Angling for a meeting — Meet some steelhead and enjoy other activities at the annual Steelhead Festival at Lake Sonoma on Feb. 8.

The annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival will return with its message of fun and conservation on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Milt Brandt Visitors Center at Lake Sonoma, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Wildlife and conservation exhibits from more than 50 state and regional organizations will be featured, as will tours of the Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery. Attendees will be able to get up close and personal with steelhead trout as they push upstream and climb the fish ladder to spawn the next generation of fish. Kids (ages 5 to 15) can cast their line for a chance to snag a hatchery trout to take home for dinner (fishing poles will be provided). 

There will also be art projects, archery, a bubble show, a silent auction and many other activities. Sonoma Bird Rescue will have live birds of prey, and the Sonoma County Bookmobile will be on site. Live music will be provided by Heartwood Crossing, and food vendors this year include El Coyote, Fruity Moto of Sonoma, Healdsburg Kiwanis, Just Popped Up, Lola’s Market, The Wurst Restaurant and TIPS Tri-Tip Trolley. Bear Republic Brewing will provide beer, and the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley will offer a selection of fine wines. Food and beverages must be purchased, but picnickers are welcome.

“This is one of the last free events in Sonoma County,” says Kasey Wade, board chairman of the Friends of Lake Sonoma, which hosts the event along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sonoma Water and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It is a fabulous opportunity to see wildlife and conservation efforts up close, and it is a tremendous educational experience for young and old alike. Besides that, it’s just plain fun.”

A free parking shuttle will be provided by Sonoma County Airport Express at the event.

An estimated 6,000 people attended the Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival in 2019, so early arrival is recommended. 

The junior fishing is consistently the most popular event of the day. The early birds get the worms (or fish) because the tickets for a spot to participate in the fishing are given on a first come, first serve basis so families should arrive early if you want a chance at a catch.

Families can also enjoy a recycling-themed game of corn hole or a trip through a maze meant to evoke the challenges of a baby fish trying to get to the ocean. Volunteers will help attendees with students through art projects like fish rubbing prints, hats and ornaments.

The annual festival is meant to raise awareness and funding for the visitors center and native fish preservation in the Lake Sonoma and surrounding watershed, especially the steelhead, a subspecies of the rainbow trout that is anadromous. Unlike the rainbow trout which spends its entire life in freshwater, steelhead go to the ocean to mature before returning upstream to spawn. They are considered a threatened species.

Coho salmon, considered critically endangered, are also produced at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery. 

According to a Dec. 9, 2019 report from Sea Grant California, 642 hatchery adult coho salmon returned to the Russian River Basin over the 2018/19 spawner season, 85% of which were 3-year-old fish, marking the highest estimated return of age-3 adults since monitoring began. It was also an exceptional year for adult steelhead, Sea Grant California observed steelhead spawning in 72% of the surveyed streams. Most of this occurred after the big February storm events of 2019, and the late rains supported spring spawning through May. 

The Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival is hosted by the Friends of Lake Sonoma, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Sonoma County Water Agency and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This event provides educational elements critical to increasing understanding of threatened and endangered species of not only the steelhead, but also the coho salmon, and to increase awareness of water conservation and the local watershed.

Community nonprofits and local businesses interested in exhibiting at the 2018 Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival should contact for more information. Cost for a table is $50 for nonprofits and $100 for small, local businesses. Groups are in charge of setting up their own table and providing appropriate display materials. 

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