Boondocking for Flyfishers: Steiner Flat, Trinity River, CA

In the winter of 2017, I attempted to catch a California winter steelhead on the swing. I spent three months on the attempt, and did not succeed… though I did get one under a damn bobber with an egg pattern (but that’s another story).

That winter, the long drought broke, and all of the rivers were blown out with high, muddy water for most of my trip. In fact, the day I took the photo above, four years ago today, the water was topping out on the banks at the Steiner Flat BLM Campground outside of Douglas City on the Trinity River.

The BLM website reports that the site is currently closed and undergoing maintenance, but when it reopens, it will be a great option for anyone that wants to boondock on the bank of the river. There were a few nice easily wadable runs upstream from my campsite, though some bushwhacking was required to reach a couple of them.

Edit… I checked over the recent reviews at Campendium and Freecampsites, and it looks as though the site had become a homeless encampment prior to being shut down for maintenance. It’s a pity, because it was a beautiful location. And a sad commentary on our society and how expensive it is to live any kind of working class existence. Also, the massive fires have burned up so many homes… And why are people so awful?

Aw well, shit.

Campendium Reviews

Freecampsites Reviews

  • High Water at Steiner Flat
  • Green Water in the Trinity River
  • Trinity River Flow Chart

As for the fishing, the Trinity appears to fish differently from some of the other California steelhead waters, as the guys at The Fly Shop in Redding suggested using smaller nymph patterns under an indicator, instead of swinging classic patterns or modern intruder-style flies. There were a ton of golden stone nymphs in the river, and I did catch a couple of juvenile fish on them, but the adult fish were elusive.

One of many stonefly nymphs… they were under every rock that I picked up.
A small fish that fell for a big Copper John in golden stone colors.

The flies that I had been tying were what I wanted to swing, classics on salmon hooks and Ed Ward inspired Intruders. I certainly wasn’t looking to hang Copper Johns under a bobber like I was fishing for normal old trout out of a guide’s boat anywhere out west.

Classic Steelhead Flies
A team of flies that I tied while waiting for the river to drop…
A pink intruder rests on my Skagit-lined Behemoth on the bank of the Salmon River.

I will probably take another shot at the winter steel game, maybe even head up there sometime next month. But the Smith River will be the primary destination this time, and I’ve got a one particular campsite in mind.

As for Steiner Flat, it appears that it may reopen as a fee site, which isn’t the end of the world, but it won’t be free boondocking. There are other pay sites all up and down the river already. Douglas City and Steel Bridge are the two closest to Steiner Flat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s