confined to specific zones of water. On the other hand, after major winter storms move in, the river swells and tributaries pump more water and sediment into the system spreading the steelhead out.
"Personally, I think you'll catch more fish in the fall before the storms come, because the fish are confined to small areas," Gogan said.
"Once the river rises after a big storm they spread out all over and you have to fish more areas to get bit."
Makes sense. "The water is low. Think about it this way. Say the river is a half-mile long and you have 100,000 gallons of water. When the river rises you'll have 200,000 gallons of water in which the fish can go," Gogan said.
"When it's low it's predictable like it is now. Don't get the wrong idea. Fishing doesn't get bad when the river rises. It's not that you won't catch fish, because you will, the numbers just will drop a little bit."
Therefore, October and November is prime time to venture to Trinity County. It's a time of year when reading water isn't a challenge.
"Usually, we are finding the fish in 3 to 6 feet of water. It's slightly moving water. It doesn't have to be very fast. Honestly, kind of the slower the better, but you want the water to still be moving," Gogan adds.
"I'm looking for bottom structure with anywhere from softball to basketball size rocks and preferably I'd like to fish somewhere behind some salmon redds."
Find that water and there's no doubt there should be a steelhead there. Gogan believes that plugs, roe and flies are effective in the fall. There's no need to bring along anything else.
"You can fish a little bit more water with the flies, but plugs are always productive," Gogan said.
"Fly fishing for steelhead in California has become so popular. Ten years ago I was doing 10 percent of my trips with fly fishermen and now it's 90 percent."
When it comes to flies Gogan utilizes size 10-14 Copper Johns, Golden Stones and any egg patterns such as an Egg Sucking Leech, Glo Bugs and assortments of yarns and beads.
"I put scent on my Glo Bugs, but not the flies," Gogan said.
"It could be shrimp flavored. It could be anything. I use the smells more to mask my order, although I do feel they do attract fish."
Not everyone is a fly angler. And, fortunately, you don't need to be able to swing a fly to cash in on the action.
A size 30 or 35 Hot Shot or the Brad's Lil Wiggler is a mainstay here.
"I could never run a plug in frog water where I cast flies sometimes," Gogan said.
"To run those plugs you need a longer stretch of water to run it. You can work pocket water with flies that you can't with plugs."
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