Steelhead season showing signs of life

Fishing the NC 1_11 photo

Fortuna resident Nick Watson landed this bright winter steelhead last weekend while fishing the Eel River. Most of the coastal rivers should be dropping back into fishable shape by the weekend following the rains that hit earlier in the week. Photo courtesy of Jeff Griffith

That little shot of rain seems to have done the trick. For the first time this season, just about all of the coastal rivers are starting to see winter steelhead show up in decent numbers. From the Chetco to the Eel, the reports have all been good. Boats drifting the Chetco are landing one to three fish a day, with some scoring two-fish limits. After a couple weeks of tough fishing, the Smith bounced back over the weekend and fished well. In Humboldt, the Mad is full of steelhead, and back anglers put the hurt on em’ pretty good over the weekend. The main stem Eel turned green on Saturday, and quite a few fish were reportedly caught on Sunday. And the conditions should only get better. Following a dry weekend, we’re right back into a rainy pattern beginning on Monday. It’s safe to say steelhead season is in full swing here on the North Coast.

Weather ahead
“It looks like we’ll have one more system move through the area, then we’ll be dry for a couple days”, said Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A system will move through the area on Thursday, with the majority of the rain falling in the Smith basin. Up to an inch could fall in the hills, with a half inch expected on the coast. In Humboldt, we won’t see much, maybe a quarter in the hills and less on the coast. We’re looking dry Friday through Sunday, but a change in the pattern will start on Monday. A couple fronts will hit the area between Monday and Wednesday, dropping up to six inches in the hills of Del Norte and three in the lower elevations. In Humboldt, we could see up to three inches over the three-day period in the higher elevations, and an inch falling near the coast. The wet pattern doesn’t change much after Wednesday, it’s looking like we’ll have above normal rainfall for the next week or so.”

Humboldt Steelhead Days kickoff party this Saturday
Humboldt Steelhead Days Kick-Off Party and Pints for Non-Profits event will be held at the Mad River Brewing Co., Tap Room on Saturday, January 13 from 5 p.m. till 10 p.m.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson will MC the event, and 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman will make an appearance as well. You can register to enter the fishing contest and talk to HSD event coordinators and other anglers. Learn more about the two rivers we’ll be fishing (Mad and Trinity) and pick up more information about the other events during HSD. A Limited Edition Humboldt Steelhead Days hoodie and hat will be raffled off, with plenty of items for sale. The band Ghost Train will play later in the evening and every pint sold will be donated to Humboldt Steelhead Days. For more information, visit

Commercial crab season set to open Jan. 15
The northern California Dungeness crab fishery in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties will open 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. The opener will be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that will begin at 8:01 a.m. Jan. 12, 2018. Any vessel that landed crab from other ocean waters prior to the season opening in Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9 (Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties) is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9, for 30 days following the opening of those areas. In Districts 6, 7, 8 and 9, the 30-day wait period ends on Feb. 14, 2018.

“Although we have witnessed delays in the opening of the Dungeness crab commercial fishery in recent seasons due to domoic acid, a delay in the northern portion of the fishery due to quality isn’t unprecedented. The last time the northern season opener was delayed due to quality occurred with the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and both those seasons started on Jan. 15,” said Christy Juhasz, CDFW Environmental Scientist. There were also two areas in the north that were under a health advisory issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) due to domoic acid since the recreational fishery season opened on Nov. 4. These were lifted last month by CDPH after continual sampling of Dungeness crabs by CDPH showed the amount of domoic acid had declined to low or undetectable levels. Recreational crabbing remains open in California statewide. For more information on Dungeness crab, please visit

Abalone meeting this Saturday
Recreational Abalone Advisory Committee (RAAC) will be holding a meeting on Saturday, January 13 regarding the Red abalone management plan along with the 2018 closure. The meeting will be held at the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control boardroom, 595 Helman Lane, Cotati, CA from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. To conference call in, call 888-808-6929. When prompted, enter the Meeting Access Code: 9961539#
For more information, contact Ian Taniguchi, Senior Environmental Scientist at 562-342-7182 or email

The Rivers:
Chetco River
“The Chetco has been in good shape since Saturday, with decent numbers of steelhead spread throughout the river,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It blew out on Friday with muddy water from this summer’s fire, but had great color and flows since. There are quite a few hatchery fish. My customers were able to get their two-fish limits on Sunday and a couple more on Monday. The Chetco’s flow gauge had been malfunctioning, but was repaired early Tuesday afternoon. The river is expected to rise late this week but should remain fishable if flows stay below 3,000 cfs. The predication is around 2,900 cfs on Friday.”

Smith River
The Smith fished well over the weekend, and Monday too, but it’s gotten a little tougher the last couple days reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The rise we had earlier in the week definitely brought in some fish, we’ve been seeing them in the tail outs, but the bite has been tough. The water got a little color, but it’s still pretty clear. The next rise, which is looking like Thursday and Friday, should bring in a bunch more fish and add some more color to the water. It should be a good weekend,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was fishable up until Tuesday, but it’s high and off color as of Wednesday reports Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. “Quite a few boats were out over the weekend, and there’s definitely some fish around. The river has peaked and is dropping, and it could fish later in the weekend or by Monday,” said Grundman.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork opened back up to fishing earlier in the week, and was on the rise for a couple days. It finally peaked at just over 3,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Tuesday afternoon. It’s predicted to drop quickly, getting down to 500 cfs by Saturday afternoon. Darren Brown of Brown’s Sporting Goods in Garberville reports the river was dirty all the way to Piercy on Wednesday.

Van Duzen
According to Grundman, the Van Duzen is off color from the rain, but also on the drop. “My guess is it will be fishable above Yager Creek by the weekend,” added Grundman.

Mad River
The increased flows brought quite a few fish up the ladder on Tuesday reports Jens Hansen of Mad River Tackle in Arcata. He said, “Prior to the rain, the fishing was excellent, especially on Saturday. Some of the bankies who know what they’re doing reported up to 10 hookups. Flows peaked at 1,700 cfs on Tuesday and it looks like a bunch of fish came into the river. The river was just starting to turn on Wednesday, and should be somewhat green by Thursday or Friday. The river should be in great shape by the weekend and the fishing should be excellent.”

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