Fall Klamath king returns fell short in 2019

Following a promising 2018 fall Chinook salmon season on the Klamath that saw the run size trending upwards, the 2019 returns fell significantly short of expectations. Looking at the numbers presented in the PFMC “Review of 2019 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document, it’s likely we’ll have some severe restrictions both in the ocean and in the Klamath and Trinity rivers in 2020.

“Based on PFMC’s 2019 salmon review, the 2019 return of fall Chinook salmon to the Klamath basin did not meet expectations for returns, harvest or escapement,” said Wade Sinnen, Senior Environmental Scientist on the Klamath/Trinity Rivers.

The CDFW predicted a river run size of 97,912 in 2019, however according to Sinnen, the post season estimate was 37,270 adult fall Chinook, roughly 38 percent of the projection and fifth lowest return on record. “The return of fall Chinook jacks was 9,991 fish, which is also below the long-term average of 17,740. Both the tribal and in-river recreational adult Chinook harvest quotas went unmet in 2019.  Returns to hatcheries were also down and it is unlikely that full mitigation production for fall Chinook will be achieved in the coming year.” According to Sinnen, the cause for the lack luster performance of Klamath stocks this year appears to be related to poor survival and growth conditions, fish were significantly smaller at age this year as compared to most years. “The population can rebound quickly if suitable environmental conditions prevail in the future. As an example, the population doubled between 2017 and 2018 and the basin had a record high return of 316,754 fish in 2012. It is too early to prognosticate regarding 2020 Klamath fall Chinook population levels and fishing opportunities,” said Sinnen.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 8,564 compared to 21,109 adults in 2019. The Shasta River has historically been the most important Chinook salmon spawning stream in the upper Klamath River, supporting a spawning escapement of 27,600 adults as recently as 2012 and 63,700 in 1935. The escapement in 2019 to the Shasta River was 5,926 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 957 and 1,681 adults, respectively.

According to the report, an estimated 5,365 fall Chinook adults were harvested in the Klamath Basin recreational fishery, which was roughly 70 percent of the 7,636 allocated quota. The Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes share a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (32,401) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook. Tribal adult harvest was 5,974 (Yurok: 3,909 adults; Hoopa Valley: 2,065 adults), which was 18 percent of the tribal allocation.

Next up is CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting on February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting marks the beginning of a two-month long public process used to develop annual sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing recommendations. The process involves collaborative negotiations with west coast states, federal and tribal agencies, and stakeholders interested in salmon fishery management and conservation. Public input will help California representatives develop a range of recommended season alternatives during the March 3-9 PFMC meeting in Rohnert Park. The PFMC will finalize the recommended season dates at its April 4-10 meeting in Vancouver, WA. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

The weather ahead
“We’re not seeing any substantial rainfall through the end of February, but a couple weak systems could bring some precipitation,” said Alex Dodd of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There isn’t any rain in the forecast through Saturday, but there is a weak front that could clip our area late Saturday night or Sunday. Rainfall won’t be much, if any. Smith basin may see up to a tenth, and just trace amounts here locally. After that we’ll dry out again, with another weak system moving into the area Wednesday night that may bring some light rain. It doesn’t look like any of the river levels will be impacted,” said Dodd.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Rogue
This weekend’s rain added enough color to the Chetco to kick steelhead fishing into high gear, producing a couple days of nearly wide-open fishing according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Some guides were getting two to four steelhead a rod on Sunday and Monday,” said Martin. “By Tuesday, the river was clearing and catch rates dropped. There are still a lot of fish in the river, but flows are their lowest of the season, expected to drop to 650 cfs by the weekend. Expect a crowd with the derby Friday and Saturday. Steelhead fishing has been fair on the Elk, Sixes and Rogue. All are low and clear and will benefit from the next rain.”

Smith River
The Smith is low and as clear as it can get, but there are some fish around according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. He said, “Conditions are tough, but guys are catching a few each day. Most are averaging about a fish per rod, and some days are better. The fish are spread out and are holding wherever there’s broken water. Expect a busy weekend with lots of boats due to the Rowdy Creek Derby.”

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was running at just under 1,700 cfs on Wednesday and is still holding some color. Some of the spots are running out of current, but there’s still plenty of areas where fish are holding. Over the weekend, which wasn’t too crowded, boats were getting two to six fish per trip. Even without rain, the main stem should continue to fish.

Eel River (South Fork)
Hovering around 400 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday, the South Fork is low and clear. A few boats are still drifting, but most have moved down to the main. There should be plenty of fish in some of the deeper stretches. When the rains do return, we should see a real good push of downrunners.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is getting very low, but still has some color. Flows were right around 270 cfs on Wednesday. Reportedly there are quite a few steelhead in the lower river. The Duzen would be a good choice if you’re looking for bank fishing options.

McKinleyville resident Whitney Floyd holds a nice hatchery steelhead landed last Friday on the Mad River. Despite low water conditions, fishing remains excellent for winter steelhead on the Mad. The season is open through March 31. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mac

Mad River
Like the rest of the coastal rivers, the Mad is getting low. However, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the river is still holding some nice color. “Even with the low water, there’s still lots of fish being caught,” said Kelly. “The fish are spread out now, and holding mostly in the spots where there’s broken water or in the deeper holes and slots. There’s still plenty of fresh fish coming in from the ocean every day, and there’s lot of chrome hatchery fish around now. The past few days the bite has been much better in the morning.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

2019/2020 low flow information for North Coast rivers

Low Flow River Closures begin Oct. 1
North Coast rivers that are regulated by low flow closures, including the Eel River, Mad River, Mattole River, Redwood Creek, Smith River and Van Duzen River will begin angling restrictions on October 1st, except for the Mad River, which went into effect September 1st. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at anytime. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. NOTE: The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River will be closed until January 1, 2020

Areas subject to low flow closures:

Mad River: The main stem Mad River from the Hammond Trail Railroad Trestle to Cowan Creek. Minimum flow: 200 cfs at the gauging station at the Highway 299 bridge.

The main stem Eel River from the paved junction of Fulmor Road with the Eel River to the South Fork Eel River. Minimum flow: 350 cfs at the gauging station near Scotia.

The South Fork of the Eel River downstream from Rattlesnake Creek and the Middle Fork Eel River downstream from the Bar Creek. Minimum flow: 340 cfs at the gauging station at Miranda.

Van Duzen River: The main stem Van Duzen River from its junction with the Eel River to the end of Golden Gate Drive near Bridgeville (approximately 4,000 feet upstream of Little Golden Gate Bridge. Minimum flow: 150 cfs at the gauging station near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park.

Mattole River: The main stem of the Mattole River from the mouth to Honeydew Creek. Minimum flow: 320 cfs at the gauging station at Petrolia.

Redwood Creek: The main stem of Redwood Creek from the mouth to its confluence with Bond Creek. Minimum flow: 300 cfs at the gauging station near the Highway 101 bridge.

