Tough Conditions for Late Season Steelhead Anglers

Scott Spangler of Bishop holds a small wild adult steelhead he caught March 21 on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Sam Stover of Brookings Fishing Charters. Photo courtesy of Sam Stover

As we move toward the last weekend of winter steelhead season on the coast, river conditions continue to be less than ideal. Not only for the anglers but for the adult steelhead and their soon-to-be offspring. As of Tuesday, only a few rivers remain open to fishing. The Smith and main stem Eel have been open all season, and will likely remain that way. The Mad has opened and closed a couple times lately along with the Van Duzen. The culprit has been and continues to be the lack of substantial rainfall. The season started out promising as the rain fell hard in early January. And the fishing was just as promising with all of the rivers full of steelhead. But since, it’s been two and a half months of mostly dry weather. Despite the low-water conditions, the fishing wasn’t half bad. I don’t have any numbers to back it up but it sure seemed like the number of steelhead returning this year was better than average. And how many more would have returned with additional water? It sure would’ve been nice to find out.

The weather ahead
Dry conditions are in the forecast through Saturday. Beginning Sunday into Monday. there is a chance for light rainfall amounts but nothing that would increase river flows or open rivers back up to fishing. The next chance for rain is Tuesday, but amounts are uncertain.

Bass Tourney coming to Ruth Lake April 2
The Alderpoint Volunteer Fire Department is hosting the 1st annual Roger Coleman Sr. Memorial Bass Tournament on Saturday April 2nd at Ruth Lake. Check in is Friday night between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. or Saturday morning between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. This is a catch and release tournament with a 13-inch minimum length. Blast off is 7 a.m. or at first safe light. For more information, call Thomas Bruce at 707-223-6258 or Roger Coleman Jr. at 707-223-3858.

HASA Picnic coming April 9
The public is invited to the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers’ Picnic and Gear Swap/Sell. The fundraising barbeque will be held April 9 at Pierson Park, McKinleyville from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $10 per person or $20 for a family up to four. HASA will provide burgers, hot dogs and non-alcoholic drinks and it will be pot luck on side dishes. Lunch will start at 3:30 p.m. HASA will provide tables but please bring your own chairs. There will be a few silent auction items, a door prize, and attendees are welcome to bring a table of spare fishing gear to sell or swap. Please RSVP to by at least April 2 so food quantity can be determined. Please include your contact information so you can be notified of any changes.

Shelter Cove crab feed coming April 22
Gyppo Ale Mill on Friday April 22 is hosting a crab feed and silent auction for the Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation nonprofit organization. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and live music will be provided by the Breakers. Cost is $75 per person. For more information contact Jake Mitchell at 707-223-1600.

CPH looking for surfperch anglers/seiners
The Cal Poly Humboldt Department. of Fisheries Biology is looking to hire three students to help hook and line sample for surfperch at four Humboldt beaches from May to August, four days a month, four hours per day. Applicants need to have their own gear. The fisheries department is also looking to hire students to help seine Northern California beaches from June to early August. To apply for either of these jobs, send CV and cover letter to by April 1. Or for more information, visit

River Closures
The South Fork Eel, Middle Fork Eel and Mattole all remain closed to fishing. On Tuesday, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were added to the closed list.

The Rivers:
Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors, the fishing pressure has been light over the past week. “Some downers are being caught,” Kelly said. “There are also a few fresh fish still coming in.” As of Wednesday, flows were just above 200 cfs and it could close prior to the weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
After reaching nearly 2,000 cfs last Thursday, the main Eel has been steadily dropping. As of Wednesday, it was down to 1,180 cfs at Scotia. There hasn’t been much fishing pressure as the water is low and clear, and spots with current are getting fewer. There should be a few fish around, the majority of which will likely be downers.

Smith River
The Smith was flowing at just under 1,400 cfs at Jed Smith as of Wednesday. The water is extremely clear and low. Not much in the way of fishing pressure, but a few fish are being caught.

Southern Oregon rivers
There appear to be plenty of steelhead around on the Chetco to make a late-season drift worthwhile, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Guides are getting two to six steelhead a day, with a mix of small adults fresh from the ocean, and downrunners headed back to the saltwater. The river is getting low and clear but is still driftable. The season closes March 31. Fish are spread throughout the river. Overall, the Chetco season has been above average, despite low water for much of February. The Elk and Sixes also close March 31, but low water will make fishing tough this week. Spring salmon fishing remains slow on the Rogue, but big tides this week could bring in bigger numbers of fish. So far, only a couple of springers have been reported. Steelhead fishing is slow on the lower Rogue, but improving near Grants Pass.”

Craig Newman of Arcata holds a lingcod he caught in early March while fishing aboard the Miss Brooke of Brookings Fishing Charters near Mack Arch. Photo courtesy of Brookings Fishing Charters

Brookings ocean report
According to Martin, lingcod fishing has been good out of Brookings when weather conditions cooperate. “Big swells early this week are keeping most boats closer to the harbor, but calmer weather is expected by the weekend. Herring fishing was wide open at the Port of Brookings last week, but is now slow. Surf smelt remain in the harbor,” said 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 For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email