Kings Tough to Come by on Smith, Chetco

Minda Lawrence and Grant Vallier, of Lakeview, Oregon, hold one of the two kings they caught to limit out Saturday on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Michael McGahan of Wild Rivers Fishing. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

After being open for just over a week, salmon fishing on both the Smith and Chetco has proven to be challenging. By the sound of things, the end is likely near for the run of late-fall kings on the coast. Only a couple small storms hit the coast and dropped enough rain to open the two rivers to fishing. While the fishing window was very small, that doesn’t necessarily mean the number of returning salmon was small. Even during the low water conditions, salmon were seen making their way upriver on all of our coastal streams. Typically, the season’s first big rains come in October, leaving us a good four to five-week window to fish. That hasn’t been the case the last few years as the salmon didn’t bother to wait for us or the strong flows to get them to their end destinations.

On the other hand, as we inch closer to December, it’s time to start thinking about winter steelhead. There are some half-pounders around, and the adults typically start showing in December. But don’t give up entirely on salmon just yet. The Smith, Chetco and even the Eel could each see another spurt or two of fresh kings move in on the next substantial river rise.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we’re looking pretty dry as we head into December. “There is a chance for some rain late in the weekend, but it doesn’t look like it will impact river flows,” said Zontos. “Below normal precipitation is predicted through Dec. 7.”

Sport crab fishing update
Tim Klassen of Reel Steel Sportfishing reports the crabbing is a little on the slow side out of Eureka. “We’re still getting limits but it’s getting a little tougher,” said Klassen. “We’ve only had one trip where we didn’t get full limits. On an overnight soak, we’re averaging between four to six keepers per pot. Longer soaks are definitely producing better results. There are a lot of small crabs that are chewing up the bait pretty quickly. Fresh bait, like tuna scraps or rockfish carcasses, will improve the number of keepers as well. The crabs are in great shape, but we aren’t seeing very many jumbos,” added Klassen. Big swells are in the forecast Tuesday night through Thursday morning. Seas could reach up to 20 feet on Wednesday.

Nov. 27 and 28 free fish days in Oregon
ODFW is waiving all fishing licensing requirements on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to experience fishing during the long holiday weekend. All fishing, crabbing and clamming in Oregon will be free for both Oregon residents and non-residents. No licenses, tags or endorsements are needed on those days, but all other fishing regulations apply. Visit for more info.

Lower Trinity River adult Chinook salmon quota met
In a press release issued on Friday, the CDFW projected recreational anglers will have met the Lower Trinity River adult fall Chinook salmon quota below the Denny Road Bridge at Hawkins Bar for the 2020 season as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. This triggers the closure of the adult Chinook salmon fishery on the Trinity River from the Denny Road Bridge at Hawkins Bar to the confluence with the Klamath River. This reach will remain open for harvest of jack (two-year-old) Chinook salmon (less than or equal to 23 inches). All adult Chinook salmon caught must be immediately released and reported on the angler’s report card. Adult Chinook salmon harvest is now closed in all sectors of the Klamath River basin. For more info, visit

The Rivers:
Other than the Smith and main stem Eel, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, and Van Duzen are closed to fishing. The main stem Eel is scheduled to close as of Thursday, Nov. 26. Be sure and call the low flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Since it opened to fishing on Nov. 14, salmon fishing has steadily gotten tougher. There are some fish around but most of the boats are having a hard time getting one per trip. Flows were hovering around 1,000 cfs on Wednesday and the river is low and clear. Roe under a float or back-bouncing the deeper holes are your best bet until we get some significant rainfall.

The Chetco opened to salmon fishing last Tuesday but quickly blew out reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “After cresting at 12,000 cfs, flows dropped below 5,000 cfs on Friday and were down to 2,200 cfs on Sunday. Overall, fishing has been slow, but a few nice kings are being caught. The best action is on the lower end. The Elk is now low and clear, while the Sixes is low but fishable. The Sixes has been fishing the best of the Southern Oregon rivers.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email