Rivers Are Prime but Steelhead are Slow to Show

Eight-year-old Bryson Blevin, along with dad Tyler, are all smiles after the young angler landed his first-ever steelhead while fishing the Mad River on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Ashley Christie

Last week’s storms finally provided some of the flushing and scouring our coastal rivers desperately needed. As they’ve all now dropped back into fishable shape, the question has become, “where are the fish?” Other than the Chetco, which is dealing with some slides, all the coastal rivers are some shade of green and fishable. There just seems to be a lack of steelhead in all the rivers. But before we it the panic button, we went through this same scenario last year. For reasons unknown, the fish were late to show last year as well. By the time February rolled around, all the rivers were full of steelhead. Let’s hope for the same this year.

Weather outlook
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, our next chance for rain will be Thursday and Friday. “It will be wet but totals will be very small,” said Zontos. “We could see up to 1/10 of an inch but it won’t be enough to increase any river flows. The next system is forecast for Sunday through Monday, but the totals are still up in the air. There are indications that a bigger system is building for next Tuesday that could stick around through the week. There’s some uncertainty with this one but the Climate Prediction Center is predicting above normal precipitation from Jan. 24 through the 29th.”

Low flow fishing closures set to end
Special low flow regulations that went into effect on Oct. 1 for the Eel River, Mattole, Redwood Creek, Smith, Van Duzen, and Sept. 1 on the Mad, will end on January 31. Until then, low flow restrictions remain in effect. Currently, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures are open.

The Rivers
Smith River
River conditions were excellent over the weekend but the fishing was tough. With the Chetco still off color Saturday, the boat pressure was extremely high on the Smith. A few fish were caught but not many. The river is dropping and clearing, and conditions will get tougher. Hopefully the next round of storms will bring in more fish.

Santa Rosa residents Rob Crane, with fish, along with Dan Sayre landed a nice steelhead last Saturday on the Smith River. Photo courtesy of Aaron Walker

Chetco/Elk/Rogue
A couple slides have prevented catch rates from busting wide open on the Chetco, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Flows are below 3,600 cubic feet per second and there are plenty of signs of fish, but slides on the South Fork and just above Loeb Park have visibility down to just a foot. Steelhead can be seen splashing as they move upriver and plunkers are getting some fish, but drift boaters are finding them few and far between. Expect the color to improve significantly as the river drops.”

Fishing has been good on the lower Rogue for shore-based plunkers and boaters anchoring and running MagLip plugs, according to Martin. “There are hatchery and wild fish being caught, and flows are good for steelhead fishing. The Elk also has been fishing fairly well. Pressure is up since some other rivers are still high and muddy,” added Martin.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem is fishable and dropping quickly. Flows were down to 3,600 cfs on Monday and it was turning green. Predicted to be down to 2,200 cfs by the weekend with lack of rain this week, it will be a good option.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was in great shape over the weekend and drew quite the crowd. The fishing wasn’t red hot. Most boats got the opportunity at a fish but there were plenty of skunks. It’s predicted to be around 600 cfs by the weekend.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 300 cfs as of Tuesday and is very fishable. There were plenty of bank anglers taking advantage over the weekend but reports were hard to come by.

Mad
The Mad is in perfect shape and flowing at 450 cfs as of Wednesday. Prime conditions drew lots of boats and bank anglers over the weekend, but the fishing wasn’t red hot. Anglers caught some nice fish at the hatchery, including one that weighed nearly 20 pounds. The river should be in great shape the rest of the week and it’s probably your best option to land a steelhead.

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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Steelhead Fishing on Hold as Storm Blows Through

A powerful yet quick storm blew through the area on Tuesday, forcing winter steelhead anglers to hit the pause button. The bad news is it dumped a bunch of water quickly, turning coastal rivers brown. The good news is it didn’t stick around long. As quickly as the rivers rose, they are forecast to drop nearly as fast. The rivers to our north, the Smith and Chetco, took the brunt of the storm. Both will reach their highest flows this season but, miraculously, will be ready for fishing by the weekend. There’s an outside chance the higher reaches of the South Fork Eel could be ready by Sunday. The Mad should round into fishing shape by early next week and the main Eel will be right behind it. With drier weather on the horizon, expect to see some prime steelhead conditions next week.

Weather outlook
A fairly sizeable storm moved its way across the North Coast Tuesday and Wednesday, taking with it the rivers that were on the verge of turning steelhead green. “Over the course of the two days, the Smith basin will see 3 to 6 inches, with the higher amounts falling in the mountains. Locally, we’re looking at 1 to 2 inches,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “We’ll begin to dry out on Thursday and the rest of the week through the weekend is looking dry as well. There is another chance of rain mid next week but there’s quite a bit of uncertainty in the models. It’s looking more like it will move well to our north. Through Jan. 25, the climate center is calling for below normal precipitation

The Rivers:
Smith River
The Smith blew out Tuesday as flows hit 76,500 cubic feet per second (25.8 ft.) on Wednesday morning on the Jed Smith gauge. It was plunkable on Thursday but it was big. Conditions are looking good for Friday through the weekend for drifting. Overall, the fishing has been tough. Scores are ranging from zero to two per boat, with a lot more zeros than twos. Hopefully, the big rise will bring in more fish.

