Smith is it for green water

Five year-old Hazel Sloan was excited to say the least after landing this nice hatchery steelhead over the weekend on the Mad River. According to her dad Justin, pictured left, the steelhead was close to nine pounds and was 28.5 inches long. Photo courtesy of Justin Sloan

Last week I wrote that the Smith River would be the best bet for steelhead-green water. Well, that was only partially correct. The rains that were forecasted didn’t pan out entirely, and left the main Eel and South Fork perfectly green through the weekend. This week though, I really mean it. As I’m writing this weeks report, the Smith is not only your best, it’s also your only option for green, fishable water. The rain finally caught up to the Eel rivers on Monday, and both are now dirty along with the rest of the coastal rivers not named Smith. So if you’re looking for steelhead water, you know where to go.

Weather outlook
Much like last week, we’re expecting multiple systems to hit the North Coast over the next few days, but nothing significant. According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, rain is in the forecast almost every day, but it looks like we’ll get breaks on Friday and Sunday. “For the seven-day period ending next Wednesday, the Smith basin could see 3 to 4 inches, the Mad 2 to 3, and 1 to 2 inches could fall in the Eel basin,” said Zontos. “Through Sunday, we’re forecasting anywhere from 1.5 inches to 3 inches, with heavier rain to the north. Another system is predicted for Monday and Tuesday, and this could potentially be a bigger system, especially in the Eel basin. As of now, it’s looking dry from next Wednesday through the weekend.”

Mad River steelhead being tagged for research
In 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will again be applying spaghetti tags to some hatchery steelhead returning to Mad River Hatchery for research purposes. The purpose of tagging hatchery steelhead is to see how many of the tagged fish return next year (multiple year spawning). The tags look similar to reward tags used for studies with fish in the Trinity River, but there is no reward for returning the Mad River tags. If you catch a hatchery steelhead with the green tag, you may:

  • Keep the hatchery steelhead and return the tag to CDFW, 50 Ericson Court, Arcata. You can also return the tag to the Mad River Hatchery, 1660 Hatchery Rd, Arcata, or call the Mad River Hatchery at 707-822-0592.
  • You can also release the fish with tag still attached. Please do not remove the tag and then release fish.

ODFW Commission meeting on wild steelhead retention
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet on Friday, Jan. 17 in Salem, OR, with one of the agenda items being the retention of wild winter steelhead in the SW Zone. The Commission will consider a petition it received asking them to adopt a temporary rule (in effect for 180 days) that would prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead in rivers throughout the SW Zone, which includes the Chetco. ODFW staff is recommending Commissioners deny this petition, as they do not have a conservation concern for wild winter steelhead on the south coast at this time. The declines in wild steelhead in other parts of the state have not been observed in the SW Zone and current regulations are already conservative.  Also, staff continues to work on a multi-species conservation plan for the Rogue and South Coast where concerns about wild steelhead are being addressed. Commissioners denied a similar petition in 2018. The meeting agenda can be found online at You can also view the meeting via livestream at

The Rivers:
Chetco River/Elk/Lower Rogue
The Chetco has been high and blown out the past week, with flows of 5,000 to 10,000 cfs reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It generally fishes best below 4,000 cfs,” said Martin. “Those kind of flows may be a week or more away. The plunkers have caught a few fish in the dirty water, but the river is unfishable for drift boaters.”

According to Martin, the Elk River dropped to 5 feet on Wednesday, the high point of where it is fishable. “It had reached 6.5 feet. It will be in play this week,” he said. “The bright spot has been the lower Rogue River, which is fishing well for plunkers using Spin-N-Glos and jet boaters anchoring and running MagLip plugs. The Rogue has remained fishable for the most part and will be the best bet this weekend.”

Smith River
The Smith has been teetering between fishable levels since the weekend. On Wednesday, it was right around 12 feet on the Jed gauge, and most boats chose to drift while a few fished on the anchor. Quite a few fish were reportedly caught, and the river had plenty of visibility by the afternoon. It was predicted to hit 14 feet on Thursday morning, but it remained in fishable shape due to more snow falling than rain. Conditions look good for Friday and should stay that way through Monday.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem blew out on Tuesday and it looks like it will be some time before it’s fishable again. It will likely need a solid 10 or so days before it’s green. Prior to blowing out, fishing remained tough. Boats fishing the lower end were getting a chance at a couple winter steelhead per day.

Eel River (South Fork)
Like the main stem, the South Fork finally muddied up on Tuesday. It’s predicted to go above 6,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge by Thursday night. Flows are forecasted for fishable levels by the weekend, but the color will be a wait and see. With more rain on the way early next week, it may not fish until late next week or the weekend.

Van Duzen
The Duzen has been off color since last week, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. Flows were hovering around 1,400 cfs as of Wednesday, and predicted to bounce between 3,000 and 1,500 cfs through Monday. This season, conditions have been best right around 400 cfs.

Mad River
The Mad blew out last week, and remains high and muddy. According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, there are a few fish being caught right at the hatchery and along the willows. He said, “There aren’t many anglers trying, but there’s fish in the river. Quite a few have made their way up the ladder in the last week, so there’s fish coming.” The Mad is predicted to be high through the weekend, hovering around 10-feet on the Arcata gauge. It will need a good week of dry weather before it’s green.

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