It all started with a phone call from Sarah, “I read in Friday’s Chronicle…”
“It’s the best time of the year to come out, right now,” says Brett Wilson, who oversees the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery, officially known as the Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery, 8 miles west of Healdsburg.
A hatchery steelhead is hardwired like its wild brethren to return from the ocean to its native spawning ground. This provides two advantages over wild steelhead, if you’re looking to see fish in action fighting their way home. The first is you know exactly where to find them. The second is that there are some fish there to see.
They arrive in spurts and the average yield is two or three fish every half hour, Wilson estimates.
Even when holding on the steps or resting after flopping over the top, they are something to see. The anadromous rainbow trout can be 3 feet long. The males are in spawning colors, red stripes up the sides. The females are chrome, or turning dark with the freshwater.
Warm Springs Fish Hatchery: 3333 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville. The Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wed.-Sun. (707) 431-4533.
We needed to go to Simi Winery in Healdsburg to pick up our Wine Club shipment, so we could combine that with a visit to the hatchery. Sounded like a plan.
Nestled in the Sonoma hills near the shore of Lake Sonoma, the fish hatchery is a beautiful spot.
We followed the signs through the welcome center, over a bridge, through the hatchery and along a path to the fish ladder.
A deep concrete trench steps down from a pool to the creek below where the fish arrive, having traversed rivers and streams from the Pacific. It was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for waiting for the salmon and trout to come and entertain us.
In the pool above the ladder, we could see large trout “holding” against the current. A school group had just left the fish ladder and moved back toward the hatchery.
We waited… and waited. I took a few pictures of the ladder and the school group and waited. Sarah said she saw a fish jump, but I didn’t see it. We waited… I saw a small fish jump in the middle of the ladder, but not over a wall.
I saw a fish jump… it must be down there. We waited… other folks came and went, but we waited. The sound of the rushing water was calming… I remarked that it would be nice to have a ball game on the radio to pass the time. After about an hour, we decided that the fish weren’t coming today. It was noon, time to think about lunch… that we can control.
This is what we came to see… finally. Oh… that’s a poster in the visitors center.
We went on to experience what turned out to be a fabulous day of food in the wine country. You can check that out on eatsforone.com.