Weather in December and early January was wet and cold. But rains came to a halt in mid-January with warm days and cold evenings, and the San Lorenzo River flow has decreased below 100 cubic feet per second. The weather pattern is perfect for Northern California rivers that are normally too high and too brown to fish.
The ideal steelhead water is medium high flows — “average” flows for the time of year. The optimal color for steelhead fishing is “steelhead green.” This is an emerald green color when the river has three feet of visibility and glows with a green color. The rivers to our north have been at this level and color during this dry period.
I drove to Eureka with fishing friend Jeff Huntze, and we planned on meeting Jimmy Davis at the main stem of the Eel River the next morning. Our destination was the confluence of the South Fork Eel River and the main stem of the Eel River, where we would drift downriver in a river boat owned by Jimmy.
Our day started at dawn with frost on the ground and a river veiled with fog. A cold wind rushed down the river valley. We fished the first couple holes without a bite. But the water level and color were just right, so we anticipated a good day of fishing for wild steelhead.
By mid-morning, we had a couple of small steelhead, called half-pounders or egg eaters. The sun replaced the fog and warmed the air. It was great weather for steelhead fishing.
We fished hard until midday to catch a few smaller steelhead and caught and released a couple of nice-sized adults.
The final hole of the day brought us to a nice long willow run. This hole was kind to us, and we managed to hook and land two adult steelhead.
We had spent the day drifting eggs tipped with Fish Pills. The Fish Pill is a brightly colored foam ball that is used on the hook to keep the bait floating and attract bites with its bright color.
During the drift boat trip down the Eel, we had nice weather, lots of laughs and some beautiful sights, including bright shining steelhead and two bald eagles.
Steelhead season on the North Coast rivers, such as the Eel, and our local rivers will remain good through March.
- Mike Baxter has fished in the Monterey Bay Area since he was a boy and has been a licensed charter boat captain for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.