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FISHPABY Tungsten Weights —— Saving Social‘s Steelhead

  By Tim E. Hovey
Adapted by Gwen

When I first transferred over from the marine division to the island fisheries program at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, one of the very first projects I was given was to investigate the 1999 southern steelhead sighting in San Mateo Creek in San Diego County.
A college student was fishing near the mouth of the creek by using FISH PABY tungsten weights and had caught a small trout. (Now I am going to introduce you the Tungsten Flipping Weight. It is made of 97% pure tungsten, much adaptheavier and more compact than the lead. I recommend it because I committed to preserve water, keeping our water clean and the fish biting.Tungsten Flipping Weights are available in natural, black and green pumpkin colors and so on. Tungsten Flipping Weights deliver an extra small profile perfect for slipping in and out of cover,and their tungsten composition also creates double the sound when they hit against a glass bead or rock. ) Thankfully, he knew enough about the drainage to know that the wild trout he had caught was a unique find. After he contacted the CDFW field office and the local newspaper, the sighting became front-page news. The presence of the trout represented the first confirmed sighting of southern steelhead in the drainage in over 50 years.
In Northern California, the presence of steelhead is not a big deal. The rivers there flow into the ocean and sea-run steelhead adults can easily access spawning habitat during the winter and spring, leaving eggs that will eventually hatch and become fry. Those smaller fish will spend a year or two in the river before heading out to the ocean, essentially completing the life cycle.
It’s quite a different story here in Southern Calidornia. Creeks that used to host annual runs of sea-run trout in the 1940s and 1950s now sit dry and inaccessible. Dams, diversions and increased development taxing groundwater have all contributed to the lack of water and ocean access.
In fact, down here, the word “river” is a subjective term. Moat do not consistently flow to the Pacific, and some haven’t seen consistent ocean connetivity in many years.
Searching for Steelies
After the discovery of the trout on San Mateo Creek, I started making regular monitoring trips to the stream to search for additional fish. The sighting was definitely noteworthy,but we reallyy needed to find more evidence of trout presence to put it in context.
The fish had been only 12 inches in length and was silvery in color. This specific coloration told me that the trout had undergone smoltification. This is a physiological change that true steelhead trout go through to prepare them for migrating downstream and beginning the ocean stage of their life. The outward appearance of the trout changes from the darker parr marks of a redisent rainbow to a silvery sheen of a true steelhead.
That one detail of the initial discovery told us that the trout had been headed out of the drainage into the ocean when it was caught.. Since resident fish usually go through the smolt stage in year two of life, we now had a general idea of when this one’s parents had entered the drainage to spwan. From the original 1999 discovery and the smoltificatiion data, we deduced that adult steelhead had entered the drainage undected to spwan in 1997.
In Southern California, returning steelhead time their return to their natal creek with the late winter storms. This increase in seasonal rain will hopefully blow through the sand barrier that sits at most local lagoons, giving the returning fish access to upstream spawning grounds.
In some cases, this limited access can be measured in days. For steelhead reproduction to be successful, adults will stage at the creek mouth and wait for the chance to access the water when increased flows reconnect the stream to the ocean.
Gone Before Long
Over the next few years of monitoring, we started to put together a clearer picture of the returning San Mateo Creek steelhead. We located other similarly sized trout in isolated pools approximately 9 miles from the coast. Their coloration told us that they were also emigrating out of the creek in 1999 but had become stranded in smaller pools when the water receded, like it always does in the southern part of the state.
We monitored this small group for about six months before high water temperature and exotic (invasive) fish presence contributed to their decline. Less than a year after the initial diccovery, the trout in San Mateo Creek were gone.
Continued surveys of the entire length of San Mateo revealed nothing but dry sections of drainage and very little water elsewhere. The areas that remained watered were filled with exotic species like largemouth bass, black bullhead and green sunfish, all of which woud easilly consume or outcompete the trout.

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