Explore small-stream options if Russian is out of steelheading shape this month

By Paul LeFebvre

It’s a safe bet to say the Russian River has more fish than any other stream in this vicinity of California. It also has a large hatchery fish run so two fish can be kept.  However, for the angler who is willing to travel a bit, doesn’t necessarily care if he/she keeps a fish, then there are steelhead fishing opportunities that exist nearby when the Russian is out of shape.

Hard core steelhead anglers frequent the coastal area of Sonoma and Mendocino counties that have smaller, undammed streams that clear rapidly after a winter storm.  Timing is critical on these little streams, though, as they can quickly drop to low and clear levels making fishing extremely tough.

After January, and late in the season, these smaller streams like the Gualala River and Ten Mile River can house tackle-busting wild steelhead with size that rivals the Russian. These smaller streams are a challenge to wade, but if you are willing to hike in to a spot you can sometimes catch steelhead that are so hot they will take you several riffles to land (if you can land them).

These smaller streams are a drift-fishing delight, but bring plenty of leaders with you as there are plenty of logs, fallen trees, and brushy areas that will test an angler’s casting skill to the maximum. Private property can be an issue with these streams, so check to see that you are on public lands, or ask permission, before fishing.