Coastal Rivers Brace for More Rain

McKinleyville resident Scott McBain holds a nice wild steelhead landed on Monday while fishing the Eel River. Photo courtesy of Joe Polos

Just as the steelhead season began to show signs of life, another round of wet storms is set to wreak havoc. All the coastal rivers are bracing for increased river flows certain to curtail any hopes of green water for some time. But these storms bring a little good news with them. For the first time this year, we should see a good amount of snow in the hills. That’s money in the bank for winter steelhead fishermen. As the storms move through and the rivers begin to recede, the runoff from the snow will help keep the water at fishable heights and color. Looking ahead, the Smith could be the river least impacted by the storms. It’s predicted for a big rise overnight Wednesday, but a lot of that precipitation could fall as snow. If that plays out, the Smith could remain fishable. All the other coastal rivers will likely be high and off color well into next week.

The weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we’re in for a wet week with very few breaks. From Tuesday through early Friday morning, 2 to 4 inches of rainfall is forecast for the Smith basin,” said Zontos. “We’ll likely see up to 3 inches in Humboldt. A weaker system is predicted for Friday and into Saturday with a quarter to an inch forecast for Del Norte. Rainfall amounts will be lower here locally. A more powerful storm is forecast for Sunday, bringing another 1 to 2 inches of rain in the Smith and Eel basins. Conditions will begin to calm down Tuesday, as the Climate Center is predicting below normal rainfall through Feb. 9.”

CDFW Annual Salmon Information Meeting webinar only
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information Meeting will be held on February 25 from 10: a.m. until 4 p.m. The meeting will provide the latest information on California salmon stocks and the outlook for ocean salmon fisheries for the upcoming 2021 season. The public is encouraged to provide comments on potential fishing alternatives for California ocean salmon fisheries in 2021. A panel comprised of fishery managers, scientists and industry representatives will be assembled to address questions and collect public input that will be used in developing a range of season alternatives for California salmon fisheries at the March 2-5 and 8-11 Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting. This meeting will be hosted as a webinar only and the meeting link, agenda, other materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Ian Pritchard for more information at

SF Eel Pikeminnow information wanted
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Wiyot Tribe, and Stillwater Sciences are working together to learn more about how seasonal changes affect invasive Sacramento Pikeminnow distribution in the Eel River. They are looking for data to inform management of the species. If you encounter any Pikeminnow while fishing on the South Fork Eel River between now and March, report the location, date, and approximate length. You can report at, email to or leave a message at 707-725-1015.

The Rivers
Smith River
“Fishing has been pretty good this week,” said guide Mike Coopman. “The river is low and clear, but there’s a few spots that are holding fish. If your timing is right, you can do well. We’re averaging between three and six hookups per day, and all the fish are nice ones. Quite a bit of rain is predicted this week but if it stays cold, the river could remain fishable. It all depends on if it falls as rain or snow. Boat pressure has been light,” he added.

Bigger tides have brought fresh schools of steelhead into the lower Chetco but rains could blow the river out again by the end of the week, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Fishing is still slow to fair but some guides are getting two to three steelhead a day,” said Martin. “The best fishing has been on the lower river, where hatchery steelhead are showing up at Freeman, the North Fork and Glassy Flat. Plunkers had a few good days last week and should do well again with this week’s rain.”

Athena Hartley of Ashland, Ore., holds a wild steelhead she caught Jan. 23 on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. The fish was donated to the hatchery broodstock program. She was using a Corky and roe. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

The Lower Rogue has been fishing well near the old mill, according to Martin. “Boaters are anchoring and catching wild and hatchery steelhead on 3.5 MagLips. Plunkers are getting fish at Huntley Park and Lobster Creek. The Elk and Sixes have been slow overall for steelhead, but should see new fish with this week’s bigger tides and rain,” said Martin.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem Eel has been fishing since last week and was just starting to kick out some decent numbers of fish. The river blew out on Wednesday, and a bigger rise is predicted for Monday. It’s forecast to hit 65,000 cfs early Tuesday morning. It’ll need a week to 10 days of dry weather to clear.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was in great shape over the weekend and there were quite a few boats taking advantage of the conditions. There were a few fish caught and scores ranged from zero to three fish per boat. It’s also blew out Wednesday, but forecast to be down to a fishable level by the weekend. Don’t expect green water. It’s predicted for another steep rise on Monday topping out at roughly 12,000 cfs.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen had been in fishable shape for the past week, but that looks to change. Flows were under 200 cfs Tuesday but predicted for a small rise up to 800 cfs on Thursday. It will likely be off color through the weekend. Another big rise is predicted for Monday where it could reach 13,500 cfs.

Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors, fishing remains a little tough on the Mad. “It hasn’t been great but it does seem that more fish are starting to show up,” said Kelly. “Most of the fish are still congregating near the hatchery. With the storms coming this week, conditions will change dramatically. The river is predicted to blow out Wednesday and will likely be dirty through the weekend.” Kelly added. As of Thursday, the river was flowing at 2,300 cfs and rising. Predicted for a big rise starting Sunday night, peaking around 8,500 cfs on Tuesday morning.

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