Smith River: The main stem Smith River from the mouth of Rowdy Creek to its confluence with Patrick Creek; the South Fork Smith River from the mouth upstream approximately 1000 ft to the County Road (George Tyron) bridge and Craigs Creek to its confluence with Jones Creek; and the North Fork Smith River from the mouth to its confluence with Stony Creek. Minimum flow: 600 cfs at the Jedediah Smith State Park gauging station.

Steelhead fishing rolls on despite lack of rain

Bayside resident Kirk Younker landed a nice hatchery steelhead while fishing the Mad River on Tuesday. The 27-inch fish was entered into the NCGASA Mad River Steelhead Derby, where the top fish stands at 37.5-inches. The Steelhead derby will run through the end of February. Photo courtesy of Kirk Younker

While the lack of rain on the North Coast has some steelhead anglers looking elsewhere for green water, there are a few local bright spots. Especially if you like to throw on a pair of waders and head to the river bar. The Mad River was as good last weekend as it’s been all year. With plenty of bank access, it’s probably one of the best steelhead options at the moment. The river is a perfect height, and water spilling from Ruth Lake has kept the color a beautiful shade of green. Chrome-bright hatchery steelhead are being caught by anglers working the river from the hatchery all the way to the pump stations. Both the South Fork Eel and the Van Duzen are getting low for boats, but both have excellent bank fishing opportunities. Both are full of steelhead, and if you put your time in, tugging on a handful of fish is not out of the question.

If you’d rather fish from a drift boat, your options are somewhat limited. The main Eel is your best bet as it still has plenty of green water. There’s also a real good chance of catching a few bright steelies. The Klamath and Trinity rivers are both good options as well. Both are green, and should have their share of winter steelhead moving through.

With no substantial rain for nearly three weeks, and very little predicted for the rest of the month, the coastal rivers are all headed towards low and clear conditions. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of steelhead options.

Weather ahead
The ridge of high pressure sitting of our coast continues to deflect any substantial rain systems well to our north according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The next chance for rain will be this weekend, but it won’t be much of a soaker,” said Zontos. “Most of the rain will fall on Saturday and into Saturday night, with showers possibly lingering into Sunday. The Smith basin could see from 1 to 1.5 inches. In the Mad basin, totals range from a quarter to three-quarters. The Eel will see much less, anywhere from a tenth to a quarter. After Sunday, dry conditions will return through at least Wednesday,” said Zontos.

Upcoming Meetings:
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting will be held February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting will cover the 2019 ocean and in-river salmon fishing seasons, Central Valley and Klamath Basin river returns, 2020 abundance forecasts, and serves as an opportunity for the public to provide input regarding the upcoming ocean salmon season. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

CA Fish and Game Commission
The CA Fish and Game Commission will meet on Feb. 21 at the Natural Resources Building – Auditorium, First Floor, 1416 Ninth Street in Sacramento. Among the agenda items is the Upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon sport fishing emergency regulations, where they’ll consider adopting a second 90-day extension of the upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon emergency regulations. Also on the agenda is the Klamath River Basin sport fishing, where proposed changes to Klamath River Basin sport fishing regulations will be discussed. The full agenda can be found at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177021&inline. The meeting will be live streamed at www.fgc.ca.gov the day of the meeting.

Free fishing days this weekend in Oregon
It’s free to fish, crab or clam on the Saturday and Sunday of President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 15-16. During these two days, no fishing licenses or tags (including a Combined Angling Tag and a Columbia River Basin Endorsement) are required to fish, crab or clam anywhere in Oregon. Although no licenses or tags are required, all other regulations apply including closures, bag limits and size restrictions. For more information, visit https://myodfw.com/articles/2020-free-fishing-days-and-events

The Rivers:
Chetco/Rogue/Elk/Sixes
After last week’s exceptional steelhead fishing on the Chetco, the action slowed down as the river dropped to 1,000 cfs reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The color is still a nice green, but flows are down enough boats are starting to hit bottom in the shallow riffles,” said Martin. “Fish are still being caught, but catch rates are down to a fish or two per boat for the guides, and one fish for every four or five private boats. Lots of steelhead were donated to the Chetco’s hatchery broodstock program the last 10 days, with 91 total adults, including 49 females.”

The Elk and Sixes have slowed, but the Sixes remains floatable for steelhead according to Martin. “Catch rates have dropped with lower flows on the Rogue, but guides anchoring and running MagLip plugs are still getting steelhead on the lower river,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith remains low and clear and in need of a good shot of rain. Flows were just above 7-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday and dropping. Boat pressure has been light as most guides have moved to other rivers. There are reportedly a few fish around, but overall, fishing is tough.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem is in great shape and holding a nice shade of green. Boat pressure was fairly heavy over the weekend, and could get worse as other coastal rivers are dropping out. Boats are averaging one to four fish per trip. There are some nice adults in the mix and some runbacks have shown up. There’s also a good number of half-pounders around. Flows are predicted right around 2,000 cfs by Saturday.

Eel River (South Fork)
As predicted, conditions were perfect over the weekend on the South Fork. The boat pressure was heavy, but the fishing was excellent. Average scores ranged from two to five fish per trip. With no rain, the river is clearing and is forecasted to be roughly 450 cfs by the weekend. Most boats have moved to the main stem, but there’s plenty of good bank fishing opportunities.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is getting low, with flows hovering around 385 cfs on Wednesday. The river was reportedly full of fresh steelhead over the weekend and earlier this week. Flows are predicted to get down to 300 cfs by the Saturday, but will bump back up to nearly 800 cfs after the rain on Saturday. If the rains come as predicted, it could be off color for a couple days.

Mad River
The Mad is in great shape and the fishing is still good reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “The fishing was excellent over the weekend, but the river has dropped a little, which has spread out the fish. Most of the fish are now holding in some of the deeper spots. It looks like we have a little bit of rain coming on Saturday that will increase the flows slightly. That should pull in some fresh fish, but it could put the river off color for a day or so,” added Kelly.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Spring-run Klamath salmon will open to fishing July 1

Julie Jewell, left, landed a nice spring Chinook last July on the Klamath River. Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife is reminding anglers that emergency regulations affecting spring Chinook salmon fishing in the Klamath River Basin were re-adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission effective December 2019. The emergency regulations listed in California Code of Regulations prohibit fishing for spring Chinook salmon in the Klamath River Basin from Jan. 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020. Chinook salmon fishing season will be open on the lower Klamath River between July 1 and Aug. 14, and on the upper Trinity River and New River between July 1 and Aug. 31. These emergency regulations supersede spring Chinook salmon fishing regulations found in the 2019-2020 California supplemental sport fishing regulations booklet.

Upon completion of the Certificate of Compliance, the CA Fish and Game Commission is proposing to permanently adopt these emergency regulations allowing limited sport fish take of upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook Salmon. The proposed regulation would allow continued limited sport fishing take of UKTSCS on the Klamath River downstream of the Highway 96 bridge at Weitchpec between July 1 and August 14, and the Trinity River from the Old Lewiston Bridge to the mouth of the South Fork Trinity River between July 1 and August 31, with a bag limit of one Chinook Salmon and a possession limit of two Chinook Salmon.

