Harvesting Chetco Winter Steelhead Will Come at a Price

Eric Howard holds a winter steelhead he caught and released Dec. 19 while fishing with guide Michael McGahan on the Chetco River. Photo courtesy of Brookings Fishing Charters

If you plan on harvesting a winter steelhead from the Chetco River in 2023, it’s gonna cost you some money. Starting Jan. 1, 2023, all winter steelhead anglers in the Rogue Basin and on the south coast (which includes the Chetco) will need a new harvest tag to keep wild winter steelhead in this area. In addition, anglers will need a Rogue-South Coast Steelhead Validation.

To fish for steelhead in the Rogue/So. Coast, all anglers will need:

  • Annual angling license (12 years and older) and combined angling tag
  • OR Daily or multi-day angling license with valid ODFW ID number.

Purchasing daily or multi-day licenses through “guest checkout” doesn’t include the ID number (a full account is required to purchase a validation). Pre-paid daily licenses do not qualify to purchase a validation.

  • AND 2. Rogue-South Coast Steelhead Validation.

To KEEP wild winter steelhead, anglers (regardless of age) will need:

  • All the above

And Rogue-South Coast Wild Steelhead Harvest Tag:

Wild steelhead kept are recorded here, not the statewide combined angling tag.

Not needed for catch-and-release or keeping hatchery steelhead only.

Bag limit: 1 wild steelhead/day, 3 per season (Dec. 1 – Apr. 30).

Check the sport fishing regulations or myodfw.com to know where and when wild steelhead may be kept. Return or report paper tags to ODFW after each winter steelhead season and before the next begins Dec. 1.

COST: Validation: $2 residents, $4 non-residents.

Harvest Tag: $10 residents, $20 non-residents.

Validation and harvest tag are valid for one full season (Dec. 1 through April 30), even when using daily or multi-day licenses.

Weather ahead
According to Doug Boushey of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, the North Coast can expect a few weak systems between Thursday and Sunday. “The Smith basin will see the most rainfall, with a couple inches between Thursday and the end of the weekend,” said Boushey. “Here locally, we can expect about a half-inch on the Mad and a little less in the Eel basin. On Monday, we’re really going to see some changes with the potential of a couple atmospheric rivers. The first is set to arrive Monday night and stick around through Wednesday. The heaviest rainfall is expected Monday night into Tuesday. Rainfall totals coastwide for the mountain areas will be 4 to 7 inches. In the lower, coastal zones, 2 to 3 inches is expected. This has the potential to see drastic rises in the local rivers. There is another atmospheric river forecast for later in the week which could push the rivers to monitor or even flood stage, but it’s a little too early to be certain” It’s definitely looking more like the type of weather that’s typical for December.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby Starts Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) is hosting its fourth annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28. Anglers must be signed up prior to the start date to be eligible to win cash and prizes. Only hatchery steelhead can be entered. The largest steelhead in the adult division will win $500 for first place, $300 for second place and $150 for third place. The three largest fish entered into the youth division (16 and under) will win gift cards to local tackle stores. Plus, the three best steelhead fishing videos will win product packages from our sponsors. Anglers can sign up online or in person at RMI Outdoors. Part of the proceeds benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler’s brood stock collection program that works in concert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, visit madriversteelheaderby.com.

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing Sunday, Jan. 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stanberry Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is also regulated by low-flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station.

The Rivers:
As of Thursday, only the South Fork Eel was closed to fishing. All other North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith, main stem Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open. As a reminder, the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream, the main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River are all closed until Jan. 1, 2023. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened at any time. The low-flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit fishingthenorthcoast.com/2021/09/22/2021-2022-low-flow-information-for-north-coast-rivers/.

The Mad was on a slight rise Thursday and it’s predicted to peak Friday at about 1,900 cubic feet per second (8.7 ft.). It should drop and stabilize to a fishable level through the weekend, but the water will likely be off color. A bigger rise is expected for late Monday morning that will likely blow it out. As of Thursday, the hatchery was void of clipped steelhead, but that should change with the next big rise.

Main stem Eel
Was running just above 1,000 cfs as of Thursday, but changes are on the way. A small rise is predicted for the weekend with a larger rise beginning Monday evening. Only a handful of adult steelhead have been caught the last few weeks, but that should change soon.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork was closed to fishing as of Thursday as flows dipped below 215 cfs at Miranda. There’s a slim chance it could open to fishing over the weekend if the rain comes as predicted. The next big rise is forecast for Tuesday morning.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was rising slightly Thursday afternoon, flowing at 445 cfs. Flows are predicted to rise following rain Thursday night, peaking at 2,050 Friday morning. Will likely be muddy through the weekend. The next rise, which should be substantial, if forecast to begin Monday afternoon.

The Smith gained about 950 cfs on Thursday and was flowing at 1,960 cfs at Jed Smith. A decent rise is predicted for Friday morning and another smaller bump is likely for Sunday morning. The next big rise is forecast to begin late Monday morning. This has the potential to blow the river out for a few days, depending on how much rain we get next week.

Steelhead are trickling into the Chetco River, with a handful of fish being caught each day by plunkers and drift boaters reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A mix of wild and hatchery fish are in the river,” said Martin. “A boost in flows with this week’s rains should bring in bigger numbers. A few late salmon also are being caught.”


According to Martin, the Elk and Sixes are still producing late salmon. “Most are dark but a few bright kings are in the mix. High flows around Christmas should bring in another shot of salmon in the week leading up to New Year’s Day.”

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 fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.