Winter steelhead season hasn’t yet taken off on the North Coast but that will soon change. Numerous storm systems headed our way beginning this weekend should put all of the coastal rivers on the rise. According to the National Weather Service, more rain is in store for us most of next week, which will likely open up the rivers that had been closed to fishing due to low flows. Steady rain and pulse flows are just what we need to entice some steelhead from the salt. If the rains come as predicted, the Smith and Chetco should be in prime shape sometime next week.
The Eel, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Mad will all see flows begin to rise either late in the weekend or early next week. The Mad opened back up on Wednesday and the southern rivers should open by early next week. Once all the rivers crest and begin to recede to fishable levels, we should see the first wave of winter steelhead. After a tough late-fall salmon season, seeing the rivers loaded with bright steelhead sure would be a welcome sight.
Not much rain is in the forecast through Friday, with up to a couple tenths hitting the ground. But starting this weekend, we’ll begin to see a significant pattern change that should put a smile on steelhead angler faces. “It’s finally shaping up to what December should look like,” said Doug Boushey of Eureka’s National Weather Service office. “Saturday and into Sunday we could see up to an inch of rain. The forecast looks similar for Monday, with another inch possible. More systems are in the queue beginning Tuesday, but timing is a little more difficult. Through next Friday, we’re looking at possibly 5 to 6 inches of rain.”
Calm ocean conditions over the weekend and start of this week allowed boaters to get out of the Port of Brookings and get limits of rockfish with plenty of lingcod mixed in reports Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Fishing has been wide-open at the Point St. George Reef, with limits of lingcod and a nice grade of rockfish. The stormy weather that will give steelhead fishing a boost in the rivers next week will also sideline ocean anglers.”
Mad River Steelhead Derby Starts Dec. 18
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) is hosting its third annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Dec. 18 through Feb. 28. Anglers must be signed up prior to Dec. 18 to be eligible to win cash and prizes. Only hatchery steelhead can be entered. The largest steelhead wins $500, second place $300 and third place $150. First place in the youth division (16 and under) will win a $175 RMI Outdoors gift card, second and third place finishers will win prizes to be announced. Anglers can sign up online at www.ncgasa.org or in person at RMI Outdoors. Part of the proceeds benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler’s broodstock collection program that works in concert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, visit www.madriversteelheaderby.com.
Other than the Mad, Smith and main stem Eel, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the South Fork Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen, were closed to fishing as of Wednesday. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline at 822-3164 to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will announce whether rivers will be open by a telephone-recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. NOTE: Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached. The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam, the Mattole River and the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream are closed until Jan. 1, 2022.
Opened back up on Wednesday, but flows are still low. Forecast to reach 9.4 feet following the rain this weekend. Will likely be off color next week.
Main stem Eel
Flows were under 900 cfs Thursday and it’s getting clear. Conditions will change Sunday with rain on the way. There have been a few adult steelhead already caught and we should see a few late kings arrive.
South Fork Eel
Closed to fishing as of Thursday but should open back up early next week, possibly Monday. Don’t expect green water until it comes down under 2,000 cfs
Closed to fishing as of Thursday but will likely open back up on Monday following the weekend storms. Will be off color next week.
The Smith is low and clear, but remains open to fishing. Big changes are coming this weekend as the river is forecast to rise starting Saturday night. The Smith will likely be the hot spot next week, as it will be the first river to fish. Expect to see some late kings as well as the first wave of winter steelhead. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 860 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge.
Rain is needed to kickstart steelhead season on the Chetco River, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A few adult steelhead were caught last week by anglers side-drifting the lower river, but low flows are making fishing difficult,” he said. “Flows are below 700 cfs. Generally, anything below 1,500 cfs results in tough fishing, while ideal flows are 2,000 to 3,000 cfs. Rain this weekend could lead to perfect conditions next week. Expect a few late salmon, but the best bet will be early steelhead.”
According to Martin, the Elk and Sixes rivers are the best option for late-fall king salmon. “Fishing has been slow the past three weeks because of low flows. If this weekend’s rain materializes, expect decent salmon fishing early next week on both rivers. The Elk and Sixes are known to have the latest fall salmon runs on the Oregon Coast,” added Martin.
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 www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.