Steelhead Fishing in Central California

Fly fishing on the Big Sur River, Carmel River, San Lorenzo River

A freshly caught steelhead
Mike Kemp / Getty Images

The holiday season marks the time of year anglers start seeking out early winter steelhead along the Central Coast of California.

And after some down years in the region, steelhead fishermen hope better protection and habitat preservation bolster future steelhead runs.

In the central region, the San Lorenzo River is usually the best indicator of what to expect from the season. The steelhead numbers should continue to improve thanks to “fish recycling,” as the past few years have been catch and release only for the silver bullets of these waters. And unlike their king salmon cousins, a fraction of these southern steelheads return to the ocean after spawning.

That’s why it is important that anglers use extreme care when catching and releasing these precious fish.

Be sure to use barbless hooks and abide by Department of Fish and Game regulations. Fishing is typically open on weekends, Wednesdays and legal holidays from December through early March.

In addition to a fishing license, steelhead anglers must have a valid steelhead report card, available at fishing and sporting goods stores. Be sure to check current regulations ( as regulations can change from year to year on these precious steelhead waters.

Guide to Central Californian Rivers

The Big Sur River often gets lost in the surrounding coastal beauty.

The Carmel River’s low flow restriction is normally around 80 cubic feet per second and applies to the adjacent San Jose, Gibson, Malpaso, and Soberanes creeks.

The Big Sur River, Limekiln Creek and its tributaries, and those portions of Big Sur Coast streams west of Highway 1 from Granite Creek south to Salmon Creek can be closed if Big Sur River flows are less than 40 CFS or if steelhead numbers decline.

Three other Bay Area creeks – Pinole Creek in Contra Costa County, Codornices Creek in Alameda and Upper Penitencia Creek in Santa Clara – have been closed to fishing in recent years in order to protect dwindling steelhead runs.

Call the DFG low flow closure hotline (831-649-2886) for current flows and closures. The message is supposed to be updated Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the season.

The DFG has installed angler survey boxes along several coastal streams to assist in steelhead research. Anglers are asked to fill out the surveys after every trip.