Steelhead elusive on North Coast rivers

Jeff Griffith of Ferndale started the new year off in style, landing this chrome-bright steelhead on the Van Duzen river on Jan. 1.  Photo Courtesy of Jeff Griffith

Jeff Griffith of Ferndale started the new year off in style, landing this chrome-bright steelhead on the Van Duzen river on Jan. 1.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Griffith

As good as the conditions have been on all of the North Coast steelhead rivers this past week, the steelhead bite has been somewhat elusive. You couldn’t ask for much more in the way of water color, flow, and weather, but apparently the steelhead don’t seem to care. There are numerous theories flying around; is the run late? Did the bulk of the run shoot through in the high water? Did the drought finally catch up with us? No one really knows for sure. The one thing we do know is if we want the optimal conditions to continue, we’re going to need a good shot of rain soon. The Chetco and Smith are low and clear, as is the top of the South Fork Eel. The main Eel, Mad, and Trinity are still in good shape, but they won’t be for long. Forecasters are calling for a change in the weather pattern next weekend; hopefully the steelhead bite will change for the better too.

Weather outlook

According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, except for a chance of light rain across Del Norte and northern Humboldt Counties on Friday, the dry pattern will continue into next week. “Rainfall amounts will be light; a tenth of an inch in Humboldt County to two-tenths of an inch in Del Norte County. The rivers will continue to slowly recede but we’re expecting the wet pattern to return on Friday the 16th or Saturday the 17th.

Humboldt Steelhead Days coming Jan. 23
The 2nd year of Humboldt Steelhead Days will include an extended fishing contest ranging from the Mad River hatchery in Blue Lake off the 299 to the Eel River (catch & release) off Hwy 101 down to Leggett area. The event will kick off with a party & mixer Friday night at the Mad River Brewing Company Tap Room. The following morning, the steelhead fishing contest will commence at 7 a.m. The contest will last until Feb. 7 and close at 5pm.
For contest categories, visit You can fish for one day, two days or not at all. It’s up to you! Your ticket/donation will go toward future river restorations, so be a part of it — even if you don’t fish. Hashtag your photos with #HumboldtSteelheadDays

The fishing contest event will end with an awards dinner catered by Blackberry Bramble BBQ at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka near the public pier. Join us for tri-tip, local microbrews, watch a slideshow of all your steelhead catches, you’ll have chances to win more than $3,000 worth of outdoor and fishing prizes, and get to talk to various representatives from the fishing and restoration community.

Register or get tickets locally at RMI Outdoors in Eureka, Mad River Bait & Tackle in Arcata, Pacific Outfitters and Grundmans Sporting Goods in Rio Dell.
Register by mail: Mad River Alliance at P.O. Box 1252, Blue Lake, CA 95525. Or you can purchase tickets online at Hold My

Mattole regulation correction
In last week’s column, I wrote that the Mattole opened to fishing on Jan. 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek. That was only half right. It’s also open from Stansberry Creek to confluence with Honeydew Creek through March 31 and the fourth Saturday in May through Aug. 31. Both sections of river are artificial lures only and barbless hooks are required.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
The Chetco is very low and very clear according to guide Val Early of Early Fishing Guide Service. “The flows don’t sound that bad on paper, but the lower river and parts of the upper river have no flow. Just the way the high water has set things up makes it very difficult to find some current right now. Couple that with all the boat traffic and we have very spooky fish. There are a few fish out there and sometimes they want to bite and other times we present everything and they still won’t bite. The good news is, some of the bigger rivers in the region are clearing and should be fishing until we have rain. Until we do get rain, sneaky and stealthy are the name of the game,” Early added.

Smith River
The river is low and clear and the fishing is pretty tough reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The river definitely needs a good shot of rain. There are a few fish around, we’re averaging a couple adults per day and getting a chance at a couple others. Until we get some water, it’s going to be a grind,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem is in great shape, but the bite has been a little tough reports Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. “Boats are getting a couple adults per trip, but it seems like there should be more fish around. Either they’re running a little late, or the bulk of the fish came in with the earlier high water,” said Grundman.

Eel River (South Fork)
According to Darren Brown of Brown’s Sporting Goods in Garberville, the Sylvandale area had about three to four feet of visibility as of Wednesday. He said, “The fish seem to be scattered, boats and bankies are getting one here and one there. I haven’t seen any big concentrations of fish yet. The water has been fairly cold, which could also be affecting the bite.”

Van Duzen
According to Grundman, the Van Duzen is still holding a little color and is fishing well. “I haven’t heard a lot of reports on numbers, but some fish are being caught. The stretch below Yager Creek is probably holding the most color,” added Grundman.

Mad River
A few more fish have entered the river the past couple days reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors. He said, “The guys who know what they’re doing have done well the last couple days. The key is to move around until you find some fish as they aren’t in every hole. Bait and a Spin N’ Glo has worked well this week.”

|Much like the rest of the coastal rivers, the lower Trinity is in great shape, but the steelhead have been hard to come by. Boats fishing the Willow Creek area are landing one to two adults per trip along with a bunch of half-pounders. Considering the conditions, there should be more fish around.

The water flowing out of the lake is dirty, making the bite a little tougher on the upper Trinity according to Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “The majority of the boats have been working around Junction City where the water is a little cleaner. The scores have been about the same everywhere; we’re getting a shot at a couple fish a day. The fish we’re seeing are a mix of wild and hatchery, but not many downers have been caught. Due to the visibility, most of our fish are coming on plugs with a lot of scent added,” Huber said. “I’m hoping there’s a lot of fish in the lower river and even the Klamath as they have not shown up in the upper river in big numbers as of yet.”

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

#ChetcoRiver #SmithRiver #VanDuzen #MattoleRiver #EelRiver #Steelhead #Salmon #TrinityRiver #NorCalFishing #NorthCoastFishing #FishingTheNorthCoast #PacificHalibut #RazorClams #MadRiver #HumboldtSteelheadDays

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