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A California State Record Steelhead? by JD Richey

Dennis and Joanne O’Callaghan went steelhead fishing on California’s Smith River on their honeymoon 50 years ago. Since then, the couple from Vacaville, CA has fished just about every river from the Russian to the famed streams of the Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia.

Their ultimate goal has always been to catch a fish over 20 pounds.

Well, it took 5 decades and going back to where it all began, but the dream recently became a reality—and the fish was definitely worth waiting for! In fact, it was beyond their wildest dreams…

The pair returned to the Smith on Feb. 15, 2017 and according to the O’Callaghan’s guide that day, Mike Coopman, a 26-year Smith River veteran, the outing started off with a nice 14-pound steelhead hooked at the Covered Bridge.

“We were drifting pink Fish Pills with shrimp pink yarn and No. 4 hooks that day,” says Coopman. “As we were coming out of the Lower Picnic area, Joanne hooked a fish and it just took off upriver, I put the drag on ‘terminate’ to try to stop it and it finally started coming back down to us with about six wraps of line left on the spool.”

It wasn't a little spool, either. Coopman was running Shimano Stradic 4000’s loaded with 12-pound P Line so you can imagine how far upriver of the boat the big steelie was when it eventually turned around!

The fish took another sizzling run that about dumped the entire spool of line again before it settled into a bulldoggy, salmon-style fight. After about a 20-minute battle, Coopman slipped the net under the giant near the Hiouchi Bridge.

california fishing big native wild steelhead

“When I netted it, I looked over the edge of the boat and said, ‘wow this is a good one,’” says Coopman. “Dennis asked how big I thought it was and I told him way over 20. That’s when he got all jelly-legged!”

Coopman measured the behemoth four times and it came out to 42” x 23”. He also weighed it with his non-certified scale and it dipped the needle to 31.7 pounds in the net. He also ran the dimensions through several steelhead weight formulas and got calculations between 29 and 32 pounds.

“I don’t know exactly how much it weighed—all I know is it was one heck of a steelhead,” he says.

After a few quick photos, the giant swam away strongly and hopefully went on to find himself a few big ladies somewhere upstream. A 50-year quest for a giant steelhead had finally become a reality for Dennis and Joanne.

The official California state record for steelhead is 27 pounds and change, a fish that came from the Smith River back in 1976. The record was almost broken on the Smith in January 2007, when youngster Alex Green caught a massive 26.8-pound chrome buck off the bank.

Coopman says he saw a fish that rivaled Joanne’s caught by a plunker back in 1982 and he personally has guided people to three steelhead over 25 pounds.

california smith river steelhead giant fishing fish state record trout

“This fish was way bigger than even those,” he says.

Because the steelie was released, we’ll never know the official weight—but in the end who really cares? It was a fish of many lifetimes and it’s just nice to know that there are still steelhead like that out there.

When you’re out on the river with freezing fingers and the rain is coming in sideways, there’s nothing like the thought of a possible 30-pound steelhead to keep you casting!

- written by JD Richey https://fishwithjd.com/


1 comment

  • Sweet ! Again my instincts are correct. I told my Daughter which also lives in Vacaville, that I could just feel that there where fish heading up at that moment. Nice job Mike.

    Charlie Brown

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