Two public hearings have been scheduled where anyinterested person may present statements, orally or in writing. Both hearings will take place at the Natural Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, California, 95814. The first hearing is Friday, February 21, 2020, at 8:30 a.m. The second hearing is scheduled for Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 8:30 a.m., or as soon thereafter as the matter may be heard. It is requested, but not required, that written comments be submitted on or before on April 2, 2020, to Fish and Game Commission, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090, or by email to FGC@fgc.ca.gov. Written comments mailed, or emailed to the Commission office, must be received before 12:00 noon on April 10, 2020. All comments must be received no later than April 16, 2020, at the hearing in Sacramento.

Also, fishing for steelhead in the Klamath and Trinity rivers remains open year-round consistent with the 2019-2020 regulations booklet. The fall Chinook salmon season begins on Aug. 15, 2020, on the Klamath River and Sept. 1, 2020, on the Trinity River. Regulations pertaining to fall Chinook salmon fishing will be adopted in May 2020 and will include the annual basin quota, size, bag and possession limits, which can be found at https://fgc.ca.gov/Regulations/2020-New-and-Proposed#5.87f.

Annual salmon meeting coming in February
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting will be held February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting will cover the 2019 ocean and in-river salmon fishing seasons, Central Valley and Klamath Basin river returns, 2020 abundance forecasts, and serves as an opportunity for the public to provide input regarding the upcoming ocean salmon season. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov. Meeting info can be found here https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, the rest of the work week is looking dry. “The next chance of rain will be Saturday, but it looks very light,” said Zontos. “The Smith basin could see up to a quarter, and here locally maybe a tenth to a quarter. It shouldn’t affect any of the river levels. We have a few chances of rain next week, mostly on Tuesday and Wednesday, then again on Friday and Saturday. Over the course of those four days, up to 1 inch could fall in the Smith basin. In the Mad River basin, we could see a half to three-quarters. The Eel will see even less,” said Zontos.

The Rivers:Chetco/Rogue/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been in prime shape since Saturday, and is in peak-season form according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Fishing is good, with steelhead spread throughout the system. The crowds have also arrived, with lots of bank fishermen, private boaters and guides. There have been a lot of hatchery fish on the lower end. Slides up high are keeping the water green.”

The Elk and Sixes are fair for steelhead reports Martin. “Boaters anchoring and running MagLips are doing very well for wild and hatchery steelhead on the Lower Rogue. Shore anglers using Spin-N-Glos also are doing well on the Rogue.”

Fortuna resident Cliff Chapman landed a nice steelhead on Monday while drifting the Smith River. Fishing on the Smith has gotten tough this week as the lack of rain has led to low and clear water conditions. Photo courtesy of Coopman’s Guide Service

Smith River
Conditions on the Smith right now are low and clear according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “Fishing has been tough this week. We’re getting a few hookups per trip. A lot of the fish that were around last week have probably moved up river, and the ones around now are getting harassed by the seals. It’s making for some tough fishing. The water has also gotten colder, so the bites that we are getting are light. Hopefully some fish will come in with the king tides over the weekend,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem should be in great shape by the weekend. Flows are predicted to hit 3,500 cfs by Friday.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is in perfect shape as of earlier this week, and should be fishable through the weekend. Flows are predicted to be around 600 cfs by Monday morning. Boats fishing from Benbow all the way down are reporting two to four fish per trip.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 700 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen is in perfect shape and should fish through the weekend. Flows are predicted to drop to 400 cfs by Monday morning, but should remain fishable through the early part of next week.

Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the color is starting to look good on the Mad. “It was milky green on Wednesday, and the color should be about perfect for the weekend,” said Kelly. “It seems like there’s plenty of fish in the river, the guys flossing below the hatchery are hooking quite a few. I would expect the river to be crowded this weekend, and there will likely be quite a few boats too. Conditions should be good for bait and plugs.” Flows are predicted to get down to 1,000 cfs and 7.7 feet by Saturday morning.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Rivers on the drop, green water on the way

Guide Rye Phillips of Wild Rivers Fishing holds a steelhead caught and released Jan. 29 on the Smith River by Kerry Simmons of Livermore. The steelhead bit a watermelon Spin-N-Glo while plunking on the anchor. It is Simmons’ first steelhead. Photo courtesy of Andy Martin

After a wet few weeks that saw most of the steelhead fishing focused on the Smith River, it appears the rest of the coastal rivers will finally come into play. A slight chance of showers is in the forecast on Thursday and again on the weekend, but it doesn’t look like they’ll put a rise back into any of the rivers. It may slow the drop slightly, but that’s about it. If the forecast holds and the rain stays away, all of the coastal rivers could be green by sometime next week, including the main stem Eel.
The Smith has been chocked full of steelhead for the past couple weeks, and we’re seeing a good return of steelhead to the Mad as well. With any luck, the main and South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, and Redwood Creek will all be flush with steelhead. Looks like we’ll get to find out very soon.

Weather ahead
For at least the next seven days, we’ll be moving towards a drier and colder weather pattern. According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we still have a couple chances of rain over the next few days, but it won’t be much and likely won’t affect any of the river levels. “Up in the Smith basin, there’s a chance of rain on Thursday and again over the weekend. Rainfall totals for the period are from a half inch to 1 inch, with the heaviest rain falling in the mountains. Monday and Tuesday are looking mostly dry. Here locally, there’s a chance of showers for Thursday morning, but then looks dry until the weekend. There’s a chance of rain over the weekend, but it won’t add up to much. We may see a quarter inch or less. Monday and Tuesday look dry,” said Zontos.

Fishing Report Cards Due Friday
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds anglers that Jan. 31, 2020 is the due date for turning in steelhead, sturgeon and North Coast salmon report card data.
Anglers are required to return their report cards even if they lost their report card, they did not fish or they didn’t catch any fish. There are two ways to meet the mandatory angler reporting requirement. Online reporting through the CDFW website (https://wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521416-harvest-reporting) or by mail to the addresses listed below:

North Coast Salmon Report Cards CDFW – Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521-9269

Steelhead Report Cards CDFW – Steelhead Report Card, P.O. Box 944209 Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

More information about report cards is available at wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing.

Low flow fishing closures set to end
Special low flow regulations that went into effect on Oct. 1 for the Eel River, Mattole, Redwood Creek, Smith, Van Duzen, and Sept. 1 on the Mad, will end on Friday, January 31. Until then, low flow restrictions remain in effect. Currently, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures are open.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been too high for drift boats for more than two weeks, but will finally drop back into shape by the end of the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers were doing well before it blew out, so expect fishing to be good river- wide as it drops,” said Martin. “Next week should be prime. The Chetco reached 20,000 cfs on Sunday, its highest level since the April 2019 flood.”

