Coastal Rivers in Need of Rain

Jim Rawson right, and Fisher Baxter joined forces to catch and release this beautiful wild steelhead on a recent outing to the Smith River. Photo courtesy of Mike Baxter

It’s been nearly three weeks since we’ve had any measurable precipitation and most of the coastal rivers are now feeling the effects. Other than the main stem Eel and the Mad, which are both in pristine shape, all the rivers are now low, clear and in need of a good blowout. The Smith and Chetco clear the quickest, and have the biggest need for rain. The South Fork Eel and Van Duzen remain fishable, but could use rain. It should be noted that all our rivers are currently holding a good number of winter steelhead. But a few inches of rain will do wonders. Not only will the increased flows allow steelhead to make their way upriver to their spawning tributaries, it will also bring in the fresh fish from the ocean.

Weather outlook
According to Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we’re looking at dry conditions the rest of the week. There is a chance for light rain Sunday but it doesn’t look like it will affect the river levels. There was a pattern change forecast for later next week that showed a very promising return of rain, but that has since changed for the worse. The ridge of high pressure will return next week, and so will the sunshine.

The Rivers
The Mad is in great shape and loaded with steelhead. Excellent conditions drew plenty of bank anglers and boats this week and the fishing was good. The river will be in great shape the rest of the week, with steelhead spread out from top to bottom. As of Thursday, it was right at 7.5 feet on the Arcata gauge and holding good color. If you’re looking to catch a steelhead, it’s probably your best option.

Main stem Eel
The main stem dropped into shape late last week and is nice and green. It was running at 3,625 cubic feet per second at Scotia as of Thursday and should be in great shape through the weekend. There are some steelhead around but the bite isn’t wide open.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork is running at 575 cfs at Miranda as of Thursday and getting clearer. At this flow, the spots that hold fish are dwindling. The good news is there are plenty of fish around. You’ll need to be stealthy to be successful. Forecast to be around 500 cfs on the Miranda gauge by Saturday.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 370 cfs at Bridgeville by Thursday and is in great shape. Catch reports are hard to come by but there are plenty of bank anglers out trying. It will be down to 300 cfs by the weekend.

Smith River
Flows were less than 2,100 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge Thursday. Fishing has been tough as the river is low, clear and snaggy. Fishing pressure has been very light as a lot of anglers have moved to other rivers. There are some fish around but again, you’ll need stealth.

The Chetco is now low and clear, but steelhead are still being caught by the handful of local guides still focusing on the river, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Rain expected next week should give fishing a boost,” says Martin. “A few fish a day are coming in on the afternoon tides, with drift boaters getting a fish or two a day. Flows are down to 1,200 cfs and will drop below 1,000 cfs this weekend. Fishing also has slowed on the Elk, Sixes and lower Rogue.”

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