Rivers on the drop, green water on the way

Guide Rye Phillips of Wild Rivers Fishing holds a steelhead caught and released Jan. 29 on the Smith River by Kerry Simmons of Livermore. The steelhead bit a watermelon Spin-N-Glo while plunking on the anchor. It is Simmons’ first steelhead. Photo courtesy of Andy Martin

After a wet few weeks that saw most of the steelhead fishing focused on the Smith River, it appears the rest of the coastal rivers will finally come into play. A slight chance of showers is in the forecast on Thursday and again on the weekend, but it doesn’t look like they’ll put a rise back into any of the rivers. It may slow the drop slightly, but that’s about it. If the forecast holds and the rain stays away, all of the coastal rivers could be green by sometime next week, including the main stem Eel.
The Smith has been chocked full of steelhead for the past couple weeks, and we’re seeing a good return of steelhead to the Mad as well. With any luck, the main and South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, and Redwood Creek will all be flush with steelhead. Looks like we’ll get to find out very soon.

Weather ahead
For at least the next seven days, we’ll be moving towards a drier and colder weather pattern. According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we still have a couple chances of rain over the next few days, but it won’t be much and likely won’t affect any of the river levels. “Up in the Smith basin, there’s a chance of rain on Thursday and again over the weekend. Rainfall totals for the period are from a half inch to 1 inch, with the heaviest rain falling in the mountains. Monday and Tuesday are looking mostly dry. Here locally, there’s a chance of showers for Thursday morning, but then looks dry until the weekend. There’s a chance of rain over the weekend, but it won’t add up to much. We may see a quarter inch or less. Monday and Tuesday look dry,” said Zontos.

Fishing Report Cards Due Friday
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds anglers that Jan. 31, 2020 is the due date for turning in steelhead, sturgeon and North Coast salmon report card data.
Anglers are required to return their report cards even if they lost their report card, they did not fish or they didn’t catch any fish. There are two ways to meet the mandatory angler reporting requirement. Online reporting through the CDFW website (https://wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521416-harvest-reporting) or by mail to the addresses listed below:

North Coast Salmon Report Cards CDFW – Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521-9269

Steelhead Report Cards CDFW – Steelhead Report Card, P.O. Box 944209 Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

More information about report cards is available at wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing.

Low flow fishing closures set to end
Special low flow regulations that went into effect on Oct. 1 for the Eel River, Mattole, Redwood Creek, Smith, Van Duzen, and Sept. 1 on the Mad, will end on Friday, January 31. Until then, low flow restrictions remain in effect. Currently, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures are open.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been too high for drift boats for more than two weeks, but will finally drop back into shape by the end of the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers were doing well before it blew out, so expect fishing to be good river- wide as it drops,” said Martin. “Next week should be prime. The Chetco reached 20,000 cfs on Sunday, its highest level since the April 2019 flood.”

The Elk and Sixes also have been high according to Marin. “The Elk crested at 7.1 feet on Tuesday. It is generally too high to fish when it’s over 5.2 feet. It will be in good shape by Friday. The Sixes will be fishable by early next week. The next week will be prime on both rivers.”

Smith River
The Smith has been the bright spot on the coast, and has given up some nice steelhead – even with the high water. It hasn’t been under 11-feet since last Friday, but that hasn’t slowed the fishing. A few boats have drifted in the high water, but the majority of boats are plunking on the anchor. Boats are getting a few opportunities, and landing a couple each day. With very little rain on the way, the river should drop into perfect drifting shape by Friday. Look for excellent conditions through the weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
The Eel is dropping, but was still big as of Wednesday, flowing at 17,000 cfs. If the dropping trend continues, it could be fishable by sometime late next week. The main Eel starts to fish well once it gets in the 3,500 cfs range.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is dropping into shape, and could fish by the weekend or early next week at the latest. Flows are looking decent, but the color will depend on what’s coming out of the East Branch. Above Benbow will clear first and should be green by the weekend, but it will be pushy. Flows are predicted right around 2,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Saturday morning.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 2,200 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen is dropping quickly and could fish by mid to late next week. Flows are predicted to be right around 950 by Monday morning.

Mad River
The Mad is still high and brown, but there’s plenty of fish in the river according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Most of the fish are holding right below the hatchery, and guys are getting quite a few hookups a day. River conditions aren’t going to change much due to Ruth Lake being full and spilling over. It will take at least a week to 10 days of dry weather and cold nights before the river drops enough to turn green,” said Kelly.

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