Smith River Best Bet for Green Water

If you’re in pursuit of steelhead-green water this weekend, you’ll probably need to head north. With the Chetco blown out for potentially another week, the Smith may be the only game in town for quite some time. It looks to be a little unstable through Saturday but is forecasted to remain at fishable levels. Friday looks to be marginal for drifting but should be good for the plunkers. Locally, all stretches of the Eel, Van Duzen, Mad and Redwood Creek are currently blown out. A couple smaller storms will move through the area this week, keeping local rivers dirty through the weekend and well into next week. If you’re looking get your steelhead fix this weekend, your best bet is to head north.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, there are a few more opportunities for rain this week. “The first system will arrive on Wednesday,” said Zontos. “The Smith basin could see up to a half inch, and Humboldt will see between .5 and .75 inches. The next chance of rain will be late Thursday and will stick around through Friday. The Smith can expect 1 to 1.5 inches while Humboldt may see up to .75 inches. There is a chance of rain over the weekend but the models are showing that it may fall to the north. There are additional opportunities for rain on Monday and Tuesday in the Smith basin, but it probably won’t add up to much.”

The Rivers:
Smith River
Steelhead fishing is still pretty tough on the Smith, according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The river was high on Tuesday and very few boats out. I did hear of a few caught by the plunkers. But overall, there just aren’t many around yet. They’ll show when they show,” Coopman added. Flows on the Smith are predicted to fluctuate through Friday, but conditions for the weekend are looking favorable.

Fred Simon of Klamath Falls, Ore., holds a 12-pound hatchery steelhead caught New Year’s Day on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips.

Just as the Chetco was showing signs of getting good, the big New Year’s Day rain blew everything out, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Several boats got into hatchery steelhead on the lower end Jan. 1, while plunkers also were catching steelhead,” said Martin. “The river blew out Sunday morning and will be too high all this week for drift boats. Expect plenty of fish throughout the system as it drops next week.”

The Elk and Sixes also blew out Sunday, according to Martin. “The Elk should be fishable before the end of the week, but the Sixes will be high and muddy for a while. The Elk reached 6.5 feet. It fishes best around 4 feet or less. The lower Rogue was also just getting good on New Year’s Day before it also blew out. Guide John Anderson got three steelhead anchoring and fishing MagLip plugs on Jan. 1,” added Martin.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem blew out Monday and will likely be off color until sometime late next week. Prior to blowing out, boats were getting zero to a couple chances per trip on adults. There are plenty of half-pounders around to keep you busy.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork peaked at roughly 5,200 cubic feet per second early Tuesday morning, running high and muddy. After a couple smaller rises later in the week, it could be fishable early next week, predicted to be around 1,000 cfs by Sunday morning.

Van Duzen
The Duzen hit nearly 6,000 cfs Monday evening and will likely be muddy through the week and weekend. Predicted to be down to 650 cfs by Monday. Should have plenty of fresh steelhead around once it starts to turn green.

Ten-year-old Asha Quinlan, of Arcata, landed this nice hatchery steelhead on Dec. 31,2020, while fishing the Mad River. Photo by Richard Burrow

Mad River
The Mad has been the most consistent steelhead producer in Humboldt and even that has been slow, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “The river blew out on Monday and, prior to that, it had been pretty quiet. You had to move around until you found something. It was slow for the boats as well; they were lucky to get a fish per boat over the weekend. There just wasn’t a lot of fish around, hopefully these rises will bring in a bunch.” With more rain on the way, the Mad will be off color through the weekend. Visit the Mad River Steelhead Derby website to view the current leaderboard.

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on
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