Ocean kings will be scarce in 2017


Chico resident Evan Oetinger landed this nice steelhead drifting a fly on a recent trip to the Smith River. Steelhead fishing on the Smith has been good this week, but the river will likely blow out on Saturday due to heavy rains. Photo courtesy of Evan Oetinger

It appears the five-year drought has finally taken its toll on the Sacramento and Klamath River king salmon. In a press release issued on Wednesday following the annual Ocean Salmon Information Meeting held in Santa Rosa, some unwelcome news was delivered on the predicted returns of Chinook salmon to California waters in 2017.

Forecasters are suggesting 230,700 Sacramento River fall run Chinook adults are swimming in the ocean this year, along with 54,200 Klamath River fall run adults. Both forecasts are lower than those of recent years, with the forecast for Klamath fall run being among the lowest on record. Salmon from these runs typically comprise the majority of salmon taken in California’s ocean and inland fisheries.

“With a poor forecast for Klamath fall run and continued concerns over the winter run, California anglers will see reduced Chinook fishing opportunity as compared to last year,” said Brett Kormos, a senior environmental scientist with the CDFW.

Ocean kings harvested in 2017 hatched two to four years ago, and were deeply affected by poor river conditions driven by the recent drought.

The 2017 forecasts, in addition to information on endangered Sacramento River winter Chinook, will be used by fishery managers to set sport and commercial fishing season dates, commercial quotas, and size and bag limits. Season dates and other regulations will be developed by the PFMC and California Fish and Game Commission over the next two months. For more information, visit the https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean or call the salmon fishing hotline at (707) 576-3429.

The weather ahead
What was once a promising weekend forecast for steelhead anglers went south pretty quickly. “Rain will return on Friday evening, and we’ll see off and on showers through Monday,” said Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “Over the four-day period, the Smith basin could see up to four and a half inches of rain. Down in the Eel and Mad basins, two to three and a half inches is predicted. The heaviest rainfall is expected to hit on Saturday. Next Tuesday and Wednesday are looking dry, but the Chetco and possibly the Smith, may see some rain on Thursday. Dry weather is on tap for Friday and Saturday, with the next system arriving on Sunday the 12th. The models are showing the rain will begin to taper off after this weekend’s rain, with larger breaks in between systems forecasted for the rest of March. ”

USCG Boating Class coming March 18
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is offering a one-day “Boating Safety” class on Saturday, March 18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The class will be held at the Woodley Island Marina conference room and the cost is $20 per person. For more information and to pre-register, contact Maggy Herbelin at 707-445-2401.

Potter Valley Project Relicensing Public Meeting
Pacific Gas and Electric Company will be holding two public, stakeholder meetings on March 9, 2017, to discuss the initial required steps being taken to obtain a new FERC license for the Potter Valley Project, FERC Project No. 77 (Project), located in Mendocino and Lake Counties. To accommodate your availability, one meeting will be held in the afternoon and one in the evening. Meeting times are 1p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Ukiah Valley Conference Center, 200 S. School Street, Ukiah. The purpose of these meetings is to acquaint interested parties with FERC’s Integrated Licensing Process (ILP), including key milestones and opportunities for stakeholder participation. For additional information on the meetings or the Project, please contact Susan Kester, PG&E Relicensing Project Manager at (415) 973-7202.

The Rivers:
“The Chetco has fished well since last Friday,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “During the first day of the Rowdy Creek derby, the upper section of the Chetco produced most of the fish. By Saturday the entire river fished well. Fishing continued to be good Monday and Tuesday, although a slide above the South Fork has dirtied up the water at times. The upper end of the river was fishable on Monday, while the only section not blown out on Tuesday was the lower end below Loeb. By midday, the entire river was muddy, although the South Fork area was clear by late afternoon. Another big storm expected this weekend looks like it will blow the river out again.

The Elk River was down to 4.2 feet on Monday and Tuesday, and it fished fairly well considering how crowded it was. The edges of the river have been clear, although the middle, as well as the deeper runs, is still nice and green. The Sixes should be in shape for a few days before this next storm arrives this weekend. These two rivers are really snaggy, so bring lots of leaders.”

Smith River
The Smith continues to kick out fresh, quality steelhead. Boats drifting the forks to Ruby are getting up to five hookups per trip. With rain back in the forecast starting Friday, the Smith will likely blow out on Saturday. It’s predicted to peak at just under 13-feet early Sunday morning. If the color holds, it could be plunkable on Sunday.

Eel River (main stem)
The main Eel is still big and brown, and not close to being fishable. As of Wednesday, flows on the Scotia gauge were roughly 11,500 cfs. With more rain on the way, it’s predicted to jump back to 27,000 cfs by Monday morning.

Eel River (South Fork)
As of Wednesday, the South Fork was hovering just under 2,500 cfs on the Miranda gauge and dropping. According to reports, the water is nice and green in the Leggett area, and starting to get that way below Benbow. It should be fishable around Redway on Thursday and Friday, but is forecasted to blow out again sometime Saturday morning.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen dipped under 2,000 cfs on Wednesday, but it’s still a little big and off-color. It may drop down to a fishable level by Friday, but that will be short-lived. It’s predicted to jump back to nearly 5,600 cfs starting early Saturday morning. A special note regarding the Fisher Rd. access: Fisher Road is closed to vehicles at the county railroad tracks until further notice. There is currently no access to the parking area or river due to the damage caused by high water. The road will be opened back up to the public once it’s deemed safe.

Mad River
The Mad remains high and off-color following the latest storms. It’s forecasted for a steep rise on Saturday, peaking at 11-feet on Sunday morning. According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the fishing pressure has been light. “The liners are catching a few older ones, there isn’t a lot of fresh fish around right now,” added Kelly.

Upper Trinity
The upper Trinity is in great shape and a nice shade of steelhead green reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “The water flows are good up and down the river, with most of the boats concentrating from Lewiston to Douglas City. Conditions should be excellent this weekend to find some of the last wild steelhead of the season.” Huber added.

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