Napa River Steelhead Count Down

Photo courtesy of Green Water Fishing Adventures


With winter in full swing and the calendar turning to December, steelhead anglers are gearing up for a season of fishing for the sea-run trout in many Northern California rivers. Some steelhead rivers open for business today.

Here’s a story from the Napa Valley Register with some less than promising news about the steelhead in the nearby Napa River, despite some better results on the Chinook salmon count:

Local researchers counted 2,315 salmon smolts in 2017, compared to 580 in 2016 and none 2014 and 2015. Only the 2011 count of 7,377 was higher.

The count comes on the heels of the third-highest annual rainfall total – 45 inches – recorded at Napa State Hospital since 1892. Those rains broke a five-year drought.

Lots of water resulted in lots of Chinook salmon, though it also posed a potential threat.

“The concern was all those big rains would wash off the eggs and kill the fry,” said Jonathan Koehler, senior biologist for the Napa County Resource Conservation District.

Instead, the Chinook salmon appear to have thrived. But the steelhead count was low for the fourth consecutive year.

Researchers caught 70 steelhead trout smolts, six fry and six adults, for a total of 82. That compares to 3,105 counted in 2013.

Koehler said the effects of the five-year drought are lingering for the steelhead in a way that hasn’t happened for the salmon. He attributes this to a difference in the way the two species live.

Chinook salmon leave the river for the ocean the same year they are born, so last winter’s rain benefits showed up immediately in last spring’s high count. Steelhead can stay one to three years in the river system before leaving, so higher counts of migrating smolts may come in future springs.