El Niño returns — steelhead season on hold

Fishing the NC photo 3_3

Lacey Trask of McKinleyville shows off a bright winter steelhead landed on a recent trip to the Chetco River. All of the coastal rivers will see a rapid rise in flows as a series of storms move through Humboldt and Del Norte Counties over the next two weeks. Photo courtesy of Alan’s Guide Service

Following a dry and unseasonably warm February, a series of weather fronts are lining up off the coast that could put us back on track with the El Niño phenomenon. Various weather models are showing large amounts of rain over the next couple weeks, which could put a serious damper on what’s left of the winter steelhead season on the North Coast. But the upside of a “Miracle March” — the term coined following the season-saving snow storms that hit the sierras back in March of 1991 — is huge. The late winter and spring rains, coupled with a snow pack that’s about to get much bigger, will benefit the next run of adult fish moving up river, mainly spring salmon and summer steelhead. It will also increase the survival rates for recently spawned adult steelhead, as well as salmon and steelhead fry and smolts that are all making their way downstream to the estuaries and ocean. The high, muddy water also allows the fish to make their way downriver with less risk of predation. The lack of fishing pressure will also help the young steelhead make their way back down river successfully. Heavy spring rains should, in many cases, also result in higher flows and improved water quality later in the summer. Trading in a couple weeks of late-season steelhead fishing for increased fish populations and improved water conditions in the future seems like a no-brainer.

Weather update
According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we have some pretty wet systems on the horizon. “After some lingering showers in the mountains on Thursday, Friday is looking dry. That will change on Friday night as the first storm arrives and brings rain through Saturday night. Showers will stick around on Sunday, and the snow level will drop to 3,500 feet. Del Norte and Humboldt counties will see anywhere from three to five inches of rain over the three-day period. Mountain showers are in the forecast for Monday, followed by a dry Tuesday. The next big system arrives on Wednesday and will be around through the weekend, with some models showing four to six inches of rain,” Kennedy added.

Boating safety class\
The USCG Auxiliary will hold the first About Boating Safety (ABS) class on Saturday, March 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Woodley Island Marina conference room. Cost is $20.00 per person. To register, please call (707) 445-2401. People are encouraged to pack a lunch to take a short break to keep within the time frame.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
Fishing has been slow the past few days, but hopefully the rain that’s forecasted will shake up the river. There are quite a few downers in the river, but they’ve been pounded on pretty good. The hope is the rise will bring in some fresh fish and push some of the spawned-out fish down river. As of Wednesday, it looks like the Chetco will fish through Friday, but will likely blow out sometime Saturday.

Smith River
Some decent scores were reported last weekend on the Smith, but it has gotten a little slower the past few days. A half-inch of rain is in the forecast for Wednesday, which will bump up the flows slightly. Friday looks like the day to be on the water as the river is forecasted to rise beginning early Saturday morning, peaking at over 14-feet early Sunday morning. The rise should bring in some new fish from the ocean as well as move some of the downers around.

Eel River (main stem)
The river had good color and the height was coming around on Wednesday reports Fred Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. “I haven’t heard any reports on the main as there haven’t been very many fishing it, if any. It looks like the rain that’s coming will likely put us back to square one,” Grundman added. The Eel is predicted to jump from 5,500 cfs to nearly 100,000 by Sunday.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was in great shape this past week, but the fishing has remained tough. Boats are seeing zero to two fish per trip. If the rain falls as predicted, the South Fork will blowout sometime on Saturday, going from 850 to over 25,000 cfs.

Van Duzen
According to Grundman, the Van Duzen was in perfect shape this past weekend, but getting any reports has been tough. If the forecast holds, flows are predicted to jump from 850 to 17,000 cfs on Saturday night.

Mad River
The Mad has been pretty quiet this week reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors in Eureka. “The river dropped into shape on Monday, but very few anglers were out. There are mostly downers in the system now, but I’m sure there are pods of fresh fish in the river as well. It started to dirty-up on Wednesday morning and it could be done for awhile with the amount of rain on the way,” Kelly added.

Upper Trinity
The water on the upper end still has some color to it, probably more so than the middle reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “There’s some steelhead still making their way to the hatchery, but the numbers are slowing way down. A few anglers are still trying, but the pressure has died down. Your best bet to find some new fish is the Junction City area as the wild ones are waiting to enter some of the bigger tributaries and creeks,” Huber added.

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