[env-trinity] Big Steelhead Runs Return to Trinity River Hatchery
danielbacher at hotmail.com
Sat Feb 5 13:17:21 PST 2005
Big Steelhead Runs Return to Trinity River Hatchery
by Dan Bacher
The Trinity River Fish Hatchery received its largest return ever of
steelhead in 2003-2004 and this is shaping up to be another good season,
though not as spectacular as last year.
The hatchery took in an amazing 10,283 fish last winter. This is
dramatically higher than the previous high run, 6,941 fish in 1964-65.
Weve seen 4,486 fish this season and are still expecting more to arrive in
the coming weeks, said Laird Marshall, hatchery manager. This is five
times our normal run. The run was also very good in 2002-2003, when we took
in 6,193 fish, our third largest run ever.
Possible reasons for the high numbers of returning steelhead include
favorable ocean water and forage conditions and in river rearing conditions.
Although 2001 was a dry year, the river in 2002, 2003, and 2004 saw flows
nearing those mandated under the Trinity River Record of Decision (ROD) for
wet or normal years, according to Mike Orcutt, fisheries director of the
Hoopa Valley Tribe.
This is great news for a river that has seen steelhead counts as low as 13
fish (1976-77), caused by low flows resulting from the export of up to 90
percent of the rivers water to the Westlands Water District and other
agricultural and hydroelectric water users since Trinity Dam was completed
The future of wild and hatchery fish on the Trinity River looks even better,
due to a long legal battle that culminated in victory for the tribe,
recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmental groups in
January. The Westlands Water District and Northern California Power Agency
(NCPA) on January 20 told U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger that neither
party would appeal last Julys 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor
of the Hoopa Valley Tribe to keep the Trinity River Record of Decision in
The Decision by Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt in December 2000 gives
47 percent of Trinity water to fish and the other 53 percent to agricultural
and hydroelectric users. The ROD provides a variable flow regime based on
hydrological conditions, ranging from 369,000 acre feet of water in a
critically dry year to 815,000 acre feet in an extremely wet year, said
We will see the benefits of the decision to the steelhead and salmon
fishery in another 3 years, forecasted Steve Huber, fishing guide, whom
Allen Bonslett, Fish Sniffer publisher, and I fished with for steelhead on
Monday, January 31. Although some landowners are concerned about the higher
flows, this is fantastic for the fish.
Huber has been experiencing good steelhead fishing this season on most
trips. On a drift boat trip I made with Huber and his father in October
2003, we found top-notch fishing for both salmon and steelhead. We landed 3
steelhead to 8 pounds and two salmon to 20 pounds.
Weve had a consistent plug bite for steelhead this season, said Huber
when Allen and I got in the boat at the put-in. We caught and released a 12
pound wild steelhead and two browns to 2 pounds on Saturday.
We fished the stretch from the Bucktail Access to Steel Bridge. However, we
never hooked a fish while using a variety of plugs. Nor did we see any fly
or spin fishermen on the river hook fish, either.
After a series of trips that yielded 2 to 6 fish per day for Huber and
clients, the action had definitely dropped off dramatically. The water was
cold and crystal clear and another storm was needed on this upper stretch
of river to perk up the action.
We had three hook-ups and didnt land any on the day after we fished and we
landed one down runner the following day, Huber stated several days later.
Besides the hatchery fish, large numbers of wild steelhead have returned to
the Trinity and its tributaries to spawn in the past few years. This year,
Huber estimates that his fish have been 50 percent hatchery and 50 percent
wild. The fish come in batches, he noted. One day youll get hatchery
fish and next day all wild steelhead.
Because of the clear water of the upper stretch we fished, Huber believes
that the best time to fish the river for steelhead is two days after a storm
when the water is still colored. Although steelhead can be taken in the
Trinity all year round, he finds October through the beginning of March the
top time to fish them.
His favorite plugs for back trolling are Hot Shots and Little Wiggle Warts
in black and sliver, copper and gold and orange. The fish on the Trinity
average 3 to 5 pounds, but larger 7 to 12 pound adults and even bigger fish
Although a few half pounders fish that summer at sea and then go back
upriver are found in the Lewiston area the greatest concentration of
these fish is found in the lower river from Del Loma to the junction with
The section of the river that we fished also has a good number of brown
trout. Although these Loch Leven-strain browns will occasionally go to sea,
most of the fish are believed to be resident fish.
While we drifted, we saw a construction crew on a bridge below the Bucktail
Access working on the bridge to accommodate higher flows. Four bridges must
be constructed and one bridge modified before summer so that the higher
flows required for restoration can be released.
In addition to the steelhead, the Trinity features good spring and fall runs
of chinook salmon and fall runs of coho salmon. The bag limits and in river
quotas are different ever year, depending upon fishery population estimates
by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The fish hatchery received good runs of spring and fall chinooks last
season, with 6563 fish in the spring and 13,389 fish in the fall. However,
this coming fall, biologists fear the impact of the huge fish kill on the
Klamath River in September 2002, when over 68,000 adult fish perished
because of mismanagement of the water by the Bush administration that
favored subsidized farmers in the Klamath Basin over fish. The majority of
these fish were destined for the Trinity River.
The bright spot in the picture is the good numbers of jacks that returned to
the Trinity and other Klamath tributaries this fall. Fishery managers use
jack counts as a key indicator in developing run estimates for the following
Hatchery coho numbers continue to be very good, with 10,098 fish returning
last fall. Even though these are hatchery fish, anglers cannot take these
threatened fish under state and federal fishing regulations.
Steve Huber of Steve Huber's Drift Boat Guide Service can be contacted at
(707) 449-0258 or 1 (866) 531-FISH (3474). For fishing information and
guided trips, you can also call Jamie Munro, Trinity River Guide Service at
Bigfoot Campground, (530) 623-6088; Tim King of King's Guide Service, (530)
623-3438; and Trinity Fly Shop, (530) 623-6757. For lodging and camping,
call the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce, (800) 487-4648.
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