The following appears in the January issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
For coastal Northern California steelhead fishing guides like Mike Stratman, the winter storms that swept through in December carried some bad news, but some good news too in the big picture.
“Our Humboldt County rivers could be out of fishable shape for a while if the rain keeps coming,” said Stratman, who owns and operates Redwood Coast Fishing (707-601-8757; redwoodcoastfishing.com).
He also offered this counterpoint to the short-term conditions of the steelhead fisheries:
“As you could imagine, I’m rooting for a very wet winter. While this inevitably leads to cancelled days and unpleasant fishing conditions, we badly need to get out of this drought.” And that’s where most rational residents – even the most dedicated of steelhead anglers – should gladly trade a few unfishable days for more water going forward.
“I think we could be in for an average to good winter season. From what I’ve seen so far, there have been more fish around for this time of year when compared to the last handful of years,” Stratman says. “The Klamath River also seemed to have a pretty robust summer/fall run of steelhead. Hopefully the trend continues and fish keep coming in good numbers.”
Later in January, Stratman reiterated that the fishing was going well and trending up.
“As it turns out, my predictions are panning out. Good season so far,” he said in an email.
SMITH, CHETCO OPEN FOR BUSINESS
North of Stratman’s Eureka base along the California-Oregon border, the Smith and Chetco Rivers were expected to be “in prime shape” starting just after New Year’s Day.
Wherever fishing is available, Stratman prefers to side-drift with eggs, yarn, Mad River Fish Pills and beads. When conditions are good on some rivers, he’ll also run plugs and float presentations.
And there’s always the tried-and- true method of plunking off the banks. “Getting out the plunking rods can be really productive,” Stratman says of a technique that is most effective on the Smith. “I won’t force my clients’ hand on this most of the time, but the potential for a big day on the Smith certainly is there when the water is really big and there are lots of fish swimming by.”
A GOOD STRETCH OF FISH RUNS AHEAD?
You never know what the long-term outlook is for steelhead along the North Coast.
“Are steelhead runs trending up? Hard to say, but I certainly know that steelhead are much tougher critters than most people give them credit for,” Stratman says. “Like all anadromous salmonids, their populations are certainly cyclical. But I’ve always thought that steelhead have a much greater propensity than other species for dealing with adverse environmental conditions.”
Certainly, Stratman is expecting a better winter for fishing than he experienced in 2021, which he called a “poor” run and somewhat surprising given that the few years prior to last year were far better. Stratman wonders if years of drought conditions finally caught up to runs on rivers such as the Mad, Eel and Klamath. Surely the lack of rain for an extended period of time has had to impact the fish, at least in the short term.
But Stratman notes the trend that steelhead run timing has come a little later every winter of late.
“Some of our very best fishing the last three years has been in March. I used to start immediately after Christmas and enjoyed great fishing from the start. But I am starting a little later this year, as the last few years have really been a bust in late December. I really think this trend has been due to the really dry falls we’ve had,” Stratman says. “That may also explain why we’re seeing a decent early run so far, as we had a wet early fall 2021. We’ll see. But as of now, I am hopeful for a lot of chrome hitting the net for 2022.” CS
Sidebar: COVID HASN’T STOPPED ANGLERS FROM FISHING GETAWAYS
Guide Mike Stratman says the ongoing pandemic shouldn’t affect his business too much for steelhead anglers who want to get in on some winter-run action with an expert.
“To be completely honest, COVID has not affected my business negatively, with the exception of when it first started in 2020. I cancelled a month of striped bass season, which was painful, for sure, especially when we knew very little about the severity of the disease and how it spread,” Stratman says.
However, his salmon and steelhead trips have not been interrupted by the virus, and particularly now with vaccinations and booster shots more readily available, he expects any openings to be filled in 2022.
“People really want to get out of the house and engage in life again. Fishing and being outside is a safe and healthy way to accomplish just that,” Stratman says. “I am booked solid for my 2022 winter steelhead season. However, I do have a couple of excellent guide associates that do have space that I could arrange trips with if people have not gotten their dates yet.”
You can contact Stratman’s Redwood Coast Fishing guide service at (707) 601-8757 or email email@example.com. CC