Steelhead season winding down on the North Coast

It’s been an interesting steelhead season to say the least — and probably somewhat normal. After suffering through three years of low-water conditions, water was plentiful this year. And the fishing followed suite, especially the northern most rivers like the Chetco and Smith. It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen steelhead return like this year, which provides hope for the years to come. Here in Humboldt, all of the rivers, except for maybe the Mad, were hampered by big flows and dirty water for most of the season. When the Eel and Van Duzen did turn green, the fish were tough to come by. The hope is the big storms that hit in December and January allowed the steelhead to enter the river, take care of business, and ride right back out to the salt unabated. At least that’s the hope. As we head into April, it’s time to start preparing for the abalone season, ocean salmon and rockfish, spring salmon on the Klamath, redtail perch from our beaches, and hopefully — crab! All in all, it’s been a great winter steelhead season, but I for one am ready for spring and all the new angling opportunities that come with it.

Weekend weather
Other than a couple of weak systems to our north, we’ll be dry through the end of next week says Kathleen Lewis of Eureka’s National Weather Service. She said, “The first system will come through on Wednesday night and might drop a tenth of an inch, but not enough to affect any of the rivers. Another weak storm will roll in Saturday night into Sunday morning, bringing with it cooler temperatures. Snow levels could fall to 4,000 to 5,000 feet and the Smith basin could see up to a quarter inch of rain with less falling in Humboldt. A ridge of high pressure will settle in on Monday, keeping us dry throughout next week.”

Abalone season opens April 1
Abalone season will open on Friday, April 1 along the North Coast from the San Francisco Bay north. New regulations effective in 2014 closed parts of Fort Ross State Historical Park to the take of abalone. For a map of the closed area, visit

2016 regulations for breath-hold divers
Season and times:
The season runs from April 1st through November, excluding the month of July. Diving is legal from 8 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset.

What you’ll need:

1) Fishing license (not required for 15 years old and younger)

2) Abalone report card, which costs $22.42. (Must be in your possession while diving. Also required for those 15 years or younger.)

3) Fixed caliper measuring device

Limit and size restrictions: Three per day, three in possession and no more than 18 per year. Only 9 may be taken from Sonoma and Marin counties. Must be seven inches or larger. You must keep any legal abalone you pull from a rock and if it is not legal, you must stick it back on the same rock from where it came. Only your hand or a legal abalone iron can be used to pry them from the rocks.

General regulations: As soon as you get out of the water or step foot in a boat, you must tag your abalone. The tag needs to go through the siphon holes and held together with some type of string or zip tie. The shell cannot be removed until preparation begins for cooking or eating. For more information, visit

Crab season opens south of Sonoma/Mendocino County
The recreational Dungeness crab closure, in place since November, was lifted last Friday south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line. The commercial season is set to open at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 26. The presoak period, during which commercial fishermen may begin setting gear in place, starts at 6:01 a.m. Friday, March 25.

Recent test results show that domoic acid levels in crabs off the California coast south of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line no longer pose a significant human health risk. Closures remain in place north of the Mendocino/Sonoma county line for the Dungeness crab commercial and recreational fisheries. For information, visit

The Rivers:
Chetco River
The Chetco dropped back into shape late last week and scores ranged from two to six fish per trip. The majority of the catch was made up of downers, but a few fresh ones are still making their way upriver. The rain that fell earlier in the week turned it big and brown, but it’s dropping quickly. With no rain in the immediate forecast, it may be fishable prior to closing next Thursday.

Smith River
The Smith dropped back into shape late last week and provided some decent steelhead action prior to blowing back out on Monday. It’s projected to drop back under 10-feet on the Jed Smith gauge by Friday and conditions should be ideal through the weekend. The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick’s Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craigs Creek to Jones Creek. Bait can be used and barbless hooks are still required

Eel River (main stem)
As of Wednesday, the main stem was still running at over 30,000 cfs on the Scotia gauge and nowhere near fishable. The good news is the main stem will remain open to fishing after March 31.

Eel River (South Fork)
With no rain in the forecast, the quickly-dropping South Fork should be fishing by sometime early next week. As of Wednesday, flows were around 6,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge and predicted to drop below 2,000 cfs by Monday. The South Fork Eel will close to fishing next Thursday, March 31.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is currently high and dirty and may not drop back into shape prior to closing next Thursday, March 31. Running at just over 3,000 cfs on Wednesday and predicted to drop to 1,300 cfs by early Monday, it may turn green just in time to close.

Mad River
The Mad jumped from 10 to over 12-feet from this week’s storm and is probably done for the year. As of Wednesday it was down to 11 feet and dropping slowly, likely due to water coming over the spillway from Ruth Lake. The Mad will close to fishing next Thursday, March 31.

Send in your fish photos
Land a big fish lately? Or maybe your friend or relative has reeled in their first fish. Email your fishing photo to and I’ll run them with the “Fishing the North Coast” weekly column and also post them on the digital version on Just include the name of the person in the photo, where and when it was taken and any other details you’d like to share.

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