Celebrating the return of spawning steelhead trout to the Russian River and its tributary creeks is a wintertime rite of passage in Sonoma.
And despite all that has changed in our world and theirs recently, the steelhead still run. While the annual festival remains on hold, those of us who could benefit from a reminder of their mighty resilience (that’s everyone, truly) can still seek out the chance to see spawning wild steelhead this February, near the peak of the run. Watch for them in Santa Rosa Creek, especially below Spring Lake near Summerfield Road; in Sonoma Creek, up as far as Sugarloaf Ridge State Park; and in Copeland Creek, near Sonoma State University.
“In general, when you’re going to see these fish is early mornings or late evenings. That’s when they’re going to be the most active,” advises Darrick Muir, senior hatchery supervisor at Lake Sonoma’s Warm Springs Fish Hatchery.
Steelhead move stealthily through urban sections of creeks: “Because of the lack of tree cover, they’ll scoot through quickly, late at night.” Take care not to disturb the fish, and be flexible — nature may not always cooperate.
On the Russian River itself, other potential areas to spot both wild and hatchery-raised steelhead include the fish ladder next to Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach, at least during low flows, and way out at the mouth of the river, from atop the coastal bluffs around Jenner. “You’ll see V shapes where they’re swimming through, sometimes in the waves,” Muir says. Or, from a kayak, if the water is clear, look below the water’s surface for lines in the sand on the river bottom — trails that mark the first steps of an ancient journey.