[env-trinity] Big Steelhead Runs Return to Trinity River Hatchery

Daniel Bacher 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.
“We’ve 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 river’s water to the Westlands Water District and other 
agricultural and hydroelectric water users since Trinity Dam was completed 
in 1963.
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 July’s 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.
“We’ve 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 didn’t 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 you’ll 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 
are taken.
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 Klamath.
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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