Mandatory return of Steelhead Report Card due by Jan. 31

Upper American River to reopen New Year's Day
By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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If you fish for steelhead in California, you’re required to have a current fishing license in possession and a Steelhead Report Card.

The Steelhead Report Card has multiple functions. A variety of data is captured on the card, such as where and when you fish on any trip, regardless if anything is caught.

Secondly, the card is a catch report. Even if you release all steelhead you catch, that data is to be entered on the report card.

Finally, every Steelhead Report Card is required to be sent back to the Department of Fish and Game so every iota of data you’ve entered can be input into a database.

You can log onto DFG’s website and enter the data electronically. The address is

If you don’t have a computer, mailing the information is acceptable. The address is DFG — Steelhead Fishing Report Card, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

The report cards are due by Jan. 31, 2012. The 2012 Steelhead Report Card costs $6.74.

Upper American River to open

What better way to start a new year than by fishing.

The upper American River, essentially from the Hazel Avenue Bridge downriver to the power lines near Ancil Hoffman Park, closed to all fishing in October to allow incoming migrating salmon unobstructed spawning activities.

The river reopens on Jan. 1 of each year. It’s a highly anticipated opening by many anglers, and if the number of steelhead entering the hatchery is any indication, as it should be, Sunday’s opening should result in ideal fishing conditions and great catching.

While the opening is well attended, it’s not as bad as it was 30 years ago, when people would arrive at midnight to claim a fishing spot. It literally was shoulder to shoulder in some parts of the river, especially in the hatchery region.

But have no doubt, you need to be there early. The best bite will be at the crack of dawn.

Even so, you can nail a fresh-run steelie at any time of day. But once the sun gets on the water, the bite will be much tougher.

And, unless environmental conditions change fast, fishing conditions can make angler success on the American River tough. Without any appreciable rain, the river is running low and clear. Don’t think for a minute you can go on the river with a heavy-duty meat stick and heavy line with hope of getting bit.

Steelhead are one of the most wary fish an angler can hope to pursue.

It’s going to take a rod with a light tip but a good backbone and very light line.
Fish see something that doesn’t look right, and they’ll either ignore it or move.

While some steelhead will easily go more than 10 pounds, you’ll want nothing more than six-pound test line, maybe eight.

If you get bit, you’ll have to use a great deal of finesse to carefully fight the fish and even perhaps chase it downriver when it makes a big run to tire out the fish if you hope to get it into the net. You won’t be successful attempting to horse the fish in.

On the south side of the river, just below the Nimbus Hatchery, it’s a bait caster’s paradise. There’s smooth, quiet water and plenty of swift water-type rapids. The same stretch of water on the north side is best suited to the fly caster.

Steelhead follow salmon up rivers hoping to get one of their favorite foodstuffs: freshly spawned salmon roe. So, what you throw into the river will have a major impact on whether that steelhead pays attention to it.

A great number of offerings work. One top bait is a gob of fresh roe. Cured roe also will work, but you don’t want dark-colored roe. These can be followed by red salmon eggs and even a night crawler. It was with the latter, at Sailor Bar, that I caught my first steelhead.

There are anglers that swear by lures and yes, they work. There is a wide variety of offerings that emulate a salmon egg or roe.

I used to tie my own Glow Bugs to have a variety of color options, as you never know what the steelie might be interested in that day. Plus, there are enough other lure options to fill any tackle box.

There are tens of thousands of hooks and weights on the bottom of the river, and you can probably expect to make your share of donations because that’s where steelhead are going to be found — meaning you’ll probably have to experiment with weights. Hanging up consistently means lost gear. If you never feel bottom, you’re using too light a weight.

Make your cast upriver. By the time the line drift is parallel to you, the bait should be lightly bouncing bottom. The bottom is rocky, and if the drift is made properly, you’ll feel tick-tick-tick as your weight bounces along.

Occasionally, it will try to hang up. Lift your rod tip to lift your weight over the immediate obstruction, and it will continue on its way.

If the bite is extremely light, your rod won’t double over. It will almost feel as if your weight is trying to hang up on an obstruction. If it’s in a steelhead’s mouth, when you lift your rod tip, it will be immediately obvious it’s a fish and not a rock.

You have to be alert at all times. You may hang up a hundred times on rocks.
The next one could be a fish, and when you lift the rod tip, the rod will dive and the fight is on.

There is no size limit for steelhead on the American River, and you’re allowed two fish per day and four in possession.

Contact George deVilbiss at