Steelhead Fishing on Hold as Storms Keep Coming

Crescent City resident Sebastian Holmes landed a nice Smith River winter steelhead last week while fishing with guide Tyler Gillespie. Photo courtesy of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

Relentless storms, one after the other, have steelhead anglers sitting idly by. And that’s about all there is to do at the moment, and in the near future. The only chance to throw a line into anything resembling green water has been on the Smith River. And even that has been hit and miss. Flows finally receded enough Tuesday and Wednesday, providing drift boats with one of the handful of days of prime conditions. Come Wednesday, the river will be back on the rise and likely too big to drift by Thursday. It will remain green, so it will likely be a plunking show through the weekend. As for the local rivers, all I can say is patience.

Weather outlook
According to Jonathan Garner of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, a series of storms systems are on tap for the next seven days. “We’ll see a break Tuesday night but another front is approaching Wednesday that is a little more uncertain,” said Garner. “In the Smith basin, between Tuesday and Sunday, 5 inches of rain are predicted. Here locally, we could see up to 5 inches around Humboldt Bay, with 6 to 8 inches likely in the higher elevations. In the Eel basin, we’re looking at another 5 to 7 inches through Sunday. The next seven days look to be wet, but the 10-day outlook is potentially showing a dryer pattern.”

CDFW lifts trap restrictions in the commercial and sport Dungeness crab fisheries
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will lift the Dungeness crab trap prohibition in Fishing Zones 3-6 (all areas south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line) for the recreational fishery on Jan. 14, 2023 at 8:01 a.m. CDFW will lift the 50 percent commercial fishery trap reduction in Fishing Zones 3-6 on Jan. 15, 2023 at 8:01 a.m. The current 50 percent trap reduction for the commercial fishery and trap prohibition in the recreational fishery will remain in place until lifted on the respective dates.

Based on available data and as indicated by historical migration patterns, humpback whale abundance is at or near a seasonal low within the Dungeness crab fishing grounds. As a result, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham is lifting the trap restrictions in Fishing Zones 3-6 for both fisheries because of lowered entanglement risk. However, a Fleet Advisory will be issued for the recreational fishery and will be continued for the commercial fishery to remain vigilant and avoid setting gear in areas where whales are transiting or foraging. All anglers are also strongly encouraged to follow best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide. CDFW anticipates the next risk assessment will take place in mid-February 2023.

The Rivers:
All North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith, main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing. 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

The Mad receded to 8,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday, but with additional rain this week, the drop will be short-lived. Flows are predicted to rise throughout the week and top out at just about a half a foot above monitor stage at 13,700 cfs (15.5 feet) Sunday morning. It will need a couple weeks of dry weather to be fishable, especially with Ruth Lake full and spilling.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel remains extremely high and muddy as flows were over 90,000 cfs as of Thursday. Additional rain in the coming days will push flows to nearly 124,000 cfs by early Sunday morning. Fernbridge is predicted to remain at or above monitor stage through the weekend.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was flowing at 15,500 cfs as of Thursday, but flows will be headed back up and down over the next few days. Flows are predicted to peak at 33,000 cfs Saturday evening before receding into Sunday. If and when the rain subsides for a few days, the South Fork would be one of the first coastal rivers to come into play. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case anytime soon.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 7,000 cfs Thursday, but is forecast to be up and down the next few days before peaking at 12,500 cfs Saturday. Expected to drop through Sunday, but will remain high and off color.

Tuesday and Wednesday provided the best conditions to drift the Smith as flows dropped below 12 feet on the Jed Smith gauge. These conditions will likely be short-lived as more rain during the week will keep flows above 13 feet beginning Thursday and through Monday. The river will likely continue to hold its green color and plunking will be the best option through the weekend. Steelhead fishing has yet to take off as just a handful of fish have been caught this past week.

“Plunkers are catching a mix of hatchery and wild steelhead on the Chetco as flows drop, but drift boaters are waiting for the river to drop below 4,000 cfs,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “That won’t happen any time soon, as another storm is expected by the weekend. Driving to the Elk or Sixes also isn’t an option, as U.S. Highway 101 is closed because of a major slide between Gold Beach and Port Orford. Road officials have estimated one lane could be open by Friday.”

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