Humboldt Steelhead Days returns to its roots

The ever-evolving Humboldt Steelhead Days — which bills itself as more than just a fishing contest — is entering its fifth year and will continue to host an array of watershed-related activities throughout Humboldt County. The goal of Humboldt Steelhead Days (HSD) is to inspire community awareness, promote river restoration and the recovery of Humboldt’s iconic wild winter steelhead populations. Humboldt’s only annual signature wintertime event, HSD looks to build on its popularity with both local and out-of-area anglers.

This year, Humboldt Steelhead Days will run from Saturday, Jan. 13, to Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Event organizers decided against including the Eel River as part of the fishing contest in favor of hatchery fish located in the Mad and Trinity rivers. Licensed anglers can participate in the contest by registering online on at Registration is also available at RMI Outdoors, Mad River Tackle, and Mad River Brewing Tap Room. Anglers who catch the three biggest hatchery steelhead on either the Mad or Trinity rivers will be notified prior to the Steelhead Awards Ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Mad River Brewing Tap Room. Prize packages will include a Douglas steelhead spinning rod donated by rod designer Fred Contaoi, $300 worth of Willie Boat gear, four single guided river trips, and much more.

Once registered, anglers can fish the Mad and Trinity rivers from Jan. 13 to Feb. 16 with the requirement that they send in a photo of their hatchery fish catch to event organizers or post them on social media using the hashtags #humboldtsteelheaddays or #HSD.

mr sh with radio tag

Michael Sparkman of CDFW applies a radio tag to an angler-caught Mad River steelhead.

Radio tag research for Mad River steelhead
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is tagging wild and hatchery adult steelhead with radio tags during the 2017-18 season in the Mad River for research purposes. The work will help to determine how many days steelhead are in the river during their upstream migration, how many will survive spawning and migrate towards the ocean, and the timing of their downstream migration towards the ocean. If you happen to catch one of these tagged fish, please do not remove the tag. Simply release the fish back into the river. If you do catch and release a tagged fish, you are encouraged to contact CDFW Fisheries Biologist Michael Sparkman (, with details on location, time of capture, and gear type. The tags look similar to reward tags used for studies with fish in the Trinity River, but there is no reward for returning the Mad River tags. While we encourage the release of all radio-tagged steelhead, if you do harvest a tagged hatchery fish, please contact Mr. Sparkman at the above address so the tag can be returned and reused.

The weather ahead
The next chance of rain is Friday and into Saturday according to Jeff Tonkin of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The Humboldt area might see a quarter inch, and the Smith basin will likely receive somewhere around a half-inch. This started out as a much larger system, but the models have been trending downward on the rainfall amounts. After Saturday, we’re looking dry through next Friday, Jan. 5,” Tonkin added.

Rockfish season to close Dec. 31
The 2017 rockfish season in the Northern Management area, which runs from Cape Mendocino to the OR/CA border, will close for boat-based anglers on Sunday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit

The Rivers:
“Last week’s rain brought in some adult steelhead, with decent fishing just before the weekend, said guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “By Sunday the river was low and clear again and the rain expected on Christmas Day never materialized. The Chetco is full of half-pounders, but adult winter steelhead are again few and far between. Flows are hovering around 1,000 cfs again and fishing will likely be slow until we get a major rain. The Elk and Sixes are slow because of low, clear water. Few people are fishing them because of the low water.”

The Smith is flowing at just above 1,500 cfs at the Jed Smith gauge and is extremely clear. Not many anglers have been on the water due to flows, and reports have been hard to come by. Rain is in the forecast for Friday, and flows are predicted to jump to 3,000 cfs. If that happens, fresh steelhead should make their way into the lower river. With no other rain in the forecast, the flows will be headed back down by Sunday morning and are predicted to be back to 1,800 by early Monday morning.

Eel – main stem
The water is real clear, and starting to get low reports Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. He said, “I haven’t seen much activity on the river lately, but the conditions are excellent right now for fly fishing. We probably won’t get another good push of fish in until it rains, but there’s always a few around.” As of Wednesday, flows were right around 720 cfs on the Scotia gauge.

Fishing the NC 12_28 photo

Bill Pearcy caught this 6-pound fresh hatchery steelhead on a recent trip to the Mad River. The Mad is currently open to fishing, but the low and clear water conditions is making it difficult on anglers hoping to land a winter-run steelhead. Photo courtesy of Bill Pearcy

The Mad is low and clear, and fishing remains tough for most reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “The fishing is definitely better on the lower river where there’s some deeper holes. That seems to be where most of the fish are holding. Soft eggs or jigs under a float have been working well, and bait and yarnies are catching fish too. The river hasn’t been crowded at all, and it’s looking like it will stay open at least through the week.”

Redwood Creek, South Fork Eel and Van Duzen closed
As of Wednesday, these rivers remained closed to fishing due to low flows. Be sure and call the low flow closure hotline, 707-822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing.

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