Gazing at the pole, dressed in waders, spending hours on the banks- this is how many fisherman are choosing to spend their days in Humboldt. Getting up at dawn and staying out til dusk, nothing is stopping them from catching the big one.
Every year from January to March, Humboldt County is home to more steelhead than anywhere else in California. Steelhead are part of the salmon family and one of the top fished fish in North America. These fish are prized to fisherman and have them coming out in droves during these 3 months to catch the big one. Dave Feral, the executive director of Mad River Alliance, saw an opportunity to organize an event around the steelhead run and started Humboldt Steelhead Days in 2013.
When the event first started, it was just a contest to catch the biggest fish with a prize awarded to the lucky fisherman. Since then it has grown to include dozens of events, $10,000 in cash and prizes, and an increased number of registered participants.
“This year we have 93 anglers registered,” Feral said. “And we have had hundreds of people attend our events.”
James Thomas, an 11-year-old angler, is registered for the second year.
“I love to fish,” he said. “Being able to compete for the biggest fish makes it more fun.”
Last year James was entered in the 10-16 age group but this year the age divisions have been taken out. “Any age can win,” Feral said when asked the reason for this. Because of this decision, James can now compete for the $1000 biggest fish award right along with the adults, a prize he is hoping to put towards a new dirt bike.
“I haven’t caught any big ones yet,” he said. “The rivers are too blown out.”
This was the same story Tom Simon, a lifetime fisherman living in Burnt Ranch, had when asked about his fishing luck.
“All the rain is making the rivers too muddy to catch anything,” he said. “Until the rivers go down it is not worth trying.”
The few fish that have been entered in the contest were caught using a technique called Flossing which is controversial.
“You put out a long lone,” Tom Simon said. “Then you basically snag the fish. Because the rivers are so muddy they don’t see the line and get caught.”
He refuses to catch fish this way so is waiting til the rivers drop. The event goes until March 30 so there are about 6 more weeks until the deadline for the biggest fish.
“I know I am going to catch that fish,” James said. “Once the rivers go down I’m going to be fishing every day until March 30.”