The Elk and Sixes also have been high according to Marin. “The Elk crested at 7.1 feet on Tuesday. It is generally too high to fish when it’s over 5.2 feet. It will be in good shape by Friday. The Sixes will be fishable by early next week. The next week will be prime on both rivers.”

Smith River
The Smith has been the bright spot on the coast, and has given up some nice steelhead – even with the high water. It hasn’t been under 11-feet since last Friday, but that hasn’t slowed the fishing. A few boats have drifted in the high water, but the majority of boats are plunking on the anchor. Boats are getting a few opportunities, and landing a couple each day. With very little rain on the way, the river should drop into perfect drifting shape by Friday. Look for excellent conditions through the weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
The Eel is dropping, but was still big as of Wednesday, flowing at 17,000 cfs. If the dropping trend continues, it could be fishable by sometime late next week. The main Eel starts to fish well once it gets in the 3,500 cfs range.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is dropping into shape, and could fish by the weekend or early next week at the latest. Flows are looking decent, but the color will depend on what’s coming out of the East Branch. Above Benbow will clear first and should be green by the weekend, but it will be pushy. Flows are predicted right around 2,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Saturday morning.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 2,200 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen is dropping quickly and could fish by mid to late next week. Flows are predicted to be right around 950 by Monday morning.

Mad River
The Mad is still high and brown, but there’s plenty of fish in the river according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Most of the fish are holding right below the hatchery, and guys are getting quite a few hookups a day. River conditions aren’t going to change much due to Ruth Lake being full and spilling over. It will take at least a week to 10 days of dry weather and cold nights before the river drops enough to turn green,” said Kelly.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Storms could derail hot steelhead bite on the Smith

Steelhead fishing on the Smith River has been off and running for a week, but the storms headed our way this weekend may put a damper on the hot action. The river has been chocked-full of steelhead since last week and anglers drifting from the forks to Ruby van Deventer Park have enjoyed some of the best fishing in recent memory. But now it looks like the boats may be off the water for a few days. As of Wednesday, the river looks to be fishable on Friday, but it will be big. Saturday forecast is calling for the river to rise all day, going from 12 to 15 feet by early Sunday morning. Monday doesn’t look much better, with the height sticking around 14.5 feet, which is too high to safely drift. Next week is calling for more rainfall, but the totals remain uncertain. With any luck, once the river drops, the good fishing will continue.

The weather ahead
“The North Coast can expect to see quite a bit of rain through Friday, followed by a larger system moving in on Friday night,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “From Wednesday through the day Friday, we’re looking at up to 1.5 inches falling in the Smith basin and Northern Humboldt. For the 24-hour period beginning Friday night to Saturday night, the Smith basin could see an additional 2 to 3 inches. In Humboldt and the Eel basin, we may see another 1 to 1.5 inches. Rain will continue into Sunday, but will diminish by the afternoon or evening,” said Zontos. “Next week is looking active as well. We’re following another storm system for Tuesday, but we’re not sure where it will hit yet or how much rainfall it will bring. We’ll remain in a rainy pattern throughout the rest of the week.”

Oregon Commission denies petition to prohibit wild winter steelhead retention in the SW Zone
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission denied a petition to prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead in rivers throughout the SW Zone via temporary rule in a split vote (4-2) according to a press release issues last Friday.

The Commission heard from more than 50 people who signed up to testify for and against the petition. ODFW staff had recommended Commissioners deny this petition as staff do not have a conservation concern for wild winter steelhead on the south coast for 2020. The declines in wild steelhead in other parts of the state have not been observed in the SW Zone and current regulations are already conservative. Also, staff continue to work on a multi-species conservation plan for the Rogue and South Coast where concerns about wild steelhead are being addressed. Commissioners denied a similar petition in 2018. For more information, visit https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2020/01_jan/011720c.asp

The Rivers
Chetco/Rogue

High water has kept drift boaters off the Chetco for the past week, but steelhead are still being caught by plunkers fishing from the lower river gravel bars reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “The river is high from rain and snowmelt and likely will remain high for boaters through the weekend. Slides above Loeb Park and up the South Fork continue to keep the Chetco muddy. The Rogue continues to be a bright spot for Southern Oregon rivers, as big numbers of fish have returned and Lost Creek and Applegate dams have kept the river fishable. MagLip plugs are working best.”

Smith
The Smith has fished well since last Thursday and guides and private boats have enjoyed some of the best steelhead fishing in a few years. Fish are spread out from the forks down and are being caught on a variety of offerings including roe, yarnies, and soft beads. Storms coming this weekend could blow the river out temporarily. Flows are predicted to reach 15 feet on Sunday morning, which are the biggest of the year. This will likely push the fish in the river now into the creeks, and bring in some new fish from the ocean.

Eel River (main stem)
As of Wednesday afternoon, the main Eel peaked at roughly 14,000 cfs. More rain is on the way, which is predicted to push the flows to 25,000 cfs by early Monday morning. This will be the biggest rise of the season, and should bring in plenty of fresh steelhead. However, it will be blown out for quite a while, it typically needs 10 days to a couple weeks of dry weather before it turns green.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was down to 2,100 cfs late Wednesday afternoon, but was still dirty. The East Branch, which dumps into the South Fork near Benbow, appears to be the culprit as it was chocolate milk-looking on Tuesday. Flows are predicted to reach fishable levels on Thursday and Friday, but the color may still be off.

Van Duzen
Like the Eel, the Van Duzen is forecasted for its biggest rise of the year on Sunday, reaching nearly 7,000 cfs on the Grizzly Creek gauge. It was just above 1,750 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon and dropping. It’s highly unlikely it will drop to a fishable level before it starts to rise again on Friday. It will likely take a week of dry weather to drop into shape.

HSU student and Mad River Steelhead Steward member Jacob Stout landed a nice steelhead Monday on the Mad River. The Stewards programs consists of volunteer anglers who aid in the collection of wild-origin steelhead to meet the hatchery’s annual production goals. Photo courtesy of Cody Baughn

Mad
The Mad is currently high and off color, sitting at 9.5 feet as of Wednesday. But that hasn’t stopped anglers from catching fresh steelhead according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Guys fishing around the hatchery and along the willow line are catching their share of fish,” said Kelly. There hasn’t been much happening below the Blue Lake bridge. Most of the fish I’ve seen have been hatchery fish, not a lot of wild ones are being caught right now.” As a reminder, the maximum leader length is 6-feet in CA anadromous waters.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Smith is it for green water

Five year-old Hazel Sloan was excited to say the least after landing this nice hatchery steelhead over the weekend on the Mad River. According to her dad Justin, pictured left, the steelhead was close to nine pounds and was 28.5 inches long. Photo courtesy of Justin Sloan

Last week I wrote that the Smith River would be the best bet for steelhead-green water. Well, that was only partially correct. The rains that were forecasted didn’t pan out entirely, and left the main Eel and South Fork perfectly green through the weekend. This week though, I really mean it. As I’m writing this weeks report, the Smith is not only your best, it’s also your only option for green, fishable water. The rain finally caught up to the Eel rivers on Monday, and both are now dirty along with the rest of the coastal rivers not named Smith. So if you’re looking for steelhead water, you know where to go.

