​Early Season Trinity Steelie

Trinity River - Upper - Lewiston, CA (Trinity County)

Gary in his glory with his first ever Steelhead.
Photo Credit: Jerry Frye

by Gary Heffley

They say your first is always special and yesterday's experience catching my first adult steelhead on the Trinity River with Todd LeBoeuf, Tiger T's Guide Service, was not only special, but a trip for the memory books. And what a steelhead it was, call it beginners luck or first timer's ignorance, but Todd put me onto a 32 inch, 11 pound buck. I know many steelheaders on the Trinity wait years to catch one over 10 pounds so I know what a treat that fish is.

I had landed a few half pounders on the river stopping along the river and casting spinners in the past, but this was my first dedicated float on the river. Todd had invited me to join him and fellow guide, Jerry Frye of Frye's Fishing Guide Service, on a float from Junction City to the take out adjacent to the influx of the North Fork at the Baghdad Campground.

Todd had fished clients the previous day and had great success landing numerous adult and half pounders through the many runs on this stretch of river. Pushing off just after first light, I took in the beauty of the area. While highway 299 parallels much of the river along the north bank and an occasional home dots the southern shore, there is a natural beauty to the area. Herons, egrets, hawks, mergansers and eagles flying above the river, the trees along the river beginning to transition to fall colors; close your eyes and you are miles from anything. Deer and sometimes even bear are seen along the river.

Todd made a quick note that the river had dropped about 6 inches from the previous day, also clearing a little more from the previous day and the past weekend storms. The Trinity is a constantly naturally changing river affected not only by runoff, but also water release changes from Trinity and Lewiston Dams upstream. Another big factor in the changing river has been due to the “River Restoration Projects”, challenged by many as river devastation projects. Many historical runs have been altered as rock, debris and silt from projects upstream have been filled in or altered many holes and runs. Todd and Jerry often discussed the alterations as both have fished the river for many years and have seen many changes.

Having this expertise on the river allows Todd to give his anglers the best opportunities for success knowing when to begin and end a back trolling session and Jerry and I were quickly to work. Anyone who has fished steehead will tell you yesterday's success was yesterday and may or may not carry over to the next as steelhead are constantly on the move. Things started off a little slow as we passed through numerous runs of prime steelhead water. Everything looked fishy, but no takers for a good part of the morning despite many runs having produced action just the day before. Todd switched a rod to back trolling a threaded night crawler under a darkened diving plug with the hooks removed, and Jerry quickly picked up a couple of half pounder takes bringing one to the boat. I also hooked into a smolt which were plentiful in the river.

When action is slow as is often the case with steelhead fishing, a friendly knowledgeable guide can make the difference with friendly banter, stories, and antidotes. I was lucky as I had two in the boat who kept the mood light and enjoyable just waiting for that one opportunity. We were constantly on the lookout for fish and saw a number of salmon and redds as we passed by, while making note of the October Caddis hatch coming off the waters watching smolts and steelies slurping flies off the surface.

Not wanting to give up on the 3.0 Mag-lips Todd was running, we continued into the lower reaches of the drift when the action picked back up. I missed a nice steelie who never really took the lure, but I made mistake one of fishing, hook sets are free, when in doubt rip lips. My lure's action had flattened out like a leaf had hit the lure and fouled the action, so I lifted the rod tip up slowly to check the lure. The steelhead flashed and was gone as I had the rod tip already over my head with no place to go. I thought I had blown my chance for on a slowish day you have to maximize the opportunities presented.

But I didn't miss the next one as there was no mistake with the next bite as the rod bent hard, and I was quick to set the hook. Sitting low in the chair fighting the fish, I thought at first glance I had on a salmon as it swam parallel to the boat, but Todd quickly saw the distinctive pink stripe indicating a steelhead, and with the size, a big steelhead. I have been told by many that any steelhead on the Trinity over 10 pounds is considered a trophy and I am looking at that potential on the end of my line. Luckily the fish cooperated and Jerry quickly slid the net under my first adult steelhead. After a few pictures and a quick tale of the tape the beautiful 32 inch hatchery buck was returned to the river. Jerry and Todd kept telling me all day that I was due to catch a big one and I was happy and thrilled to have obliged.

Todd did a great job putting me onto that steelhead and for anyone interested in Trinity River steelheading I highly recommend giving him a call at Tiger T's Guide Service (530) 222-2728. Todd can set up for fly and conventional tackle and with his friendly patient manner can give experienced and first time anglers equal chances at the fish of a lifetime. During the fall and winter months Todd sets up shop on the Trinity and concentrates most of his efforts on steelhead, but he will also make himself available for productive trout trips on the Sacramento River, home-ground where he fishes when not on the prowl for steelies.

Todd is also a bit of a romantic as he also offers the River Romance Dinner Cruise drifts on the Sacramento River, a little late afternoon / sunset drift for that intimate couple or group. These trips are especially popular during the hot summer and warm spring and early fall evenings. A specially designed drift boat can sit four comfortably as you enjoy a special 3 hour drift and wonderful meal under the beautiful Sundial Bridge and through much of Redding's natural riverfront beauty. This is truly a unique experience for couples or even for a ladies' night out on the town. Todd even dons a gondolier's hat and outfit to add to the special ambiance of the trip.

Jerry also is a very experienced guide who offers various fishing experiences throughout the North State, drift boat fishing trout and steelhead on the Sacramento and Trinity Rivers, but Jerry also has a jet boat for tackling salmon, stripers, and shad on the Sacramento River. Having spent most of his life in the region, Jerry is very knowledgeable on region, the rivers, and fisheries, and is like Todd- just a good guy to enjoy the fishing experience with. Jerry can be reached at Frye's Fishing Guide Service at (530)510-2755.

I had a great day with two great guys, both who happen to be great guides as well. It was a trip not soon forgotten and one I hope to have the opportunity to enjoy again.

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over 10 years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has a long history in the Sporting Goods field and uses that extensive experience to impart his wisdom in his writing. 

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