Steelhead conditions look good for the weekend

From high water to low water to dirty water – we’ve endured all conditions imaginable to start off our steelhead season. But following a weekend that saw less rain fall than predicted, river conditions are finally starting to line up. The Smith dropped into fishable shape on Monday, and the drift boaters picked up a few. The Chetco blew out over the weekend, but should be in great shape by mid-week. Plunkers landed their share of bright steelhead prior to the blowout. Closer to home, the Mad was a little high and dirty on Tuesday, but should be in pristine shape by the weekend. A few steelhead have made their way back to the hatchery, and there should be plenty more behind them. The main stem Eel is also recovering from the storms, and it could fish as early as the weekend. Not many boats have been on the water, but you can bet there’s steelhead around. Both the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen will be on the low-side by the weekend, but should be holding a little color. If you’re looking to get out of the house this weekend, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a fishable river.

McKinleyville resident Tyler Collins landed this nice winter steelhead on Monday while fishing the Smith River with guide Tyler Gillespie. The winter steelhead run is just beginning on the coastal rivers, and conditions look good for the weekend. Photo courtesy of Tyler Gillespie

The weather ahead
“Not much in the way of rain for the next few days, and possibly into next week,” said Tyler Jewel of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There’s a slight chance of a small front moving in on Sunday morning, but the models are really inconsistent and there isn’t much confidence that it will hit us,” said Jewel. “At most, we could see about a half-inch, but it will likely be around a tenth, if anything. After that, we’ll see a ridge of high pressure rebuild keeping us dry through at least the middle of next week.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby starts Jan. 1
If you’re interested in signing up for the Mad River Steelhead Derby, you’ll want to act quickly. The inaugural event, put on by the Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (, begins Jan. 1 and runs through Feb. 29, 2020. You must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 to be eligible. 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

Commercial crab opener set for Dec. 31
The commercial Dungeness crab season in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties is slated 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. Delays due to quality only affect the Dungeness crab fishery in this area. Any vessel that takes, possesses onboard or lands crab from ocean waters outside of a delayed area is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in any delayed area for 30 days following the opening of those areas. Permitted vessels that have already participated in the Dec. 15 opener south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line would not be able to set gear in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties until 12:01 am Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. This applies to any delayed areas in Oregon and Washington as well. For more information regarding the 2019-2020 Dungeness crab commercial season, visit

Rockfish season to close Dec. 31
The 2019 rockfish season in the Northern Management area, which runs from Cape Mendocino to the OR/CA border, will close for boat-based anglers on Tuesday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit

The Rivers:
The Chetco had a decent bite for steelhead last week before it blew out over the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers caught fish at Loeb Park and Social Security,” said Martin. “After reaching 9,000 cfs on Saturday, the river remained muddy and blown out Monday evening. A slide on the South Fork has it colored from top to bottom. It should be in good shape by Christmas or shortly after. The Elk was high but fishable on Monday, and most boats caught multiple salmon. Expect salmon to continue to arrive through the end of the week. The Sixes is high but should fish by Christmas. It closes Dec. 31 to salmon. The Elk remains open in January.”

Following the weekend rains, the Smith dropped back into shape on Monday. Not many boats were out, but a few nice steelhead were landed. River levels are predicted to drop and it will likely be low and clear by the weekend. Forecasted to be right around 2,200 cfs (7.5 feet) by Saturday morning.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was muddy as of Tuesday, but dropping quickly. Predicted to be at 3,000 cfs on the Scotia gauge by Thursday and could be fishable by the weekend.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was dirty on Monday, mostly due to the muddy water coming from the East Branch at Benbow. Flows on Tuesday were right around 800 cfs. By the time it clears in the next couple days, it could be tough to drift. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught as of yet.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 650 cfs on Tuesday and predicted to hit 500 cfs by Saturday. Reports have been hard to come by so far, but there should be some steelhead around once it clears.

The Mad has been quiet this week, likely due to the dirty water and lack of fish according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “The fishing pressure has been light this week as there haven’t been many fish around. There’s only a handful that have made it up the ladder. With dry weather for the next few days, conditions are looking really good for the weekend. My guess is it we’ll start to see some green water by Friday, with the weekend looking ideal. Hopefully there will be some fish around.”

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