Weather outlook
Much like last week, we’re expecting multiple systems to hit the North Coast over the next few days, but nothing significant. According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, rain is in the forecast almost every day, but it looks like we’ll get breaks on Friday and Sunday. “For the seven-day period ending next Wednesday, the Smith basin could see 3 to 4 inches, the Mad 2 to 3, and 1 to 2 inches could fall in the Eel basin,” said Zontos. “Through Sunday, we’re forecasting anywhere from 1.5 inches to 3 inches, with heavier rain to the north. Another system is predicted for Monday and Tuesday, and this could potentially be a bigger system, especially in the Eel basin. As of now, it’s looking dry from next Wednesday through the weekend.”

Mad River steelhead being tagged for research
In 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will again be applying spaghetti tags to some hatchery steelhead returning to Mad River Hatchery for research purposes. The purpose of tagging hatchery steelhead is to see how many of the tagged fish return next year (multiple year spawning). The tags look similar to reward tags used for studies with fish in the Trinity River, but there is no reward for returning the Mad River tags. If you catch a hatchery steelhead with the green tag, you may:

  • Keep the hatchery steelhead and return the tag to CDFW, 50 Ericson Court, Arcata. You can also return the tag to the Mad River Hatchery, 1660 Hatchery Rd, Arcata, or call the Mad River Hatchery at 707-822-0592.
  • You can also release the fish with tag still attached. Please do not remove the tag and then release fish.

ODFW Commission meeting on wild steelhead retention
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet on Friday, Jan. 17 in Salem, OR, with one of the agenda items being the retention of wild winter steelhead in the SW Zone. The Commission will consider a petition it received asking them to adopt a temporary rule (in effect for 180 days) that would prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead in rivers throughout the SW Zone, which includes the Chetco. ODFW staff is recommending Commissioners deny this petition, as they do not have a conservation concern for wild winter steelhead on the south coast at this time. The declines in wild steelhead in other parts of the state have not been observed in the SW Zone and current regulations are already conservative.  Also, staff continues to work on a multi-species conservation plan for the Rogue and South Coast where concerns about wild steelhead are being addressed. Commissioners denied a similar petition in 2018. The meeting agenda can be found online at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/20/01_Jan/index.asp. You can also view the meeting via livestream at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/

The Rivers:
Chetco River/Elk/Lower Rogue
The Chetco has been high and blown out the past week, with flows of 5,000 to 10,000 cfs reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It generally fishes best below 4,000 cfs,” said Martin. “Those kind of flows may be a week or more away. The plunkers have caught a few fish in the dirty water, but the river is unfishable for drift boaters.”

According to Martin, the Elk River dropped to 5 feet on Wednesday, the high point of where it is fishable. “It had reached 6.5 feet. It will be in play this week,” he said. “The bright spot has been the lower Rogue River, which is fishing well for plunkers using Spin-N-Glos and jet boaters anchoring and running MagLip plugs. The Rogue has remained fishable for the most part and will be the best bet this weekend.”

Smith River
The Smith has been teetering between fishable levels since the weekend. On Wednesday, it was right around 12 feet on the Jed gauge, and most boats chose to drift while a few fished on the anchor. Quite a few fish were reportedly caught, and the river had plenty of visibility by the afternoon. It was predicted to hit 14 feet on Thursday morning, but it remained in fishable shape due to more snow falling than rain. Conditions look good for Friday and should stay that way through Monday.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem blew out on Tuesday and it looks like it will be some time before it’s fishable again. It will likely need a solid 10 or so days before it’s green. Prior to blowing out, fishing remained tough. Boats fishing the lower end were getting a chance at a couple winter steelhead per day.

Eel River (South Fork)
Like the main stem, the South Fork finally muddied up on Tuesday. It’s predicted to go above 6,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge by Thursday night. Flows are forecasted for fishable levels by the weekend, but the color will be a wait and see. With more rain on the way early next week, it may not fish until late next week or the weekend.

Van Duzen
The Duzen has been off color since last week, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. Flows were hovering around 1,400 cfs as of Wednesday, and predicted to bounce between 3,000 and 1,500 cfs through Monday. This season, conditions have been best right around 400 cfs.

Mad River
The Mad blew out last week, and remains high and muddy. According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, there are a few fish being caught right at the hatchery and along the willows. He said, “There aren’t many anglers trying, but there’s fish in the river. Quite a few have made their way up the ladder in the last week, so there’s fish coming.” The Mad is predicted to be high through the weekend, hovering around 10-feet on the Arcata gauge. It will need a good week of dry weather before it’s green.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Smith River best option for green water

If you’re in pursuit of steelhead-green water this weekend, you’ll probably need to head north. With the Chetco on the rise and off color due to multiple slides, the Smith could be the only game in town for quite some time. It looks to be a little unstable through the weekend, but is forecasted to remain at fishable levels. Here locally, all stretches of the Eel, Van Duzen, Mad and Redwood Creek are currently blown out – or will be soon – with very little relief in sight. A chance of rain is in the forecast about every other day for the next few days before a bigger system is predicted to hit next Wednesday. This is great news for the quick-clearing rivers to our north. The Humboldt rivers on the other hand, won’t likely have enough breaks in the rain to drop back into shape in the next week or so. If you’re looking to fill your steelhead fix this weekend, your best bet is to head north.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we’ll see a very active weather pattern for the rest of this week and into next. “We’re looking at a series of storms rolling through, with short breaks in between,” said Zontos. “For the seven-day period ending next Tuesday, the Smith and Mad basins could see 3 to 4 inches. The Eel will see anywhere from 1 to 2 inches. These systems will be much colder as well, we should see some snowfall with each one, especially next week. We’re currently tracking a much larger system that could hit the area next Wednesday through Saturday. There’s still a lot of uncertainties around this one and where it will hit on the coast, but we could see some heavy rain that could potentially impact the Eel River,” said Zontos.

Annual salmon meeting coming in February
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting will be held February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting will cover the 2019 ocean and in-river salmon fishing seasons, Central Valley and Klamath Basin river returns, 2020 abundance forecasts, and serves as an opportunity for the public to provide input regarding the upcoming ocean salmon season. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Please contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
Steelhead are now being caught throughout the Southern Oregon Coast, but none of the rivers are red hot according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The Chetco has a decent number of hatchery and wild fish on the lower end, but it has been muddying up with each rain, with slides on the South Fork, North Fork and between Loeb and Ice Box,” said Martin. “The Elk and Sixes are fair for steelhead. Plunkers and boaters anchoring and running plugs also are starting to catch steelhead on the lower Rogue. This week’s rain should bring more steelhead into each system.”

