Coastal rivers lack water, but not steelhead

Cole Vandenplas, right, along with buddy Lucien Ricker were all smiles after landing this bright steelhead on Sunday while drifting the Mad River. Lucien’s father Seth accompanied the young anglers down the river. Photo courtesy of Seth Ricker

With records going all the way back to 1887, February 2020 is shaping up to be the third driest February on record for Eureka – and that’s not a record that anyone wants to see broken. Especially winter steelhead anglers. Despite the lack of rainfall that’s turned most of our rivers into glorified trout streams, there’s steelhead being caught in good numbers on most of them. Seeing photos of chrome-bright steelhead all over social media really has me thinking. If the fishing is still this good after a month-long dry spell, how good would it have been if we had a few good storms mixed in? I don’t have the answer, but I can only imagine. Looking at the extended forecast, it appears we’ll be fishing in spring-like conditions at least through early March. With all the rivers chocked full of steelhead, my guess is we could see some really good fishing when and if the rains come.

Weather ahead
Warm and dry conditions will continue through this week according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A few light showers are expected Friday night into Saturday. Rainfall totals won’t be much, if any. We could see maybe a tenth locally, with most of the rain falling across Del Norte county. It certainly won’t be enough to raise any of the river levels. There is a slight chance of rain early next week, but again, it will be very light if it does happen,” said Zontos. A gradual warming trend is expected Tuesday through the end of next week as high pressure slowly builds back into the region, with little hope for meaningful rainfall through at least the next week and potentially longer.

HSU looking for surfperch anglers
The HSU Dept. of Fisheries Biology are looking to hire two FISH undergraduate students to hook-and-line fish for surfperch in four sandy beach surf zones in Humboldt County. Salary is $13 per hour, 12-16 hours per month from April through June 2020. Must be experienced fishing for perch and have own gear and transportation. You can apply through HSU’s Handshake website, Job #3607824, Title Angler – Hook-and-line fish for surfperch.

Upcoming Events
Perch’n on the Peninsula coming April 4
The Samoa Peninsula Fire District will be hosting their 11th Annual Perch’n on the Peninsula Surfperch Fishing Tournament and Fish Fry Fundraiser on Saturday, April 4, 2020. The fish fry fundraiser is open to the public and admission is only $15 for adults and $10 for juniors. Adult fishing tournament entry is $25 and junior entry (under 16) is $15. Tournament day registration is available at the Peninsula Elementary School in Samoa beginning at 6 a.m. Entries can be purchased online at or Pacific Outfitters, Englund Marine, Shafer’s Ace Hardware in Eureka, or Sportsman’s Warehouse. For more information, call (707) 443-9042 or visit

HASA fundraiser coming April 25
HASA will be holding their 10th annual fundraiser and social event at the Arcata Community Center on April 25, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Adult and youth tickets are available at Englund Marine, Bucksport Sporting Goods, and Pacific Outfitters in Eureka, or you can purchase them online at Only adult tickets can be purchased online at this time. If you need youth tickets, please stop by one of the vendor partners in Eureka. Ticket pricing: $30 Adult $15 Children. The food will once again be provided by Ramones Bakery and Catering. For more info, visit their Facebook page at

Brookings ocean report
Saltwater fishing has been good near Brookings, both for bottom fish from boats, and surfperch from area beaches reports Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Striped and redtail perch are being caught at Crissy Field, the Port beach and north jetty. Lingcod fishing has been good on calm days, but a big swell this week could keep boats at the harbor. Crabbing is slow out of Brookings.”

The Rivers:
Southern Oregon
The Chetco has dropped to its lowest flows of the season, resulting in low, clear water and slow fishing according to Martin. “There are plenty of steelhead around, but the fish are spooky, especially with bright, sunny conditions. The best fishing has been on the lower end, early in the day. The lower Rogue has been fair for steelhead, with a mix of hatchery and wild fish still moving through. As the run tapers off on the lower river, it is just starting to pick up between Galice and Grants Pass. Low, clear water has stalled steelhead fishing on the Elk and Sixes. The Coquille also has slowed. The best action has been on the Umpqua, which is experiencing a big run,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith is low and clear, but there are fish around. During last week’s Rowdy Creek derby, quite a few were caught even though conditions were extremely tough. Boat pressure has been light as most have moved to other rivers. When we do get some rain, the fishing should bust wide-open as the downers are all waiting for some water.

Eel River (main stem)
Running at 1,350 cfs as of Wednesday, the main Eel is still one of the best options for fresh, bright steelhead. The river is definitely clearing, and you’ll likely need to drag your boat in multiple spots, but there are fish around. Flows are predicted to be around 1,200 cfs by the weekend.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is down to 350 cfs as of Wednesday, and reports have been hard to come by. It’s definitely low and clear, but you can still catch fish in the deeper slots. If you’re looking for a place to fly fish, conditions are good.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is low, but still has decent color. It’s down to 220 cfs, and should be good for bank and fly anglers. Like the rest of the coastal rivers, it still has a good number of fresh steelhead despite the low water.

Mad River
Despite the low, clear conditions, the fishing is still pretty good reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors of Eureka. “The fish are still spread out, but the fishing seems to be better downriver right now. With the low flows, they are holding in the deeper holes and slots. It’s pretty much a bobber-only fishery at this point as finding spots that have current is getting tougher. The best bite is before the sun hits the water or closer to dusk,” Kelly added.

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