More rain on the way – and hopefully steelhead too

Winter steelhead season has yet to really take off here on the North Coast, but changes are on the horizon. We have a pretty decent storm headed our way that will put all of the coastal rivers on the rise. This is coming on the heels of the season’s biggest storms to date, which on Monday pushed the rivers to their highest levels of the young season. And more rain is on the way next week. Steady rain and pulse flows is just what we need to entice some steelhead from the salt. If the rains come as predicted, the Smith should remain in fishable shape. It’s predicted to hit just over 11-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Friday. The Chetco will see a bump in flows as well, but it should remain fishable through the weekend as well.

The Eel, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, and Mad will all see a rise in flows, and will likely be muddy next week. Once they recede to fishable levels, we should see the first wave of winter steelhead make their way into our coastal rivers. After another brief, or nonexistent late fall salmon season, seeing the rivers loaded with bright steelhead sure would be a welcome sight.

Weather ahead
“The North Coast can expect area-wide rain through Saturday,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “It looks like the heaviest rain will be Wednesday and Thursday. The rain will start to decrease on Friday – when the rivers will peak and begin to drop. Light rain is in the forecast for Saturday, then we’ll see the rain begin to taper off on Sunday. Monday is looking mostly dry. Another system is predicted for Tuesday, with rain in the forecast most of next week. Rainfall totals from Wednesday through next Tuesday in the Smith basin will be 3 to 4 inches. In the Mad basin, we could see 1.5 to 2.5 inches, with the potential for 3 inches in the mountains. One to 2 inches is predicted in the Eel basin,” said Zontos.

Mad River Steelhead Derby coming Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association ( is producing an inaugural Mad River Steelhead Derby beginning Jan. 1 and running through Feb. 29, 2020. Only hatchery steelhead can be entered into this fishing contest. Anglers can sign up online at or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport Sporting Goods in Eureka. Entry fees are $30 for NCGASA non-associate members and $10 for current members. All entries include a yearly NCGASA membership and an additional prize raffle ticket. The largest hatchery steelhead entry will win $500, second place $300 and third place will receive $150. There will also be a youth division winner (16 years and under), who’ll receive $150 gift certificate from one of our sponsors. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler broodstock collection program. For more info. and derby rules, visit MadRiverSteelheadDerby on Facebook and Instagram or email

Dungeness crab news

Northern Management Area
The northern California commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed again due to poor quality. Results of the Dec. 3 quality test continue to show crab are below the minimum testing guidelines and are not yet ready for harvesting. This affects the entire northern commercial fishery in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. The season is now scheduled to open at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, to be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 8:01 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2019. Additional testing will be scheduled to occur by Dec. 20 to determine whether the season can open on Dec. 31 or will be delayed once more until Jan. 15, 2020.

Domoic Acid Update
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) lifted a health advisory for recreational Dungeness crabs caught near Shelter Cove, Humboldt County south to Point Arena. CDPH lifted this advisory on Tuesday due to recent tests showing that the amount of domoic acid has declined to low or undetectable levels in Dungeness crabs caught in the area, indicating that they are safe to consume.

Central Management Area
On Nov. 22, the Central Management Area (Sonoma County and south) opener was delayed until Dec. 15 to avoid whale and sea turtle entanglements. At CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham’s request, the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group was convened on Dec. 4 to review new information and conduct an updated risk assessment. The Working Group provided a consensus recommendation to open the fishery as soon as possible, while providing the fishery sufficient notice prior to Dec. 15.  No minority recommendations were expressed. After considering the Working Group’s updated assessment, the Director is proceeding with the Dec. 15 opener. The Central Management Area will open at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15. This opening is preceded by an 18-hour gear setting period that will begin at 6:01 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14. For more information related to the risk assessment process or this delay, visit

The Rivers:
Salmon fishing has been slow on the Chetco since it opened last Saturday according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “I drifted from the South Fork on Tuesday, focusing on steelhead, and found a few half-pounders up high, said Martin. “Lots of salmon are spawning in the riffles. A few adult steelhead have been caught on the lower river, both by plunkers and drift boaters. A slide between Ice Box and Loeb will likely add lots of color to the river during the next few storms.”
According to Martin, the Elk is low, but the Sixes has been fishable, with decent catch rates for fall salmon. “Expect the Elk to rise with the latest series of storms this week. Both rivers will be the best bet for salmon this late in the season,” added Martin.

Cloverdale resident Scott Richardson landed a nice king salmon on Sunday while fishing the Smith River. The late-fall king salmon run is nearing the end on North Coast rivers, with the arrival of winter steelhead right around the corner. Photo courtesy of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

“Fishing is pretty slow right now on the Smith,” said Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “There’s still a few salmon on the lower end of the river, but I didn’t see much upriver on Wednesday. There hasn’t been much in the way of steelhead yet, but hopefully that will change with the next round of storms on the way. We’re predicted to get a decent rise for Friday, and more rain on the way for next week. This should open the door for the start of the steelhead run.”

The Mad was open to fishing as of Wednesday, but it could close Thursday morning if there isn’t sufficient rain to increase flows. There’s been a handful of nice steelhead caught, but no big numbers entering the river as of yet. Minimum flows to keep the river open to fishing are 200 cfs.

Main stem Eel
Flows are good on the main stem, but it’s still on the dirty side. The flows were just above 2,300 cfs on the Scotia gauge on Wednesday afternoon, but predicted to rise starting Thursday morning. The river is forecasted to peak Friday afternoon and will likely remain blown out for the weekend and into next week. Minimum flows to keep the river open to fishing are 350 cfs on the Scotia gauge.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was open to fishing as of Wednesday, but could close on Thursday unless flows increase. It’s predicted to rise beginning Thursday morning and will probably be dirty through the weekend. Minimum flows to keep the river open to fishing are 340 cfs.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was open to fishing as of Wednesday, and should remain open until it starts to rise on Thursday morning. The river will likely be muddy through the weekend. Minimum flows to keep the river open to fishing are 150 cfs.

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