Eel Steel: California Kayak Steelhead E-mail
Written by Eric Stockwell   
Tuesday, 29 January 2013 14:20

Up the South ForkFrom the award-winning film “Rivers of a Lost Coast” ~

“At the turn of the 20th Century, a handful of pioneers carried their fly rods into California’s remote north coast and gave birth to a culture that would revolutionize their sport. For a select few, steelhead fly fishing became an obsessive pursuit without compromise. By the early 1980s, the Golden State’s coastal fisheries found themselves caught in a spiraling decline. As California searched for its disappearing salmon and steelhead, these men foraged for their souls.”

Thanks to diligent habitat restoration and hatchery efforts over the past 25 years, the steelhead populations of California coastal rivers are on the upswing.  Still a delicate fishery, some limited take is allowed, though most anglers practice catch and release as a rule. The obsessive nature of steelhead anglers certainly remains consistent, and wherever you find good fishing, you will find kayak anglers. 

Erik Stockwell is an all-around kayak-fishing expert from Northern California.  Perhaps known best for his pioneering forays in the North Coast salt, Stockwell may possess an even greater passion for the seasonal salmonids of his coastal rivers. 

Started out on the South Fork early.  Paddled and hauled up two miles without seeing any signs of fish.  Right when I got up to the mouth of Bull Creek I saw my first driftboat coming down toward me.  They hooked and lost a fish in the riffle right above me, so they pulled over and hung there for a while as I made my way down a ways, backtrolling a plug and tossing a spoon.  They passed me on the way down through a divided stretch of swift water, and I made my way down slowly with the plug and spoon. 

Ice in the yak this morning My Ride Wild Eel Steel

Got to the bottom of a long run of calm water right above the next riffle and was tossing the spoon when I got picked up about 25 feet from my yak in about 3 feet of water.  Saw a nice fish turn sideways as it shook the hook - damn!  That was close. 

I worked that area for awhile for nothing, but at least I was getting a little time in the sun - the shady morning had been freezing and my fingers and toes were pretty numb.  Drifted back down to the truck tossing my spoon and bouncing a little roe, but nothing was happening.  Got back to the truck a bit after noon - 4 hours for one bite!  That's steelheading.

No stills of this fish - these are all screen captures of video The South Fork was getting a little clear, so I moved down onto the main stem where I was hanging out yesterday.  Put in and there was another driftboat working the hole up and back again with a motor.  I got up above them and worked my plug for a while, then tossed spoon for a while, then finally put a nice big roeberry on there with a bright orange Fish Pill. 

Backbounced the berry down through the bottom of a long swift run and managed to pickup a nice fighter.  Got the video rolling and enjoyed playing this fish as I drifted down into a big hole where I only had to do the one-handed paddler routine a bit to avoid some trees.  This steelie of around 6-pounds was nicely hooked in the corner of the mouth, and I wasn't getting a good grab on his tail, so I headed over to the bank where I could focus a bit more.  Stayed on the yak, grabbed my hook out of the corner of the mouth and watched it swim off quickly once it knew it was free.  Steelhead are amazing creatures.

 

 

 

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