Record rains blow out North Coast rivers


Novato resident Adam Chelini landed this nice steelhead last Sunday on the Smith River right before the rains came and the river blew out. The Smith, and probably the Chetco too, will be in fishable shape this weekend following a few days of heavy rain. Photo courtesy of John Klar/John’s Guide Service

The parade of storms that pounded the North Coast earlier this week pushed some of our coastal rivers above flood stage, and the ones that didn’t flood, were right on the verge. We haven’t seen this much water flowing in our rivers since the floods of 97’, at least that’s what I’ve been hearing. Needless to say, our steelhead season is now in a bit of a holding pattern for all rivers not named Smith. Speaking of the quick-clearing Smith, it should be in plunkable shape by Thursday and in excellent condition for side-drifting by the weekend. If you do plan to be there this weekend, you may see a few of your close friends as it could be the only game in town. The Chetco was still big on Wednesday, but dropping quickly and it could fish by the weekend as well. For all of the Humboldt County rivers, from Redwood Creek to the South Fork Eel, they are likely done for the foreseeable future. The next round of storms is forecasted for next Tuesday, which likely won’t give the rivers enough time to clear. Hey, whatever happened to the term “low flow?”

Weather ahead
According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, some dry weather is finally on the horizon. “After some light showers on Thursday, a high pressure system will move in keeping us dry beginning Friday and lasting through Monday. The next rain system will arrive on Tuesday and will stick around through Friday. We could see two to four inches combined for Tuesday and Wednesday and another two to four for Thursday and Friday,” Kennedy added.

Crabs good to go statewide
On Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health lifted the last remaining health advisory for Dungeness crab caught along the California coast. CDPH lifted this advisory today due to recent tests showing that traces of domoic acid have declined to low or undetectable levels in Dungeness crabs caught in the area, indicating they are safe to consume.
The final health advisory lifted was for Dungeness crabs caught in state waters in areas north of 39° 33.3′ N lat. (near Ten Mile River) and south of 40° 01′ N lat.(near Shelter Cove). For more information, visit

Major changes ahead for ab divers
Due to concerns about the declining population of California’s popular red abalone sport fishery, some drastic regulation changes are coming in 2017.
The upcoming season will be shortened by two months, starting a month later and closing a month earlier. The traditional opening date of April 1 will now be delayed until May 1. The fishery will also close a month earlier than usual, on Oct. 31.

The annual bag limit is reduced from 18 abalone to 12. No more than nine abalone may be taken south of the boundary between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, which stays in place from years past.

The reason behind the red abalone catch reduction is because surveys conducted by the CDFW found that red abalone populations in deeper waters are on the decline due to unfavorable environmental conditions. Over the past three years, growth of kelp — a major food source for abalone – has declined significantly. Dramatic increases in purple sea urchin populations have further reduced the food available for abalone.

Fishing for abalone will be allowed from 8 a.m. to one half-hour after sunset in waters north of San Francisco Bay. People may travel to fishing locations before 8 a.m. but may not actively search for or take any abalone before that time. The daily bag and possession limit remains at three. Parts of Fort Ross State Historical Park remain closed to the take of abalone

The changes to the abalone regulations were approved by the Fish and Game Commission at their Dec. 7 meeting, under emergency rulemaking provisions that allow fast-tracking of the approval process when there is an urgent need for regulatory change. For more information, visit

The Rivers:
Chetco River
“All of the Southern Oregon rivers blew out this week, and may take several days to drop”, said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers. “We are hopeful we will be able to get back on the Chetco this weekend, otherwise we will fish the Smith. The Chetco was still slow last week, before the big, storm, with only a few fish reported for several boats. The people living between Tide Rock and Morris Hole said they could see pretty good numbers of steelhead holding in the upper tidewater section last week. With water temperatures down to 38 degrees, they probably didn’t want to leave the slightly warmer tidewater. We also saw some pretty good-size schools below the South Fork, near Little Redwood and near Loeb and Moffit Rock, but they were hold in such shallow water you couldn’t get a drift without spooking them.”
According to Martin, the Elk was fishable over the weekend, but hit 6.9 feet on Tuesday. The Rogue, has been fishing the best of any of the rivers for steelhead, is expected to hit minor flood stage this week.

 Smith River
“The Smith was still blown out as of Wednesday, but should be driftable by the weekend,” said guide Mike Coopman. “The river blew out last Sunday, but we did start to see some signs of life. A few guys were plunking on Sunday as the river was rising and they hooked a few. The boats I was fishing around also hooked a few, so I think we’re starting to see some more fish move in. The river should be plunkable by Thursday, and the weekend should be in good shape to side-drift.”

Mad River
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Mad was at 18 feet, which is still three feet above monitor stage. It was dropping fairly quickly, but won’t be bait fishable anytime soon. It typically starts to fish between eight and seven feet

Eel and Van Duzen rivers
As of Wednesday, the main stem Eel at Fernbridge remained above flood stage. It’s going to take weeks of dry weather before the main Eel drops back into fishable shape. The South Fork dipped back under monitor stage early Wednesday, and is forecasted to be less than 4,000 cfs by Monday. It should start to fish at around 2,500 cfs on the Miranda gauge.

The Van Duzen is on a pretty steep drop and was back under 8,500 cfs on Wednesday afternoon after peaking at nearly 22,000 cfs on Tuesday evening. With a dry weekend ahead, it’s forecasted to be back down to 1,200 cfs by Monday morning. Once it gets below 1,000 cfs, it should start to look fishy.

The Upper Trinity might have a chance to fish over the weekend with water levels starting to come down reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. He said, “Looking at the river in the Douglas City area on Tuesday evening, it was starting to get muddy again, probably from the snowmelt. The only real option for the weekend will be above the Indian Creek area, and that’s looking iffy. From all the increased flows, we should see another push of fish from the Klamath making their way up.”

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