Greg Schroeder of Dayton, OR landed a nice steelhead on a recent trip down the Smith River. With storms lined up into next week, the quick-clearing Smith will likely remain the only coastal river with green water. Photo courtesy of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

Smith River
Steelhead fishing is still pretty tough on the Smith according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “As of Wednesday, there’s not any more fish in the river than last week, but they are starting to pile up in a few places. We’re getting a chance at two or three per day covering a lot of water. It looks like we’re going to get a good shot of rain over the next few days, so we should start to see more fish in the river,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was fishable for the better part of two weeks, but that run is about to be over. It was on a slow rise as of Wednesday and predicted to peak at 5,800 cfs on Friday. The Eel is still waiting for the first real big flush of the year, and next weeks rain could do it. With storms lined up through next week, it will be some time before it’s fishable again. Prior to blowing out, boats were getting zero to a couple chances per trip. There hasn’t been many fish coming through, hopefully the next big rise will do the trick.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was on the rise as of Wednesday and will likely blow out on Thursday or Friday. The river height should be good by late weekend, but it will likely be off color. Predicted to be right around 600 cfs by Monday morning. Fishing has reportedly been slow for the anglers trying, but a few steelhead have been caught.

Van Duzen
The Duzen was rising on Wednesday, and will likely be muddy through the weekend. With more rain in the forecast for next week, it could be a while before it drops back into shape.

Mad River
The Mad has been the most consistent steelhead producer in Humboldt, and even that has been slow. Drift boats starting below the hatchery are seeing one to four adults per trip. The bank anglers are catching a few as well, but it’s not red hot. The river has been in good shape for the past week, but predicted to blow out on Wednesday. Storms are lined up into next week, so it will be quite a while before we see any green water.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Steelhead season off to a slow start

Joshua Auckland landed this nice hatchery steelhead on Saturday while fishing the Mad River. The big buck weighed in at 14 pounds. The Mad has been the best choice for winter steelhead this past week, and river conditions should remain ideal through Saturday. Photo courtesy of Joshua Auckland

It’s been somewhat of a slow start to the winter steelhead season on the North Coast. At one time or another, all of the coastal rivers have been in fishable shape, so it’s not for a lack of effort.  If anything is missing, it’s the fact that none of the rivers have had a real good blowout. When that happens, which is usually earlier in the season, that’s typically when we see the first good wave of steelhead move into the rivers. To date, we’ve had some decent rises, but no real gully washers as of yet. I’m sure there’s other factors leading to the sluggish start, but the most commonly mentioned is the absence of large storms. Even with less than ideal conditions, there’s been steelhead caught on all of the rivers. Just not in big numbers. Right now, the Mad River is probably your best bet. The main stem Eel would be the next option while the rest of the rivers are either dirty, low, or short on steelhead. As has been the case this season, another couple weak storm systems are forecasted for Wednesday and Friday. We’ll likely see some small flow increases on all the rivers, but it won’t be the big one we’ve been waitiIt’s been somewhat of a slow start to the winter steelhead season on the North Coast. At one time or another, all of the coastal rivers have been in fishable shape, so it’s not for a lack of effort.  If anything is missing, it’s the fact that none of the rivers have had a real good blowout. When that happens, which is usually earlier in the season, that’s typically when we see the first good wave of steelhead move into the rivers.

To date, we’ve had some decent rises, but no real gully washers as of yet. I’m sure there’s other factors leading to the sluggish start, but the most commonly mentioned is the absence of large storms. Even with less than ideal conditions, there’s been steelhead caught on all of the rivers. Just not in big numbers. Right now, the Mad River is probably your best bet. The main stem Eel would be the next option while the rest of the rivers are either dirty, low, or short on steelhead. As has been the case this season, another couple weak storm systems are forecasted for Wednesday and Friday. We’ll likely see some small flow increases on all the rivers, but it won’t be the big one we’ve been waiting for. But who knows, it could be enough to bring in some fresh steelhead.

Weather ahead
A couple weak fronts will move through the area beginning on Wednesday according to Josh Whisnant of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The Eel basin will see from a tenth to a quarter inch, with the heavier rain falling to the north,” said Whisnant. “The Smith basin could see a quarter to a half-inch. The next front will move in Friday night into Saturday morning. We’ll see a little more precipitation from this one, with up to a quarter falling in the Eel basin. Up in Del Norte, the Smith could see a half to an inch. Sunday is looking mostly dry, with the next chance of rain coming Tuesday afternoon.”

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River opened to fishing on Wednesday, January 1, but was immediately closed due to low flows. Fishing is allowed from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek and from Stansberry Creek to confluence with Honeydew Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is regulated by low flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station. As of Thursday, flows were right around 260 cfs. Be sure and call the low flow hotline (707-822-3164) prior to fishing.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk
The Chetco is full of half-pounders and a few adult steelhead according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers and drift boaters are doing best on the lower end,” said Martin. “Big numbers of smolts are making it difficult to fish roe on the upper end. A few late kings also are being caught. Salmon were still being caught on the Elk River last week, but low flows made it difficult to drift this week. With more rain coming, it will be the best shot at late salmon.”

Craig Nunley of Caldwell, Idaho, holds a steelhead he caught and released Dec. 27 while fishing the Upper Chetco River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. The steelhead hit a bead and roe. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing.

Smith
The Smith is low and clear, and fishing has been tough reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “There’s very few steelhead around right now. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a couple chances on a full-day drift,” said Coopman.

The Smith is just under 7 feet on the Jed Smith gauge as of Tuesday. It’s predicted to bump up to 8 feet following Wednesday’s rain, followed by a bigger rise on Saturday to nearly 9 feet.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was on a slight rise Tuesday, but remained in fishable shape. Flows should be just about perfect through the weekend, and probably a good choice if you’re looking to catch a steelhead. Fishing pressure wasn’t too heavy over the weekend, and boats were getting up to two adults and a few half-pounders.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork peaked at just 700 cfs on Tuesday morning. Predicted to drop below 400 cfs on the Miranda gauge by the weekend. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught as of yet.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 450 cfs on Tuesday and predicted to hit 970 cfs by Saturday. The river was dirty on Tuesday following Sunday’s rain. Steelhead fishing has been slow so far.

