Tag Archives: live bait

Steelhead vs. Rainbow Trout – What’s the Difference?

Angler with wild Klamath River Steelhead (released).

Angler with wild Klamath River Steelhead (prior to release).

Question: I’d like to try steelhead fishing for the first time on the American River. I will purchase a regular California fishing license and adhere to all regulations, but do I have to purchase the steelhead card if I don’t intend to keep any steelhead? If so, why can’t one be fishing for regular (rainbow) trout in the same river without a steelhead card? (Lilly K.)

Answer: It can be a bit confusing because steelhead trout and rainbow trout are the same fish. Its scientific name is Oncorhynchus mykiss (O. mykiss). Generally speaking, O. mykiss found in land-locked freshwater with no access to the ocean is a rainbow trout and steelhead trout are O. mykiss fish found in anadromous waters, which are waters with unimpeded access to the ocean where they live the majority of their life and come back to freshwater to spawn.

For practical purposes and to facilitate compliance, fishing regulations differentiate between rainbow and steelhead in anadromous waters by a 16-inch size threshold. O. mykiss smaller than 16-inches is a rainbow trout, and bigger than 16-inches is a steelhead. Fishing for steelhead, meaning any O mykiss in excess of 16-inches, in anadromous waters including the Lower American River below Nimbus Dam in Sacramento County, will require purchase of a Steelhead Report Card, even if you practice catch-and-release (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 5.88).

The report card provides important data to fishery scientists and requires an entry for each day that you fish and statistics on all fish caught and released. Fishing for O. mykiss less than 16-inches does not require a steelhead report card.


Does sardine fishery closure mean no more sardines for live bait?
Question: I heard in the news last week that the sardine fishery will be closing because it’s been overfished. Is this true? If so, how will this impact sport fishermen who rely on sardines for live bait? What about for fishermen who catch them incidentally on hook and line or who target them on sabiki and similar rigs off piers, jetties, etc.? (Steve C.)

Answer: The season for the current directed commercial sardine fishery has closed. There will also be a prohibition for next season for the same fishery due to a declining stock, but the decline is not due to overfishing. Anglers will be happy to know that these closures have no effect on either live bait or recreational take of sardine. These catches are not considered as part of the prohibition on directed commercial take. Currently, there is no limit on the recreational take of Pacific sardine (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.60(b)).

Biomass (population numbers) and commercial catch of Pacific sardine have fluctuated since the early part of last century. Over the past couple of years, the biomass of Pacific sardine has been declining. These fluctuations and the recent decline are primarily due to natural large scale changes in oceanic temperature, and studies show that biomass has fluctuated on a decadal scale for thousands of years. For more information on management of the West Coast Pacific sardine stock, please see the Pacific Fishery Management Council website (www.pcouncil.org/).

For more information about Pacific sardine history, research, and management in California, please visit California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW’s) Pacific sardine web site at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/cpshms/pacificsardine.asp.


Spotting abalone for friends while on probation?
Question: I was cited for an abalone violation for failure to tag immediately out of the water last year (I went up to my car to grab a pen and ran into a ranger). My probation states 12 months of no fishing. Would it be legal to still go out with my buddies and spot abalones for them? I would obviously not carry an abalone iron. (Jingsong W.)

Answer: No. The law defines take as “hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill” (FGC, section 86). If you are helping your buddies by spotting abalone for them to harvest, you are pursuing and hunting for abalone, which constitutes take.


Black bear claw necklace?
Question: I have a necklace that contains black bear claws that were legally taken in Wisconsin a couple of generations ago. They were part of a rug until it fell apart from age and moths. I would like to pass it along to my grandson as he is involved in Cub Scout activities. It would be a gift being passed down from one generation to another. Is it legal for him to possess it in California? In keeping with the scouting traditions, I want to make sure we are doing things legally and properly. (Robert S., Texas)

Answer: Yes, you can give this family treasure to your grandson but Fish and Game Code, section 4758, prohibits the sale or purchase of bear parts in California.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.