Smith, Chetco only options for steelhead

Kara Engelke of Cloverdale holds her first-ever steelhead which she caught on a recent trip down the Smith River. Despite all of the rain, the Smith has remained fishable and is still kicking out a good number of fresh winter steelhead. Photo courtesy Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

Following a fabulously wet February – and with a “Miracle March” in the making – options for winter steelhead fishing have been limited to say the least. If it wasn’t for the quick-clearing Smith and Chetco rivers, we’d be you know what. Not only are those two rivers the only game in town, they’re both kicking out some quality, fresh steelhead. The same cannot be said of the rest of the coastal streams as they’ve remained high and muddy after last week’s deluge. We aren’t forecasted for any big downpours into next week, which will do wonders for the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen. Both will be receding quickly beginning Thursday morning and it’s possible they could be in fishing shape by late next week or by the weekend. The Mad is still running high and off color, and with Ruth Lake spilling, it could be done for the season. The main stem Eel is still huge and at least a couple weeks of dry weather away from being fishable. But it has time on its side as it will remain open after most of the rivers have closed. If you haven’t got your fill of steelhead just yet, it’s either head north or play the waiting game.

The weather ahead
“We may see a few lingering showers on Thursday, but it won’t be much,” said Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There could be some rain in the mountains on Friday, but it’s looking mostly dry. The next chance for rain is Saturday, but there’s a lot of uncertainty with this one. We could see up to a half-inch, or we could be dry. The next system is forecasted for Tuesday, but it’s not looking like any heavy rain will come from it,” said Aylward.

CDFW meetings scheduled to address spring salmon
Providing a little glimmer of hope for anglers, the Fish and Game Commission asked the CDFW to work with affected counties, fishing organizations, Tribes and conservation groups, to investigate options to allow some recreational spring Chinook salmon fishing in 2019. This is following the Feb. 6 meeting, where the petition to list Upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon as endangered was accepted by the Commission. Under Section of 2084 of Fish and Game Code, the Commission can consider hook-and-line recreational fishing on a Candidate Species.

The CDFW has scheduled three public stakeholder meetings. The first meeting is Thursday March 7 in the Multi-Purpose Room, 981 H Street, Suite 130, Crescent City. The next meeting will be held in Sacramento on March 18 at the CDFW conference room, 830 S Street. The last public meeting will be in Redding on March 26. Meeting location is CDFW conference room, 601 Locust Street. CDFW will present the results of these stakeholder collaborations and potential options at the Commission’s next public meeting, which will be held April 17 in Santa Monica.

For more info on the listing, visit

The Rivers:Chetco/Rogue
The Chetco fished well Monday and Tuesday before the latest rain storm began according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “There are a mix of fresh and spawned out fish, and a few hatchery fish still around. Most guides are catching three to six fish a day. The river may blow out for a day or two but should be in good shape for the weekend.”

“The lower Rogue continues to fish very well for plunkers using Spin-N-Glos and boaters anchoring and running plugs,” said Martin. “Several guides limited out Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with big numbers of hatchery steelhead. A few early spring salmon also have been reported.”

Smith River
The Smith has been fishing really well this week reports guide Mike Coopman. He said, “There’s still plenty of fresh fishing coming in. The boat pressure has been light, the few that are out every day are getting three to five hookups per day. It’s been cold in the morning, making the afternoon drifts much more productive.”

Eel River (main stem)
The river was headed in the right direction, but yesterday’s rain put the main stem back on the rise. It was just under 24,000 cfs on Tuesday, but it now predicted to peak at nearly 50,000 on the Scotia gauge on Thursday morning. It needs a solid 10 days of dry weather before it will get close to fishable.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork peaked at 11,500 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Wednesday, but is predicted to recede quickly. It’s forecasted to be around 3,200 cfs by Monday and could fish late in the week on the upper section if the rains hold off.

Van Duzen
The Duzen crested at 7,000 cfs on Wednesday and should drop quickly. It’s predicted to be under 1,500 cfs by early Monday and could come into play if next week remains dry.

Mad River
The Mad was still on a slight rise on Wednesday, but predicted to drop through the weekend. Unfortunately, it reached nearly 13.5 feet, so it has a long way to go. With Ruth Lake being full, it will take a lot of dry weather for it to drop back down to bait-fishable levels and color.

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