Winter steelhead season coming to a close


Arcata resident Scott McBain landed this nice winter steelhead on a drift down the South Fork Eel River in early February. Steelhead season will come to a close after Saturday for most rivers, including the South Fork Eel. The Smith and the main stem Eel will remain open to fishing. Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast

Last weekend’s storms brought a little more rain than expected, with enough falling to keep the majority of the coastal rivers high and off color leading into the final week of steelhead season. As of Wednesday, only the Smith, Chetco, and the very upper reaches of the South Fork Eel were green. And it looks like those are the only rivers that will fish prior to the season closing after Saturday. The South Fork Eel could fish down to the Miranda area on Saturday if it drops as predicted.

As we head into April, it’s time to start preparing for ocean salmon and rockfish, spring salmon on the Klamath and Rogue, and redtail perch from just about all of the local beaches. The lagoons are full of trout, and what better way to get kids into fishing on a warm spring day. It’s been an interesting winter steelhead season to say the least, but I for one am ready for spring and all the new angling opportunities that come with it.

Steelhead rivers openings/closures
The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick’s Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craigs Creek to Jones Creek. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from the fourth Saturday in May through Aug. 31.Only barbless hooks may be used from Sept. 1 through Apr. 30. The bag limit remains the same, two hatchery steelhead per day.

The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From the mouth to Fulmor Road, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from April 1 through the Friday preceding the fourth Saturday in May. Only barbless hooks may be used from fourth Saturday in May through Mar. 31. From Fulmor Road to the South Fork, it’s open from April 1 through September 30. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Only barbless hooks may be used from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31.

Sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers are open to fishing, but are subject to in-season changes. For more information, visit The following rivers will close to fishing after March 31: the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek, and the Chetco.

Freshwater Lagoon trout plants
According to the CDFW website, four trout plants have taken place at Freshwater Lagoon in March. The most recent plant was Sunday, March 25. Reportedly, the fishing has been excellent this month for keeper-sized rainbows. For more information, visit or call (530) 225-2146.

Ban on lead fishing tackle being considered by Sacramento
Assembly Member Bill Quirk (Hayward) recently introduced Assembly Bill 2787, legislation that would ban lead fishing weights that are 1.75 ounces or less. Quirk claims the ban is needed because birds eat the lead weights and die. Five other states have banned lead weights to protect bottom-feeding and threatened loons.

According to California Sportfishing League, these weights can be found in just about every California angler’s tackle box. If this bill passes, fishing will become too costly and less accessible and could have a devastating impact on the state’s tourism industry and communities dependent on outdoor recreation for tax revenue and jobs. A hearing is scheduled for April 10 at 1:30 PM at the State Capitol, Room 44. For more information on the Assembly Bill 2787, visit

Brookings ocean update
“Ocean fishing has been good out of Brookings, although wind will keep boats in close for the remainder of the week,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The lingcod spawn is under way, so there are a lot of fish in shallow. Fishing for red tail surfperch has been very good at the port beach in Brookings.”

Coast Guard reminds mariners to participate in Pacific Seacoast study
The Coast Guard reminds boaters that there is still time to participate in a survey related to a study of aids to navigation in U.S. Pacific waters including the California coast. The survey is open to all categories of mariners to include commercial, passenger, recreational and sail and power boaters. Survey topics include international requirements, environmental concerns, user capabilities, available technology and available resources. Those interested can participate in the study by completing the survey at:

The Rivers:
According to Martin, the Chetco was back in fishable shape on Tuesday and still had a few fresh steelhead around, along with some down runners. “A handful of boats have been fishing the upper section, and all are catching fish. It should remain decent through the March 31 closure. Snowmelt had the Rogue dirty but fishable. There were a few hatchery spring salmon caught last week, and conditions are shaping up to be perfect this weekend.”

Smith River
The Smith is in perfect shape, sitting right at 10 feet on the Jed Smith gauge as of Wednesday. Pressure has been extremely light, but it could be a good choice for the weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
It will be at least 10 before the main stem is fishable reports Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. Running at 14,000 cfs as of Wednesday, it’s on a slow drop due to the snowmelt.

Eel River (South Fork)
As of Wednesday, flows were 3,100 cfs on the Miranda gauge and the river was still dirty below Benbow according to Darren Brown of Brown’s Sporting Goods in Garberville. Flows are predicted to be around 1,700 cfs by Saturday, so we should be able to get one day in prior to the river closing.

Van Duzen
Hovering just above 1,675 cfs, as of Wednesday, it’s predicted to get down to 1,000 by Saturday. Depending on the snowmelt, it could fish in the higher reaches on Saturday.

Mad River
The Mad is likely done for the season as it remains high and muddy. Flows are predicted to be right around 3,000 cfs on Saturday, which should keep it on the dirty side.

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