The optimistic steelhead angler

The optimistic steelheader.


By Tim Frahm

For a guy who looks forward to throwing a line at rolling coastal steelhead, this year has been pretty tough here on the central coast of California.

But as tough as it’s been on me, it’s been tougher on the fish. 

This driest of dry winters has resulted in extremely low winter stream flows and barrier sand bars at the lagoons that have not breached.  The result: virtually no adult anadromous steelhead have entered our coastal streams. 

It’s been a double whammy for our native steelhead runs. After a great return of adults last year in most of our streams, very low summer flows squeezed available habitat for juvenile steelhead resulting in poor stream and lagoon rearing conditions.

I’ve always thought that to be a good fisherman, you need to be a good observer. I’d add that to be a good steelhead fisherman, you also have to be optimistic. (Any veteran steelhead fisherman will tell you that you have to be lucky, durable, close to technically correct with your terminal gear, and ridiculously hopeful in order to hook a fish).

But my optimism extends to the prospects for steelhead in California’s coastal streams. I have confidence that steelhead will persist despite the historically dry conditions we are experiencing in California right now – especially if we give them a little help.

Steelhead have evolved to overcome the fluctuations of our climate here. They are basically hard-wired to “recover” from sub-optimal streamflows and habitat conditions from one year to the next. They can take a beating from nature and then rebound – if conditions are right. 

My optimism about the future for steelhead around here is derived in great part from knowing that we can do something to make those conditions “right.” We can take on projects which lead to improved summer base flows in our coastal streams, or to successful management of our nursery lagoons in order to optimize rearing conditions. We can build partnerships with farmers, wine grape growers, and others who draw water from steelhead watersheds to reduce impacts on fish. We can mobilize an army of fishermen/conservationists who will advocate for steelhead.

We can’t make it rain, but I’ll tie some more steelhead flies anyway. You see, I’m optimistic that I’ll have a chance (soon, I hope) to cast to a bright buck steelhead, rolling where he should at this time of year.


Tim Frahm is Central Coast Steelhead Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, and is an eternal optimist.


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