Steelhead season ending on somber note

River conditions look excellent for the weekend

Southern Humboldt resident Erica Schuster landed a nice steelhead while fishing the main stem of the Eel River last week. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork, will remain open to fishing all year. Most of the other North Coast rivers will close to fishing after March 31. Photo courtesy of Erica Schuster

The 2020 winter steelhead season is winding down here on the North Coast, and it’s one we’ll likely never forget. Right now, as we head into uncharted territory with the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, the steelhead rivers have become our place of solace. As the virus continues to spread and our movements become more restricted, it’s been nice to have a place to go to and not have to think about what’s happening in the world – and at home. As we head towards the end of March, steelhead fishing will unfortunately come to a close on most of our rivers. After next Tuesday, March 31, the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek, and the Chetco will all be closed to fishing.

A few however, will remain open. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From the mouth to Fulmor Road, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from April 1 through the Friday preceding the fourth Saturday in May. Only barbless hooks may be used from fourth Saturday in May through Mar. 31. From Fulmor Road to the South Fork, it’s open all year. From April 1 through September 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Only barbless hooks may be used from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31.

The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle Fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick’s Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craigs Creek to Jones Creek. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from the fourth Saturday in May through Aug. 31. Only barbless hooks may be used from Sept. 1 through Apr. 30. The bag limit remains the same, two hatchery steelhead per day.

Sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers are open to fishing, but are subject to in-season changes. For more information, visit

Regarding the state-mandated shelter in place orders, fishing is still allowed for now. CDFW is urging anglers to practice social distancing of 6 feet or more from other people. If you find your favorite fishing spot crowded, find somewhere else to fish. It’s not worth the risk to your health, and the health of others. You should also avoid crowded trails and parking lots.

Ruth Lake Community Services District closes
As of March 23, the Ruth Lake Community Services District has been shut down due to COVID-19. At this time, the Ruth Lake Marina will be closed to business, the bathrooms will be closed and there will be no boat inspections taking place. Ruth Recreational Campground, Hobart Creek Campground, Barlow Group Campground, and Boy Scout Campground will be closed along with their facilities. The RLCSD office will be open part time to take phone calls but no boat inspections will be taking place. The RLCSD office has already begun calling customers to cancel all campground reservations for the months of April and May. If necessary, to cancel beyond that they will contact customers in the next months. For more information, visit

Shelter Cove crab feed postponed
The Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation crab feed fundraiser scheduled for April 10 at the Gyppo Ale Mill Brewery has been postponed. If you purchased a ticket and would like a refund, contact Jake Mitchell at 223-1600 or you can hold on to it until the event is rescheduled. For more information, visit

HASA fundraiser canceled
HASA’s 10th annual fundraiser and social event scheduled for April 25 has been canceled. Next year’s event is scheduled for March 20, 2021. Tickets purchased for the 2020 fundraiser will be honored next year with proof of purchase. For more info, visit Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers Facebook page.

Brookings ocean update
Lingcod and rockfish action has been good out of Brookings when weather conditions allow according to Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. “Oregon has enacted stricter social distancing rules, including closing motels, RV parks and campgrounds, limiting lodging options for visiting anglers,” said Martin.

The Rivers:
According to Martin, few anglers are fishing the Chetco with the low, clear flows. “Access also is limited now that all Oregon state parks have closed, including the launch area at Loeb Park. There are still fresh steelhead around, especially on the lower end,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith was on the rise as of Wednesday following nearly an inch of rain on Tuesday. Flows were predicted to hit 1,860 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday. This should be plenty of water to get the downers on the move and should bring in some fresh ones too. Boat pressure continues to be light. The Smith will remain open to fishing through April.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was on a slight rise as of Wednesday and predicted to hit 1,600 cfs. There’s some fresh fish still coming in, but we should really start to see the downers on the move. There’s also a good number of half-pounders around as well. Conditions should be good for the weekend. Boat pressure has been light.

Eel River (South Fork)
As of Wednesday, flows were 320 cfs on the Miranda gauge and rising slightly. There’s plenty of steelhead around, including some fresh ones. Conditions are perfect for bank fishing.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen bumped up to 485 cfs early Wednesday morning, but is now on the drop. It’s predicted to hover around 300 to 400 cfs the rest of the week. Conditions remain perfect for bank anglers fishing bobbers, spoons, or plugs.

Mad River
The Mad was at 7.5 feet and on a slight rise as of Wednesday morning. The water had a little bit of color, but remained fishable following the rain on Tuesday. According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors of Eureka, there are still a lot of fish around. “We’re starting to see quite a few downers, but there are plenty of fresh ones coming in too,” said Kelly. “I’d say it’s about a 50-50 mix right now. Most of the fish coming in are wild, and most of the downers have been hatchery. Roe has been the bait of choice with all the downers around, and there’s enough water now to drift fish effectively. Soft beads under a float and spinners continue to catch fish as well.”

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