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Profile–Wild Steelheaders United

by Bob Garbarino

This year the Santa Cruz Fly Fishing Club board of directors approved an increase in the conservation budget from $3,000 to $4,000. This was made possible by our increase in memberships, your generous donations and fundraiser/raffle participation. I hope you all realize that you are helping conservation efforts that we believe are aligned with improving and protecting our fisheries. One of the goals this year put forth by our President, Scott Kitayama, is to encourage more participation in the club committees. As our club size increases, the board would appreciate some help.  I was fortunate to have Mary Hermansky, Dougald Scott and Rich Hughett help with putting together the conservation proposal for this year. They all have a lot of experience and provided some relevant perspective and fresh ideas.
For this month’s article, I’m going to provide a profile on one of the new additions to our list of organizations: Wild Steelheaders United.

Mission: Wild Steelheaders United (an organization within Trout Unlimited) was established to educate and mobilize the numerous wild steelhead advocates wanting to engage in the Initiative. It is a place where anglers can become more informed about wild steelhead biology and ecology, keep abreast of policy issues, and learn about TU’s conservation work.   Some of their projects in California:

Carmel River: San Clemente Dam Removal and River Re-route Project—Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited helped gain permits, approvals, and funding for the largest dam removal project in California’s history (so far). This project restored fish passage to more than 25 miles of mainstem and spawning tributaries in this once-productive wild steelhead river. A mere three years after the project’s completion, the winter steelhead run here increased significantly.

Carmel River: Rancho Canada land acquisition and conversion to regional park—Water rights experts from Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited played a key role in negotiating the terms of and obtaining funding for this landmark transaction, which converted an old 36-hole golf course to regional park land and keeps 300 acre-feet of water per year in the lower Carmel River to improve wild steelhead habitat and migration conditions in a reach that sometimes dries back.

Klamath River restoration—in 2016, Trout Unlimited joined the States of California and Oregon, tribes, federal agencies and other stakeholders in signing the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which paves the way for removing four antiquated dams on this legendary steelhead fishery, resolving decades of stubborn water quality problems and re-opening more than 400 miles of good spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. In 2018, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation submitted to the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission its Definitive Plan for taking over the license for these dams from the utility PacifiCorp and then removing them, while the State of Oregon issued its
certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act that the removal of JC Boyle Dam would not impair water quality upstream of the California-Oregon border.

Protecting steelhead habitat and water quality on public lands in northwest California— Eel and Trinity Rivers—TU and Wild Steelheaders United are the lead sportsmen’s groups working to permanently protect key steelhead habitats in the Eel and Trinity Rivers—two of the most famous steelhead streams in the West. These rivers flow largely through public lands. In 2018, Congressman Jared Huffman and Senator Kamala Harris introduced legislation to accomplish this goal, through a package of new land and water designations, forest and watershed restoration measures, development of new and enhanced recreational infrastructure, and restoration of illegal cannabis cultivation sites.

TU’s California Water Project completes fish passage and habitat restoration projects that benefit steelhead—In recent years TU and Wild Steelheaders United have led multiple restoration projects in coastal steelhead waters, including agricultural water supply solutions in the steelhead factories of Pescadero and San Gregorio Creeks; Mill and Yellowjacket Creeks (important spawning and rearing tributaries to the Russian River); and Pennington Creek, a steelhead stream that connects to Morro Bay near San Luis Obispo.

San Geronimo Creek/Lagunitas Creek restoration—In 2019 TU and Wild Steelheaders United partnered with the Trust for Public Land to acquire and begin restoration of a former golf course on San Geronimo Creek, an important tributary to Lagunitas Creek, which harbors the last best run of wild coho salmon in California and also supports steelhead. TU volunteers have played a lead role in restoration efforts on Lagunitas Creek for many years, and TU’s North Coast Coho Project will lead the San Geronimo Creek restoration work.

The information source for this article came from Check out this site for much more information. For a conservation atlas and a steelhead fishing trip planner, go to   Also, Tim Frahm and Christy Fischer of our local TU Steinbeck Country Chapter were primary forces in the success of many of the projects listed above.