May 11—When the Dogwoods Bloom (the “springers” are in)

Trinity Dogwood
Full bloom-they’re in.

The arm wrenching grab triggered a series of accelerated heart palpitations and a brief shortness of breath. Stunned by the sudden intensity and electrifying speed the surging power transmitted through my rod. I witnessed an illuminating bolt of explosive uncontrollable energy displaying a series of high coiled aerial leaps while hearing the sound of my reel raging into high pitch. Out of control and at the blink of an eye the colored backing directed my focus to a final chrome, cart wheeling departure. Disconnected, loose and hauntingly quiet with the exception of a quivering body and my throttling heartbeat. —I was delivered a rare prize and tangled with a brief encounter of a legendary ghost of the coast—–a spring steelhead (a.k.a. “Springer!”)

Spring Steelhead
Fresh-bright as the spring season itself.

Recently a good friend and customer Dale Downey came in the shop and indicated he read October-November-December are the best times for Trinity steelheading. He asked what is my favorite and most reliable time for steelhead.  Not to sound vague I indicated I like all year. There are steelhead available year round in the Trinity. However attempting to fine tune a favorite/reliable time of year greatly depends upon what level of excitement, challenge and accomplishment the angler desires. Certainly, the fall- early winter offers some of the most promising prospects; however one needs to be reminded it is by far the most popular time of year. Often creating a “dog-eat’dog atmosphere and unfortunately diluting the quality of angling, the fish and time of year. I prefer the long shot or less popular times of year. While they may not deliver the bulk or consistency, which generally attracts fewer anglers, the rewards of the entire experience of steelheading can be just as rewarding and even overwhelming.

Without a doubt the ultimate steelheading level of accomplishment, throughout the entire northwest, is accepting the challenge of a spring steelhead—Springer.” A unique off the calendar steelhead stock that populates and migrates specific northwest rivers throughout the early spring season— hence the name springers. (Although depending upon conditions and fish stocks remarkably some enter as early as late winter).  Springers are sexually premature adults that enter river systems 6-9 months prior to spawning and summer over and mature within the system itself. Unlike fall-winter stocks arriving more sexually mature and spending less time in freshwater.  Spring steelhead socks are climbers and favor river systems that support canyon water compositions. Arriving fresh and bright as the season itself. Sporting profiles pumped up with body fats to help survive months in freshwater and a reserve of solid muscle and strength to literally race through lower rivers. Full steam ahead, springers ultimately seek out deep cool canyon water pools to summer over, mature, and elude predators. Only the strongest survive. A springer’s home stretch, (headwaters, secondary rivers, tributaries) are sensitive and only accessible and navigable during high water periods. A legendary steelhead stock known for its strength, navigational abilities and sheer drive and persistence to reach its natal headwaters.

Trinity Steelhead
See ya’ next spring.

Windows of opportunity are brief and totally dictated by current conditions and runs. Early March, April, and May are key months to intercept Trinity Springer’s. Generally high flows deter most yet the high liquid pulse is essential for springers headwater access. Vital to success to be in tune. Occasionally conditions line up and opportunities are there as the lower Trinity River receives native springers heading to South-North Forks, New River and the upper river. According to Jerry Bedell, DFG hatchery mgr. during the late 60’s-early 80’s and collected pre-dam weir counts, Trinity springers utilized all major headwaters—North-East Forks Trinity, Coffee Creek Stuarts Fork. Timing is everything— springers are here today, gone tomorrow…Number crunchers need not apply. The odds tend to be stacked against you— high flows, marginal fish numbers and rapid migrations all equate to the occasional solid hook of success. Attempting to keep the odds favorable requires a positive attitude, a true passion and love for the sport/fish, multiple sessions of commitment and willingness to accept the smell of skunks. They are generally receptive to a wide variety of fly patterns, colors, designs (personal favorite: #2-4-6 Silver Hilton). Straight across the board, regardless what river, springers are quite eager and most willing to chase a well presented fly.  In other words if they are there, more times than not, they’re in the mood to crunch.   Above all timing overshadows all patterns/techniques. Few California steelheaders have chalked up a true springer to the fly, let alone even known of their existence.  Those aware of the old saying, “when the Dogwoods bloom, the springers are in and have tightened up savior the sweet rewards and uncontrollable rush. Robert Franklin, biologist for the Hoopa tribe, local angler and friend refers to springers as, “undoubtedly above all and the real deal. When conditions permit, hooking them is generally not too much of a problem—smash and run. Landing them is another whole story.” Amen!!!