Steelhead up next for coastal rivers

With very little rain over the past two months, the end is near for the late, fall-run salmon season on our coastal rivers. The season, much like last year, has been somewhat of a disappointment to anglers. Only a couple smaller storms hit the coast and dropped enough rain to bring the Eel, Smith and Chetco up to levels where fish could pass somewhat safely. While the fishing window was very small or non-existent, that doesn’t necessarily mean the number of returning salmon was small. Even during the low water conditions, salmon were seen making their way upriver on all of our coastal streams. Typically, the season’s first big rains come in October, leaving us a good four to five-week window to fish. That hasn’t been the case the last few years as the salmon didn’t bother to wait for us, or the strong flows to get them to their end destinations.

On the other hand — with the calendar now saying it’s December — it’s winter steelhead time on the coast. All of the rivers have seen a few adults push in, with plenty more on the way. But don’t give up entirely on salmon just yet. The Smith, Chetco and the Eel should each see another spurt or two of fresh kings move in on the next substantial river rise, which just happens to be this weekend.

Weather ahead
Through the weekend, we can expect widespread rainfall along the North Coast according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “This will be a much warmer system, so we can expect to see some snow melt as well, which will add to the river levels,” said Zontos “We should begin to see the rain early Friday morning, with the heaviest rain falling throughout the day. Showers are then predicted off and on through Sunday. In the Smith basin, we’re expecting two to three inches and up to four in the mountain areas. The Mad River area will see about the same. The Eel basin could see a little more rain, with three to four inches predicted through Sunday and some places could see five. Right now, Monday is looking dry, then we should see chances of rain daily through next Friday,” added Zontos.

Humboldt Bay crabbing

Sport Crabbing inside Humboldt Bay is improving according to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors in Eureka. He said, “I’ve heard that more crab are showing up, but they’re smaller. There’re also quite a few females around. The best spots have been between the Coast Guard station and the entrance. Squid and chicken seem to be the bait of choice,” Kelly added. Typically crabbing is best an hour and a half on both sides of the slack tide.

Re-adoption of emergency regulations to allow the take of Klamath/Trinity springers on the table
On Nov. 25, the CDFW requested that the Fish and Game Commission re-adopt the emergency regulations set to expire on December 24, 2019 that allowed the take of Klamath/Trinity river spring-run Chinook salmon. The Department and Commission staff are currently working towards a certificate of compliance rulemaking to permanently adopt the limited fishing opportunity. Upon the completion of the certificate of compliance rulemaking (anticipated June 2020), the permanent, non-emergency regulations would be effective in time for the season to open July 1, 2020. The emergency regs adopted in 2019 allowed limited fishing on both the Klamath and Trinity rivers beginning on July 1, with a bag limit reduced from two to one salmon. For more info, visit

River closures
The South Fork Eel, Mad and Redwood Creek were all closed to fishing as of Wednesday due to low flows. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at any time. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164.

Craig Nunley of Caldwell, Idaho, holds a chrome-bright king salmon caught Nov. 27 on the Smith River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. The Smith has only been open to fishing a few days this fall due to low-flow closures. That should change this weekend as heavy rains are in the forecast. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

The first part of December is typically transition time for the Smith River. The majority of the salmon have moved upriver and we’re now waiting for the steelhead to show. Flowing at just under 700 cfs on Wednesday, the river has been closed to fishing since Tuesday. While it was open on Monday, some salmon were caught, but the majority were dark. The majority of the salmon have likely already entered the river on the few small rises we’ve had. It was definitely a short fishing window, with the river only open a handful of days. Now is typically when we see the steelhead start to show. We have a pretty big rise coming this weekend, so hopefully we’ll see the first wave of steelhead enter the river.

Heavy rain is expected the end of this week, which should finally get the fall salmon seasons going on the Southern Oregon coastal rivers reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “ODFW has indicated the Chetco could open by the weekend, although the river could be blown out by Saturday morning,” said Martin. “Fishing has been slow in the Chetco estuary. A few boaters are floating and dragging the Sixes between Edson Creek and the Grange and catching a few salmon. The Winchuck is open above Peavine Bridge, but there isn’t enough water to effectively fish. All the rivers are expected to have plenty of water by the weekend.”

Currently closed to fishing. Predicted to peak at nearly 2,000 cfs by Sunday morning.

Redwood Creek
Closed to fishing as of Wednesday. Predicted to hit 1,400 cfs by Sunday morning.

The main Eel has been open to fishing for the past week, and reports have been hard to come by. Like most of the other rivers, the meat of the salmon run has likely entered the river and are making their way to the spawning grounds. The rain forecasted for the weekend should allow the salmon to reach some of the higher tributaries and we should see a few more spurts of fresh fish move in. The higher flows should also bring in the first big push of the winter steelhead. Predicted to peak at 17,800 cfs on Sunday afternoon.

South Fork
Running at 120 cfs as of Wednesday, it has remained closed to fishing. Should open with the weekend storms, predicted to peak at 4,800 cfs on Sunday morning.

Van Duzen
Open to fishing as of Wednesday and flowing at just under 180 cfs. It’s predicted to peak at 5,200 cfs early Sunday morning.

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