Big Storms to Kick Off Coastal King Season

Brooking resident Michael McGahan landed this bright Chetco River king salmon last December. With rain in the forecast, the Smith and Chetco should both be full of late fall-run kings. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

The season’s first big storms are bearing down on the North Coast and they look formidable. And that means fresh-from-the-salt king salmon — big and bright — will make their way up all of our coastal rivers starting this weekend. If you see a steady stream of drift boats heading north on U.S. Highway 101, this is the reason. Following a steep rise Friday, the Smith and Chetco rivers should be fishable on Saturday, but both will probably be a little dirty. Both rivers should have fresh kings moving through. Expect plenty of debris and leaves, as well.

As of Wednesday, the Smith is predicted to peak at just over 7,745 cubic feet per second on the Jed Smith gauge Friday afternoon. The river will be on the drop through the day Sunday before it begins to rise again Sunday evening. The Chetco flows should mirror the Smith somewhat. Following a steep rise Friday, it will drop slightly Saturday before rising again Sunday. As the rain ramps up Monday, it will likely be blown out through most of next week.

According to Jonathan Garner of Eureka’s National Weather Service, the North Coast will see three wet systems move through the area beginning Tuesday. “For the 24-hour period beginning Tuesday, we could see up to an inch of rain from the Smith basin to the Eel,” he said. “The next system will arrive Thursday evening and linger through Friday morning. This could bring up to 2 inches. More rain is in the forecast Saturday through Monday, when we could see between 3 to 5 additional inches, with higher amounts falling in the mountains.”

As of Friday all North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures, including the Smith, Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to angling, but don’t expect green water on rivers other than the Smith. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline at 707-822-3164 to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. California Department of Fish and Wildlife will announce whether rivers will be open by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once minimum flows are reached.

Mad River
Predicted to peak at 1,870 cfs Friday evening. Minimum flows are 200 cfs at the gauging station at the Highway 299 bridge to lift angling restrictions.

Main Eel
Forecasted to reach 3,480 cfs early Sunday morning. Minimum flows are 350 cfs on the Scotia gauge to lift angling restrictions.

Van Duzen
Predicted to peak at 1,825 cfs Friday evening. Minimum flows are 150 cfs at the gauging station near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park to lift angling restrictions.

South Fork Eel
Flows are predicted to peak at 1,660 cfs early Saturday morning. Minimum flows are 340 cfs at Miranda to lift angling restrictions.

The Smith is likely to see heavy boat traffic this weekend. If the predictions hold, it should open sometime Friday morning. It’s forecast for a steep rise all day but should drop into fishable shape by Saturday. It could be a little dirty and leafy, but fish should be coming. Minimum flows are 600 cfs at Jedediah Smith State Park to lift angling restrictions.

Anglers are anxious to see how high the Chetco will get from this week’s rain, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The river could be fishable for drift boats on Friday, and then likely will blow out,” he said. “Expect muddy conditions over the weekend. Low-flow gear restrictions are in effect, but bobber fishing is allowed. CDFW will make a decision about the gear restriction, which makes back-bouncing or drift fishing off limits, after the weekend storm. The restriction is in effect to prevent snagging or flossing salmon during low water. Salmon are spread throughout the river with bigger numbers near the head of tide. Estuary trolling has been slow except for Sunday, when boats had multiple fish. Flows of 2,000 to 3,000 cfs are ideal on the Chetco. Flows Monday were 125 cfs but are expected to jump to 5,000 cfs by Sunday.”

Trinity quota update
According to Dan Troxel, an Environmental Scientist on the Klamath River Project, adult Chinook harvest will close on the upper Trinity as of Monday Oct. 25. The Lower Trinity will close to adult retention as of Nov. 1. Press releases for both closures are forthcoming. Both the upper and lower Klamath sections have met their adult quota harvest limits.

Fishing vessel drill conductor training
The Alaska Marin Safety Education Association (AMSEA) will be conducting hands-on survival skills on Oct. 26 and 28 from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, #3 Commercial Street in Eureka. The training will include: Cold-water survival skills, EPIRBs, signal flares and mayday calls, man overboard recovery, firefighting and more. Fees are $125 to commercial fisherman, $175 to all others. Training meets the U.S. Coast Guard requirements for drill conductors on commercial fishing vessels, 46 CFR 28.270(c). Register online at or call 907-747-3287.

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