Steelhead season off to a slow start


Jared Morris of Shelter Cove landed this “steelhead of a lifetime” while fishing the South Fork Eel River last Friday with guide Grant Wick. The steelhead season has started off slowly, but with large storms on the horizon, hopefully we’ll see the first wave of fish enter all of the coastal rivers soon. Photo courtesy of Grant Wick

As the North Coast is once again on the verge of being pounded by more wet winter storms, there’s a collective questioning happening amongst anglers. Where are the steelhead? Just about every river has dropped into fishable shape at some point within the last couple weeks, but the fish have yet to show in any of the rivers in good numbers. The calendar now reads January, so we’ll cross that off the list of reasons why the fishing has yet to kick into gear. Could this be the year that we finally begin to see the effects of the drought? There’s certainly no shortage of theories floating around. As more days come of the calendar with no big pushes of fish, the concern will dive a little deeper. The good news is we have storms lined up that will trigger some very large river rises, let’s hope the steelhead are riding those waves into our coastal rivers.

The weather ahead
“After a couple of nice days, which should allow the rivers to recede, more rain is on the way beginning Friday evening,” said Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The next storm is forecasted to arrive late Friday evening or early Saturday morning. The bulk of this rain will fall to the south, where the Eel basin could see up to two and a half inches. A couple inches is likely to fall in the Smith basin as well. Another system will arrive right on top of Saturday’s, which will be much wetter. On Sunday, we can expect from one and a half to three inches in the Smith basin. To the south along the Eel, up to two and a half inches is possible. Showery weather is in the forecast for Monday, bringing another inch to Del Norte as well as Humboldt. After a short break, a big bigger system will roll in Tuesday night and stick around through Thursday. Rainfall totals for the three days could be from three to five inches in Del Norte and Humboldt counties,” Kennedy added.

Steelhead report cards due
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds anglers that they are required to return their 2016 Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Cards between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2017. Anglers are requested to review their cards carefully and complete the information as accurately as possible. Information collected from report cards provides CDFW with data necessary to monitor and manage California’s steelhead fisheries.

Anglers are encouraged to submit steelhead report card data online at, but report cards can still be submitted by mail. Information must be submitted regardless of whether or not the angler fished for steelhead. Additional information can be found on CDFW’s Steelhead Fishing Report and Restoration Card Program webpage listed above.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
“The Chetco has been slow for the past several days,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of fish in the river right now. I fished up high on Saturday, at a private launch above the South Fork, and we only hooked one fish there. On the lower river on Sunday, with light boat pressure, I was able to run plugs at several holes that normally hold fish, and we didn’t encounter many fish. Hopefully the next big storm, expected this weekend, will bring in better numbers of steelhead, while also warming the water up a bit.

According to Martin, the bright spot on the Southern Oregon Coast has been the lower Rogue River. He said, “People anchoring in jet boats and running MagLip 3.5 plugs are catching steelhead between Clay Banks and Lobster Creek. Some boats are hooking four or more a day. Right now conditions are very good on the lower Rogue. That may change with the next storm.”

Smith River
The steelhead bite has been a little tough on the Smith this past week, with scores ranging from zero to a couple fish per trip. The river has been on the clear side, and there’s not a lot of fish around at the moment. Hopefully the next big rise will bring in a good push of fish.

Eel River
Main Stem
The main stem Eel was just dropping down to a fishable level and the color was turning green on Tuesday, but that has all changed now due to the rain. It is expected to reach and exceed monitor stage on Sunday, so we’re back to square one. It will need a couple weeks of dry weather to fish, and that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

South Fork
Like the rest of the southern rivers, the South Fork blew out on Wednesday, jumping from 1,800 to 11,000 cfs. Fishing had been tough, with most boats reporting zero to two fish per trip.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen blew out on Tuesday, and was flowing at 5,000 cfs as of Wednesday. It may drop to a fishable level by Friday, but river color will be an issue. Predicted for a big rise late Friday. The fishing had been slow, with boats finding up to a couple fish per outing.

Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors, fishing remains slow on the Mad. He said, “The river is blown out now, but prior to that the fishing was still slow, even for the liners. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of fish in the river, just a few small schools here and there. Returns to the hatchery are slow as well. We have some pretty big rises coming in the next week, hopefully that will bring in some fish.”

The Trinity conditions have stayed relatively good with a mixture of rain and snow,” said Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “The wild fish have moved into the system, but a few hatchery fish are still being caught. Water conditions are really cold so you need to slow down your presentation. All methods — flies, eggs and plugs — have been working well. The pressure was a little heavy with the good weather during the New Year’s break. The snow is starting to melt and Weaver Creek has started to push some mud, making the conditions good above Indian Creek. Junction City should start to fish in a couple days.”

*** Don’t forget to register for Humboldt Steelhead Days fishing contest that runs until March 31, 2017. Special Mad River Access Permits courtesy of Green Diamond Resource Co. Visit the SIGN UP page for more info.

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