Steelhead plentiful on Trinity |

Steelhead plentiful on Trinity

Steelhead, the anadromous rainbow trout, is my favorite fish to pursue. October is the month when they arrive in rivers with adequate fall water flows. I have been following the reports from all over the north state and the best prospect for a steelhead foray is currently the Trinity River.

Historically, the best month for steelheading on the Trinity is November. But as early as September the fish counted passing the weirs on the river were unusually high. In addition to the above-normal quantity of fish, the size of the mature adult fish is larger this year.

Usually a 28-inch steelhead will weigh 8 pounds. This year many of the fish this length are weighing in at 10 pounds. The reason for the increased weight is the good-ocean-food conditions for the past two years. Most of our knowledge about steelhead comes from their in-river activities, but it is the ocean conditions that can play a major role in their survival rates and vitality.

I spoke with Ed Dugan who guides and lives on the lower Trinity River. He describes this year as the best he has seen in his 16 years of guiding on the Trinity. A week ago, he had a client catch his first-ever steelhead that came in at 29 inches and over 10 pounds caught on a “Brad’s Wiggler” back-trolling plug. Ed also reports two other steelhead measuring more than 32 inches so far this season.

My other source for this column is Steve Gildesgard of Dragon Fly Outfitters in Weaverville. Steve prefers to fish a fly rod and he normally uses “3X” (7.7 pound) leader material. This year both he and his shop customers are getting regularly broken off on this strength line. He accuses the Department of Fish & Game of feeding steroids to this year’s run of fish. Steve now recommends up sizing to “2X” ( 9.8 pound) material.

The greatest fishing success has come from the middle river for the last couple weeks. The middle river is the area from Junction City to below Del Loma. Large schools of fish were holed up in this area. Gear fishermen were doing well with spinners and spoons. The fly anglers were catching fish on traditional swing flies as well as nymphs.

There have been rain showers for the last two days on the Trinity. This is the second storm of the season. A couple weeks ago the first front had little moisture and did not change the fishing. This current low pressure system occurred simultaneous with the annual lowering of the river to winter levels. Yesterday the flows dropped from 475 cubic feet per second to 300 cfs. The combination of these two events will change the fishing.

Every year the flow change in mid October gets the fish moving toward the upper reaches of the river. Simultaneous with this is the start of the salmon spawn. The salmon spawn in the Trinity occurs three to four weeks after the spawn begins in the Sacramento Valley rivers. The salmon will spawn throughout the river’s length, but the top 40 miles, from Lewiston down to the confluence of the North Fork at Helena, will host the majority of this activity.

With the advent of the salmon spawn the fishing techniques will go from lure and bug imitation to an egg bite. Glo-Bugs will be a good place to start regardless of what kind of rod you hold in your hands. Most years the month of November is the time to be on the Trinity for steelhead. This year it has started a month early. But we have these fish trapped in the river with nowhere else to go, so November looks to be on track for the best month on the river again this year.

I checked with Tom Benzing, local guide, on current conditions on the Yuba River. Tom reports that the salmon are spawning and the steelhead/rainbows in the river are on the egg bite. Tom says that the fish are concentrated among and below the spawning salmon. He also recommends avoiding the temptation to walk out into the salmon redds to fish. You can crush a few thousand fertile fish eggs with a poorly-placed foot.

A week ago there was a noticeable increase in salmon catching on the Feather River. The best results were in the Yuba City area between Shanghai Bend and the mouth of the Yuba. During the bright midday hours the fish were in the deepest holes. In low light conditions the fish were on the move. More than half of these fish were bright.

Be familiar with DF&G regulations when fishing for salmon or steelhead. Every river has its own gear restrictions and closed sections at this time of year.


For current information about the steelhead on the Trinity River contact Dragon Fly Outfitters at (530) 623-4999. They are in the new shopping center on the right as you arrive in Weaverville. Ed Dugan, who guides and lives on the lower Trinity River, can also offer information at (530) 629-3554.


Denis Peirce writes a weekly fishing column for The Union and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. He may be reached via e-mail at

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