Mad
The Mad is in perfect shape as of Tuesday according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “Up until Sunday, the fishing was really slow, but has since picked up. There hasn’t been one spot any better than anywhere else, you just have to look for groups of fish. I think there’s more fish in the river than we realize. We’re supposed to see a little bump in flows on Wednesday, but hopefully the river won’t get too muddy. A bigger one is forecasted for Saturday which has the river going to 8.5 feet. That will more than likely put some color in the river, but it looks like it will drop down pretty quickly. Most of the fish are coming on beads and worms, but roe is working as well.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby rules
The derby kicked-off on Jan. 1 and will run through Feb. 29. Below are the rules for those who signed up:

  • Payouts are 1st place: $500; 2nd place: $250; 3rd place: $150. One youth division winner will be awarded a $150 gift certificate to a local sporting goods store. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place payouts will be a written check from NCGASA. Winners will be determined by the fishing coordinator and a rep from NCGASA. Winners based on the longest, measured, hatchery steelhead photographed and entered correctly within the Derby event dates: Jan. 1 to Feb. 29. Upon an exact tie in length, the fishing coordinator and a rep from NCGASA will determine a new payout and prizes. Any and all disputes will be solved by NCGASA.
  • Any cheating on the derby deemed by NCGASA will be a forfeiture of all monies paid. All participants must have a valid California fishing license and steelhead report card and must follow all California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules.
  • The boundaries of the Derby are the Mad River mouth to Boundary Creek.
  • Fishing hours start on January 1, 2020 at 6 a.m. to February 29, 2020 at 6 p.m. Any entries submitted after 6 p.m. on Feb. 29 will not be included as deemed by the fishing coordinator.
  • All hatchery steelhead entered into the Derby must be measured from tip of the closed mouth to the fork of the tail with the tape on top of the fish. Photographs of this measurement showing both the tip of the mouth and the fork of the tail must be submitted with a secondary photo of you and your hatchery steelhead. Please list date, time, location of where the hatchery fish was caught or any other details when submitting. The information will be used to caption your photos on social media and on the website. All photos used will become property of NCGASA and the Derby for promotional use. You may harvest only hatchery steelhead. The adipose fin will be clipped on a hatchery steelhead. All hatchery steelhead must be caught in the mouth by rod and reel and landed legally by hand or net. Send your photos to madriversteelheadderby@gmail.com or contact the fishing coordinator (Tracy Mac) at (707) 496-2948 for other ways to submit.
  • All participants must follow all local, state and federal laws in order for your hatchery steelhead entry to be entered to win. All California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules are required and to be followed including low flow closures. Only fish caught while the river is open to fishing can be submitted. NCGASA reserves the right to disqualify any participate if the hatchery steelhead entry is suspected to be caught outside the 2020 Derby dates (Jan. 1 to Feb. 29, 2020). Participate agrees to these rules by entering this NCGASA members only hatchery steelhead derby
  • All entrants and people helping with the derby understand the risks involved with fishing on the Mad River and are required to follow all California Department of Boating and Waterways procedures and California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Steelhead conditions look good for the weekend

From high water to low water to dirty water – we’ve endured all conditions imaginable to start off our steelhead season. But following a weekend that saw less rain fall than predicted, river conditions are finally starting to line up. The Smith dropped into fishable shape on Monday, and the drift boaters picked up a few. The Chetco blew out over the weekend, but should be in great shape by mid-week. Plunkers landed their share of bright steelhead prior to the blowout. Closer to home, the Mad was a little high and dirty on Tuesday, but should be in pristine shape by the weekend. A few steelhead have made their way back to the hatchery, and there should be plenty more behind them. The main stem Eel is also recovering from the storms, and it could fish as early as the weekend. Not many boats have been on the water, but you can bet there’s steelhead around. Both the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen will be on the low-side by the weekend, but should be holding a little color. If you’re looking to get out of the house this weekend, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a fishable river.

McKinleyville resident Tyler Collins landed this nice winter steelhead on Monday while fishing the Smith River with guide Tyler Gillespie. The winter steelhead run is just beginning on the coastal rivers, and conditions look good for the weekend. Photo courtesy of Tyler Gillespie

The weather ahead
“Not much in the way of rain for the next few days, and possibly into next week,” said Tyler Jewel of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There’s a slight chance of a small front moving in on Sunday morning, but the models are really inconsistent and there isn’t much confidence that it will hit us,” said Jewel. “At most, we could see about a half-inch, but it will likely be around a tenth, if anything. After that, we’ll see a ridge of high pressure rebuild keeping us dry through at least the middle of next week.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby starts Jan. 1
If you’re interested in signing up for the Mad River Steelhead Derby, you’ll want to act quickly. The inaugural event, put on by the Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA.org), begins Jan. 1 and runs through Feb. 29, 2020. You must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 to be eligible. Anglers can sign up online at https://ncgasa.org/product/mad-river-steelhead-derby/ or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport Sporting Goods in Eureka. Entry fees are $30 for NCGASA non-associate members and $10 for current members. All entries include a yearly NCGASA membership and an additional prize raffle ticket. The largest hatchery steelhead entry will win $500, second place $300 and third place will receive $150. There will also be a youth division winner (16 years and under), who’ll receive $150 gift certificate from one of our sponsors. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler broodstock collection program. For more info. and derby rules, visit MadRiverSteelheadDerby on Facebook and Instagram or email madriversteelheaderby@gmail.com.

Commercial crab opener set for Dec. 31
The commercial Dungeness crab season in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties is slated to open at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, to be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 8:01 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2019. Delays due to quality only affect the Dungeness crab fishery in this area. Any vessel that takes, possesses onboard or lands crab from ocean waters outside of a delayed area is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in any delayed area for 30 days following the opening of those areas. Permitted vessels that have already participated in the Dec. 15 opener south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line would not be able to set gear in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties until 12:01 am Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. This applies to any delayed areas in Oregon and Washington as well. For more information regarding the 2019-2020 Dungeness crab commercial season, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Invertebrates/Crabs

Rockfish season to close Dec. 31
The 2019 rockfish season in the Northern Management area, which runs from Cape Mendocino to the OR/CA border, will close for boat-based anglers on Tuesday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Groundfish-Summary#north

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco had a decent bite for steelhead last week before it blew out over the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers caught fish at Loeb Park and Social Security,” said Martin. “After reaching 9,000 cfs on Saturday, the river remained muddy and blown out Monday evening. A slide on the South Fork has it colored from top to bottom. It should be in good shape by Christmas or shortly after. The Elk was high but fishable on Monday, and most boats caught multiple salmon. Expect salmon to continue to arrive through the end of the week. The Sixes is high but should fish by Christmas. It closes Dec. 31 to salmon. The Elk remains open in January.”

Smith
Following the weekend rains, the Smith dropped back into shape on Monday. Not many boats were out, but a few nice steelhead were landed. River levels are predicted to drop and it will likely be low and clear by the weekend. Forecasted to be right around 2,200 cfs (7.5 feet) by Saturday morning.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was muddy as of Tuesday, but dropping quickly. Predicted to be at 3,000 cfs on the Scotia gauge by Thursday and could be fishable by the weekend.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was dirty on Monday, mostly due to the muddy water coming from the East Branch at Benbow. Flows on Tuesday were right around 800 cfs. By the time it clears in the next couple days, it could be tough to drift. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught as of yet.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 650 cfs on Tuesday and predicted to hit 500 cfs by Saturday. Reports have been hard to come by so far, but there should be some steelhead around once it clears.

