D-word putting the hurt on local businesses

Mad River Steelhead Days begins Saturday
Steelhead and spawning salmon aren’t the only ones feeling the low-water pinch this winter. Tackle shops, fishing guides, gear distributors, hotels, and restaurants are all feeling the effects of the state’s worst dry spell since 1977. The amount of fish in the rivers hasn’t been an issue this winter — it’s about having enough water to fish effectively as well as having enough water to keep the rivers open. When the average angler hears the word “drought”, they immediately assume that means the fishing isn’t good. Not true at all. Migrating steelhead have been pouring into our coastal rivers for over a month now and the folks who’ve adapted to the low flows have done exceptionally well. But just getting over the perception of the D-word is a tough hill to climb for the businesses that generate income from the winter steelhead fishery.

“We’ve conditioned anglers to believe that we need rain for the fish to come, and that’s just not the case,” states guide Steve Huber, who spends hit winter fishing the upper Trinity. “My bookings are probably down close to 40 percent based mostly on the people talking about a drought. When potential clients hear that word, they assume the fish aren’t here, but that’s not true. It’s much tougher to sell trips during these real low water conditions,” Huber added.

Guides Mike Coopman of Crescent City and Alan Borges of Eureka both have their usual amount of trips on the books, but are having to juggle and sometimes cancel days due to client’s needs as well as river closures. Coopman, who spends much of the winter fishing on the Smith River, has had to cancel or re-schedule as much as 60 percent of his trips due to the Smith closing due to lack of flows. “I’m pushing a lot of my clients out to late February and March, but it’s tough to make any long-term plans. We’re all trying to grow our business each year, but in years like this it’s real tough. The clients that know and trust me will come fish with me if I tell them it’s worth it. New clients who I’ve never fished before are more likely to wait for another time. It’s real hard to get those people to come back,” Coopman added. Much like Coopman, Borges calendar is full for the winter, but has to juggle and push regular clients who like to keep fish out further into the winter. “Quite a few of my clients like to keep fish, and we’d normally be on the Chetco now. But that hasn’t been much of an option this year as we’ve only fished it a handful of days. So those types of clients I’ve had to move to February or March in the hopes that we’ll be able to fish a river that’s not catch and release. Overall, I’ve been able to keep most of my trips booked, but I’m traveling about one and half times more than a normal winter and those expenses add up,” Borges said.

Gary Blasi owner of Mad River Bait, Tackle & Guide Service in Arcata, who relies heavily on the Mad River as well as HSU students, is also seeing a decline. “We’re probably down close to 30 percent on steelhead gear, but we’re making it up in other places. I haven’t seen much of a slowdown in license sales, which is due to the fact that there are other rivers still open. If and when we do get rain, we should be able to make up any losses quickly,” Blasi added.

Crescent City’s Englund Marine, which relies heavily on the Smith River steelhead to sell gear, is feeling the squeeze as well. Store manager Chris Hegnes says the store is down about 50 percent on steelhead gear from last year due to the Smith being closed for a good part of the winter. “The fact that so few anglers are fishing has had a huge impact on our business.

Steelhead Days starts Saturday
The family-friendly Steelhead Days begins Saturday with event registration at 1 p.m. at Blue Lake Business Park. Even if you don’t fish, there’s plenty to do. The awards dinner celebration will take place on Feb. 8, featuring guest speakers Cheryl Seinder (tribal leader) and fish habitat restoration specialist Mitch Farro. There will be music by Jeff Krider and The Hip Joint. All the proceeds benefit school Kids River Education Fund and Citizen Monitoring Program. Tickets are available at Blue Lake Casino & Hotel’s Player Club and the BLC website, Mad River Tackle, and Redwood Marine. For more information, visit www.madriveralliance.org. To purchase tickets online, visit www.inticketing.com/events/367627.

Weather update
The small storm predicted to hit near the CA/OR border looks to be falling apart according to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “We may see a tenth of an inch near Brookings, but it won’t be enough to help out the rivers. After Tuesday we will once again be dry. Looking long range, we’re keeping an eye on a better system that is forecasted to hit around the first of February. It’s a little too far out now to say one way or another,” Kennedy said.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
Currently flowing at just over 600 cfs and too low to drift effectively. Finding spots with current is getting tougher. And when you do find it, you’ll have company, which is making it tough for the boats. Until it rains, it will be a bankie show.

Smith River
Much like the Chetco, you’ll need to drag your boat over riffles in order to make your way down river reports Crescent City guide Mike Coopman. “The river is currently not much above summertime level. There are however, fish in the system. Looking at the level forecasts, it may close by the weekend,” Coopman added.

Winter steelhead fishing is fair on the lower Klamath with the fish reportedly moving quickly through the system and into the Trinity. You’ll need to cover some water if you want to put up big numbers.

Lower Trinity
Reports are about the same as they’ve been the last few weeks. Drift boats working the lower river are getting lots of half-pounders with a few adults per trip. A few hatchery fish have also showed up.

Upper Trinity
Conditions remain the same on the upper Trinity reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “We’re getting anywhere from two to five per trip, with the majority still being the late fall fish. There are a few new winter fish around, but they’re making their way up very slowly. The flows haven’t changed, the Douglas City is still at a decent level and plenty fishable,” Huber added.

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

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