|Steelhead puts up a mighty good fight before succumbing
The Sportsman’s Report
The car window was dripping wet from the overnight chill, and we were only three miles from the coast as the crow flies.
Yet, the white noise of the surf working on the miles of sandy beach was clear when we started out in the morning. The salty air, the cold and the beauty of the north coast kept our location in the forefront. We parked in a muddy wide spot on the shoulder of Glendale Road near Blue Lake.
There never was a lake in Blue Lake, and we squeezed into our chest waders. Sitting on the truck tailgate, we rigged up and tied on fresh steelhead roe wrapped in red netting, just above the barbless hook. Walking out on the exposed gravel bar, we tried to walk as quietly as possible. That was not always possible, given the vast gravel bars carpeting the Mad River.
There had been some rain two days before our arrival, but the Mad had settled to a just-cloudy-green color, ideal for sneaking up on the wily trout. I found my luck is not as good if the water is crystal clear. Any experienced fisher knows the fish can see and hear just fine from their rocky bed.
My partner headed upstream about 200 yards to try his luck. I chose a spot where the river narrows through some large rocks.
The water trails into a deep pool and settles down before hitting the next rapids. Just up from the pool, I tossed my rig into the white water, letting the weight, a Bouncing Betty (a small, black sphere) dangle from a swivel about two feet up from the hook assembly.
I kept tension on the line so that the offering wouldn’t tangle during descent . The line bounced a bit as the weight took hold and the line tightened on the bottom just on the edge of the fast water. Two seconds later, there was a quick yank as a fish grabbed my hook. Adrenaline shot through me as I pulled back in a hard, smooth stroke.
The fight was on. I kept the line tight as the fish worked away from me and into the deepest part of the pool. He (or she) was trying to horse the line, to escape the threat. My line went hard upstream and the fish settled on the gravel bottom. I kept the line tight and began to reel in. The fish rose again to the challenge and tried swimming downstream, struggling hard against me.
The fight continued for more than 20 minutes before the fish ran out of steam. I held the rod high, with just enough room for another pull if the fish decided to run again. I netted a beautiful male, halfway between a rainbow trout and their cousin the salmon, the steelhead is a beautiful fish to behold. I estimated just over 10 pounds and somewhere over 20 inches in length. I was careful not to touch the fish anywhere with my hands because it rubs off their slimy coating and may interfere with their long-term health.
The barbless hook fell out of his mouth when he was first netted. I held it up for my partner to see, only to watch him struggling with a fish of his own. Yahoo! We were in the right place at the right time. I put the net back in the water and let his gills work as he began to recover. I pulled back the net, releasing him back into the wild.
His silver sides flashed back down into the pristine green water. The Mad River Hatchery is only two miles upstream where he would enter the watercourse to be processed. The hatchery raises millions of tiny minnows, which are released into the river when they are strong enough to survive the swim downstream to the ocean. They grow there until the force of nature moves them back to the place where they were hatched, home gravel. We stopped fishing around noon and headed back to the truck for lunch. We both netted several fish and lost as many in the struggle. Even though I like to eat fish, I feel that if one can cut the mustard for three years in the hostile Pacific, he should be an excellent candidate to father his own batch of eggs; the same for the hens.
Doran Park Jetty
This Saturday is the annual underwater cleanup at the Doran Park Jetty. If you are going, check in at the main gate and tell the ranger you are part of the Redwood Empire Divers Jetty cleanup day, and they will give you a special pass. Try to get there before 9 a.m., and talk to the divers launching at the boat ramp next to the Coast Guard Station. Those on the ground should set up at the base of the Jetty near the restrooms.
If you do not have a boat or Kayak you can do a beach entry on the deep-water side over the rocks. Introduce yourself to the folks at the picnic area. Bring a dish to share after your dive for the pot luck.
The fare usually includes fresh crab and abalone, along with a huge buffet of choice edibles. Last year, the group brought more than 60 pounds of debris off the bottom including some great crab nets to recycle.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.