Mad
The Mad has been quiet this week, likely due to the dirty water and lack of fish according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “The fishing pressure has been light this week as there haven’t been many fish around. There’s only a handful that have made it up the ladder. With dry weather for the next few days, conditions are looking really good for the weekend. My guess is it we’ll start to see some green water by Friday, with the weekend looking ideal. Hopefully there will be some fish around.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

River blowouts predicted for the weekend

The transition to steelhead season is taking a bit longer than we hoped. With the storm door now busted wide-open, finding some green water in the next few days won’t be easy. The North Coast is expected to get pounded by a couple of wet storms, with the first arriving on Thursday followed by a bigger one on Saturday. Per usual, the Smith will be the first to drop into shape, and could be fishable by Sunday. The rest of the coastal streams won’t fare quite so well. With three to four inches predicted in the Mad and Eel River basins, they’ll likely be toast through the weekend and into next week. The forecast beginning on Sunday and into next week isn’t calling for much rain, which should put the rivers on a quick descent. If we’re all nice, we could be looking at fishable water by Christmas.

Tyler Vaughn of McKinleyville landed possibly the first Mad River steelhead of the season last Wednesday while fishing with Tyrone Bachus. The river will likely be blown out this weekend, with three to four inches of rain in the forecast through Sunday. Photo courtesy of Tyrone Bachus

Weather ahead
More rain is on the way, with two systems bearing down on the North Coast. “The Smith basin could see anywhere from 4 to 6 inches between now and next Tuesday,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “During the same time period, the Mad and Eel basins should see between 3 and 4 inches. The first system will arrive on Thursday, bringing an inch to an inch and a half to the Smith. Roughly the same amount is predicted for Saturday. In the Eel and Mad basins, the heaviest rain will hit on Saturday. We’ll likely see less than an inch on Thursday, but Saturday’s system could bring up to 3 inches Saturday through Monday. That’s when we’ll see the rivers really spike. Right now, light rain is forecasted for Sunday with Monday and Tuesday looking mostly dry,” said Zontos.

Mad River Steelhead Derby coming Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA.org) is producing an inaugural Mad River Steelhead Derby beginning Jan. 1 and running through Feb. 29, 2020. You must be signed up prior to Jan. 1, and only hatchery steelhead can be entered into this fishing contest. Anglers can sign up online at ncgasa.org or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport Sporting Goods in Eureka. Entry fees are $30 for NCGASA non-associate members and $10 for current members. All entries include a yearly NCGASA membership and an additional prize raffle ticket. The largest hatchery steelhead entry will win $500, second place $300 and third place will receive $150. There will also be a youth division winner (16 years and under), who’ll receive $150 gift certificate from one of our sponsors. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler broodstock collection program. For more info. and derby rules, visit MadRiverSteelheadDerby on Facebook and Instagram or email madriversteelheaderby@gmail.com.

2020 Fishing license
A reminder that it’s the time of the year to purchase your 2020 sport fishing license, which is required for residents 16 years of age or older to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians or reptile in inland or ocean waters. The cost of a new resident sport fishing license is $51.02. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $7.05, is required for all anglers taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System. If you plan to fish for steelhead, you’ll need to purchase a steelhead report card, which will cost $7.82 this year. The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife does not accept cash for fishing licenses. For more info, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing

Reduced-Fee sport fishing licenses available
Reduced-cost fishing licenses are available in 2020 for $8.13 (instead of $51.02) for disabled military veterans. For those 65 or older on reduced income, licenses are available for $7.73. For more information on all CA fishing licenses, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521417-free–reduced-fee

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing on Wednesday, January 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is also regulated by low flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station.

Mad River Hatchery ladder now open
The water running down the ladder to the river was turned on Monday. The hatchery hopes to begin spawning on Tuesday, Dec. 31 and then each following Tuesday.

New Oregon recreational crab gear marking rule
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has adopted the following rules effective January 1, 2020: 1) Surface buoys used to mark recreational crab pots or rings must be marked in a visible, legible, and permanent manner with information clearly identifying the owner of the crab pots or rings. 2) The identifying information must include first and last name or business name AND at least one of the following: (a) Permanent address; (b) Phone number; (c) Angler Identification number; or (d) A vessel identification number. Mark your buoys used with pots or rings in the ocean and bays. Rule does not apply to gear from piers, jetties, or beaches. For more information, visit https://myodfw.com/sites/default/files/2019-12/Buoy%20sign_1.pdf

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
“The Chetco has been slow for salmon and steelhead, as the fall-run of kings appears to be over for the season, and big numbers of steelhead have yet to arrive,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “There are a few half-pounders around, and plunkers caught a few adult steelhead in the past week. Success from drift boats has been slow. This week’s big storm, with the highest flows since April’s flood expected, could jump start steelhead fishing.”

The Elk and Sixes have been decent for salmon when flows are good according to Martin. “The Elk was good over the weekend. More than 500 salmon returned to Elk River Hatchery on Friday. By Monday, the Elk was too low to float. The Sixes was crowded, but produced fair catches. Expect another shot of fish in the Elk after the water drops early next week,” added Martin.

Smith River
There aren’t many steelhead around right now, but that should change after the next rounds of storms reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “Last weekend and early this week, there were fresh salmon being caught,” said Coopman. “We’re forecasted to see a couple decent rises over the next few days, with the biggest coming late Saturday. Depending on the rain, the river could remain fishable through the weekend. I’d expect to see some adult steelhead around next week.”

Main stem Eel
The main stem was fishable on Wednesday and should remain so through Thursday. There are some nice adult steelhead in the lower river according to reports. It’s predicted to blowout late Thursday, reaching 28,000 cfs on Monday morning. It will take at least a week of dry weather before it drops back into shape.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork has been fishable the last few days, but it’s been skinny. Flows on Wednesday were right around 370 cfs. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught, but did hear there were some fresh kings around. Will likely get muddy following Thursday’s rain, and will really blow out on Saturday afternoon.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 400cfs on Wednesday, and the steelhead reports have been hard to come by. Like the Eel, it will likely be muddy by late Thursday and won’t fish through the weekend.

Mad
On Wednesday, the Mad was green and fishable above the 299 bridge reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “I haven’t heard of a lot fish being caught yet, but the river was in good shape as of Wednesday. I did hear some fish were seen moving on the lower river. There’s not much effort yet, but that will change after the river comes back down next week.” The Mad is forecasted to blow out on Thursday, followed by another big rise on Saturday where flows could reach 6,200 cfs.

Upper Trinity
The rains definitely helped the Trinity as far as steelhead fishing goes reports guide Steve Huber. “The recent rains have moved some of the steelhead that were in the upper river to the hatchery,” said Huber. “It also brought in some new fish to the upper section. More rain is needed to bring the fish that were in the lower river up, and the coming storms could do just that. Most anglers are fly fishing, with a few running plugs or tossing bait. There’s been a good group of steelhead in the Junction City area, which is seeing the most pressure. Most boats are getting one to three adults per trip and a mixed bag of half-pounders.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com