The San Lorenzo River: Episode I

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to fish the San Lorenzo River for the first time. The SLR is a smaller coastal river that until recent years was not very productive to fish. Like many of our coastal rivers, the San Lorenzo’s Steelhead and Coho Salmon population fell victim to threats such as pollution, over-damming, and over fishing.  In 1960 there was a population of over 30,000 fish in the river; however by 1970 there were only 1,000 fish remaining. In an effort to rehabilitate the once popular fishery, the California Department of Fish and Game designated the river catch-and-release only in 1984. They also limited fishing access from December 1st through March 7th, and only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Clearly, the action taken by DFG is working; the rivers’ fish population appears to be making a successful recovery. Two  friends of mine are locals and have been fishing the river for the past four seasons. They tell me that the fishing has improved immensely since they started fishing it, four years ago. Although I don’t have previous years to compare to, I’m apt to agree. The fishing was ample and the river was stunning.

In the morning my local San Lorenzo guru, Joshua,  and I fished “the gorge,” which is part of the lower section of the river between Santa Cruz and Felton. This section of the river is set in a steep canyon, full of looming redwoods and giant boulders. It is by far the most dazzling section of this river. It’s a steep hike down (never an easy feat in waders), so I was surprised at the number of fishermen we encountered on this section of the river. While we didn’t have any luck during the morning, a few bait fishermen we met along the way had landed a handful of moderate-sized steelies.

As afternoon rolled around, we moved further upstream to a section of the river near Ben Lomond. I had been nymphing using a glo-bug egg pattern in the morning, so with the change of location I also decided to switch flies. I tied on a teal and black streamer; made a roll cast out to the center of a deep pool; and intermittently stripped my line in.  Success, fish on! Changing my tactics had payed off. It was along this stretch that I caught two coastal rainbow trout. The first was a 16 inch trout that was well on its way to becoming a gorgeous steelhead. The second was a tiny trout about 8 inches in size. While not giant chromers, these fish put up a great fight for their size, and landing them made me grin like a mad woman.

As the season progresses I’m sure the fishing will become even more productive as the area gets more rain. I’m looking forward to many more trips, and a ton more fish. I forgot my camera on this trip so please excuse the lack of photos, but not to worry, I will be making almost weekly trips here; there will be photos and fish tales galore.

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2 thoughts on “The San Lorenzo River: Episode I

  1. Your post has me so stoked! I remember visiting my sister at UCSC in ’78. The El Nino washed out the bridge. As we watched a large deciduous tree and house float by into the bay, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Steelhead probably come up this river…or used to.’

    Please, please, PLEASE tell me you will fish it this fall!!!

    • I can’t wait to fish it again, the season starts December 1st. This river is where I started fishing for steelies and is an incredibly special place for me.

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