The stunning steelhead trout are returning to the Warm Springs Dam Hatchery and the public is invited to come on down for the homecoming.
The 7th Annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival on Feb. 7 is a chance to see these native beauties up close in a celebratory atmosphere that includes special activities, hatchery tours, live music and food and drink.
And except for the refreshments, which this year includes wines from Dry Creek wineries, everything is free.
The highlight of the event is watching the spawning fish, some of which grow to a robust two feet in length, as they make their way up a ladder of pools from Dry Creek to the hatchery, an elevation of 37 feet.
“The focus is to educate people about wildlife conservation, environmental protection and propagation of a threatened species,” said Harry Bosworth, the president of the Friends of Lake Sonoma, which hosts the event along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Sonoma County Water Agency.
The event is expanding this year, with more participants spread out over a larger area around the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery and adjoining Visitor’s Center. Follow the Steelhead windsocks up the road to reach the festival grounds.
Among the kid-friendly activities are a fish maze, tours of the hatchery, a chance to hone archery skills with the Sonoma County Bowman, a mobile aquarium and a children’s musical about migration called “Flying South” by Carolyn Dixon of Sebastopol.
Fish and Wildlife will have a canine unit on hand to demonstrate how trained dogs sniff out quagga mussels, an invasive species that is making its way into the watershed and crowding out other organisms.
“People can see adult steelhead and they’re gorgeous fish,” said David Moore of the California Fish and Wildlife Service. “They have some of the same color tones but the genetics are the same as rainbow trout.”
By law, wild steelhead trout that are caught must be released. But fish raised in the hatchery are fair game.
During the festival, kids under 15 can try their hand at catching a hatchery fish from a tank. And if they catch a big one, they can even take it home for dinner.
Hours for the festival are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Milt Brandt Visitors center at Lake Sonoma, 3288 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville. For information visit lakesonoma.org.