River blowouts predicted for the weekend

The transition to steelhead season is taking a bit longer than we hoped. With the storm door now busted wide-open, finding some green water in the next few days won’t be easy. The North Coast is expected to get pounded by a couple of wet storms, with the first arriving on Thursday followed by a bigger one on Saturday. Per usual, the Smith will be the first to drop into shape, and could be fishable by Sunday. The rest of the coastal streams won’t fare quite so well. With three to four inches predicted in the Mad and Eel River basins, they’ll likely be toast through the weekend and into next week. The forecast beginning on Sunday and into next week isn’t calling for much rain, which should put the rivers on a quick descent. If we’re all nice, we could be looking at fishable water by Christmas.

Tyler Vaughn of McKinleyville landed possibly the first Mad River steelhead of the season last Wednesday while fishing with Tyrone Bachus. The river will likely be blown out this weekend, with three to four inches of rain in the forecast through Sunday. Photo courtesy of Tyrone Bachus

Weather ahead
More rain is on the way, with two systems bearing down on the North Coast. “The Smith basin could see anywhere from 4 to 6 inches between now and next Tuesday,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “During the same time period, the Mad and Eel basins should see between 3 and 4 inches. The first system will arrive on Thursday, bringing an inch to an inch and a half to the Smith. Roughly the same amount is predicted for Saturday. In the Eel and Mad basins, the heaviest rain will hit on Saturday. We’ll likely see less than an inch on Thursday, but Saturday’s system could bring up to 3 inches Saturday through Monday. That’s when we’ll see the rivers really spike. Right now, light rain is forecasted for Sunday with Monday and Tuesday looking mostly dry,” said Zontos.

Mad River Steelhead Derby coming Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA.org) is producing an inaugural Mad River Steelhead Derby beginning Jan. 1 and running through Feb. 29, 2020. You must be signed up prior to Jan. 1, and only hatchery steelhead can be entered into this fishing contest. Anglers can sign up online at ncgasa.org 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 madriversteelheaderby@gmail.com.

2020 Fishing license
A reminder that it’s the time of the year to purchase your 2020 sport fishing license, which is required for residents 16 years of age or older to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians or reptile in inland or ocean waters. The cost of a new resident sport fishing license is $51.02. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $7.05, is required for all anglers taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System. If you plan to fish for steelhead, you’ll need to purchase a steelhead report card, which will cost $7.82 this year. The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife does not accept cash for fishing licenses. For more info, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing

Reduced-Fee sport fishing licenses available
Reduced-cost fishing licenses are available in 2020 for $8.13 (instead of $51.02) for disabled military veterans. For those 65 or older on reduced income, licenses are available for $7.73. For more information on all CA fishing licenses, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521417-free–reduced-fee

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing on Wednesday, January 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is also regulated by low flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station.

Mad River Hatchery ladder now open
The water running down the ladder to the river was turned on Monday. The hatchery hopes to begin spawning on Tuesday, Dec. 31 and then each following Tuesday.

New Oregon recreational crab gear marking rule
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has adopted the following rules effective January 1, 2020: 1) Surface buoys used to mark recreational crab pots or rings must be marked in a visible, legible, and permanent manner with information clearly identifying the owner of the crab pots or rings. 2) The identifying information must include first and last name or business name AND at least one of the following: (a) Permanent address; (b) Phone number; (c) Angler Identification number; or (d) A vessel identification number. Mark your buoys used with pots or rings in the ocean and bays. Rule does not apply to gear from piers, jetties, or beaches. For more information, visit https://myodfw.com/sites/default/files/2019-12/Buoy%20sign_1.pdf

The Rivers:
“The Chetco has been slow for salmon and steelhead, as the fall-run of kings appears to be over for the season, and big numbers of steelhead have yet to arrive,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “There are a few half-pounders around, and plunkers caught a few adult steelhead in the past week. Success from drift boats has been slow. This week’s big storm, with the highest flows since April’s flood expected, could jump start steelhead fishing.”

The Elk and Sixes have been decent for salmon when flows are good according to Martin. “The Elk was good over the weekend. More than 500 salmon returned to Elk River Hatchery on Friday. By Monday, the Elk was too low to float. The Sixes was crowded, but produced fair catches. Expect another shot of fish in the Elk after the water drops early next week,” added Martin.

Smith River
There aren’t many steelhead around right now, but that should change after the next rounds of storms reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “Last weekend and early this week, there were fresh salmon being caught,” said Coopman. “We’re forecasted to see a couple decent rises over the next few days, with the biggest coming late Saturday. Depending on the rain, the river could remain fishable through the weekend. I’d expect to see some adult steelhead around next week.”

Main stem Eel
The main stem was fishable on Wednesday and should remain so through Thursday. There are some nice adult steelhead in the lower river according to reports. It’s predicted to blowout late Thursday, reaching 28,000 cfs on Monday morning. It will take at least a week of dry weather before it drops back into shape.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork has been fishable the last few days, but it’s been skinny. Flows on Wednesday were right around 370 cfs. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught, but did hear there were some fresh kings around. Will likely get muddy following Thursday’s rain, and will really blow out on Saturday afternoon.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 400cfs on Wednesday, and the steelhead reports have been hard to come by. Like the Eel, it will likely be muddy by late Thursday and won’t fish through the weekend.

On Wednesday, the Mad was green and fishable above the 299 bridge reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “I haven’t heard of a lot fish being caught yet, but the river was in good shape as of Wednesday. I did hear some fish were seen moving on the lower river. There’s not much effort yet, but that will change after the river comes back down next week.” The Mad is forecasted to blow out on Thursday, followed by another big rise on Saturday where flows could reach 6,200 cfs.

Upper Trinity
The rains definitely helped the Trinity as far as steelhead fishing goes reports guide Steve Huber. “The recent rains have moved some of the steelhead that were in the upper river to the hatchery,” said Huber. “It also brought in some new fish to the upper section. More rain is needed to bring the fish that were in the lower river up, and the coming storms could do just that. Most anglers are fly fishing, with a few running plugs or tossing bait. There’s been a good group of steelhead in the Junction City area, which is seeing the most pressure. Most boats are getting one to three adults per trip and a mixed bag of half-pounders.”

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