Ryan Parhaniemi of Maple Valley, Wash., holds an 18-pound hatchery steelhead caught Jan. 9 on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He was using a 3.5 MagLip plug. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

Chetco River/Lower Rogue
“Steelhead fishing was improving on the Chetco before this week’s big storm arrived,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “During high water conditions late last week and on Monday, fishing was fair, with most boats getting a fish or two, and plunkers catching steelhead on the lower river gravel bars. Side-drifting roe or beads, or running plugs in the softer water close to shore produced steelhead to 18 pounds over the weekend. Depending on how much rain falls mid-week, the Chetco could fish again by Saturday, but also could be blown out through the weekend. Expect peak season type fishing as the Chetco drops.”

According to Martin, the Sixes has been blown out for more than a week, while the Elk fished slowly for steelhead on Sunday, with lots of boats and only a few fish caught. “The lower Rogue was a good bet before Monday night’s storm, with plunkers and jet boaters getting fish over the weekend.”

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was days away from fishable water but the storms will push back any chance of green water for quite a while. Flows were down to 3,500 cfs Tuesday but the rains have it hitting 19,000 cfs mid-day Thursday. It’s predicted to drop quickly and could fish late next week.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork dropped into fishable shape Monday, but was back on the rise as of Tuesday afternoon. There were a few fish caught Sunday and Monday in the Benbow area, but it was not red hot. The river was at 8,900 cfs and still rising on Wednesday afternoon at Miranda. It’s forecasted to drop to a fishable height by the weekend, but the water color could be an issue.

Van Duzen
The Duzen was down to 500 cfs and was fishable Tuesday. Unfortunately, flows were headed back up as of Tuesday afternoon. Flows were at 2,800 cfs Wednesday afternoon and still going up. It’s forecasted for a quick drop, and could be under 600 cfs by early next week.

Mad River
The Mad was just turning green on Tuesday morning, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “The river was bait fishable on Tuesday, but it was starting to get dirty in the afternoon. Fishing has been a little slow, most of the action has been right at the hatchery. There have been some caught below, but not as many. Looks like it will be brown through Saturday but it might start to drop back in on Sunday. Next week should be prime.” Flows were at ,5,000 cfs on Wednesday afternoon and starting to level off. It’s also forecast to drop quickly, and should be green sometime early next week.

Kenny Priest (he/him) 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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Smith River Best Bet for Green Water

If you’re in pursuit of steelhead-green water this weekend, you’ll probably need to head north. With the Chetco blown out for potentially another week, the Smith may be the only game in town for quite some time. It looks to be a little unstable through Saturday but is forecasted to remain at fishable levels. Friday looks to be marginal for drifting but should be good for the plunkers. Locally, all stretches of the Eel, Van Duzen, Mad and Redwood Creek are currently blown out. A couple smaller storms will move through the area this week, keeping local rivers dirty through the weekend and well into next week. If you’re looking get your steelhead fix this weekend, your best bet is to head north.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, there are a few more opportunities for rain this week. “The first system will arrive on Wednesday,” said Zontos. “The Smith basin could see up to a half inch, and Humboldt will see between .5 and .75 inches. The next chance of rain will be late Thursday and will stick around through Friday. The Smith can expect 1 to 1.5 inches while Humboldt may see up to .75 inches. There is a chance of rain over the weekend but the models are showing that it may fall to the north. There are additional opportunities for rain on Monday and Tuesday in the Smith basin, but it probably won’t add up to much.”

The Rivers:
Smith River
Steelhead fishing is still pretty tough on the Smith, according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The river was high on Tuesday and very few boats out. I did hear of a few caught by the plunkers. But overall, there just aren’t many around yet. They’ll show when they show,” Coopman added. Flows on the Smith are predicted to fluctuate through Friday, but conditions for the weekend are looking favorable.

Fred Simon of Klamath Falls, Ore., holds a 12-pound hatchery steelhead caught New Year’s Day on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips.

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
Just as the Chetco was showing signs of getting good, the big New Year’s Day rain blew everything out, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Several boats got into hatchery steelhead on the lower end Jan. 1, while plunkers also were catching steelhead,” said Martin. “The river blew out Sunday morning and will be too high all this week for drift boats. Expect plenty of fish throughout the system as it drops next week.”

The Elk and Sixes also blew out Sunday, according to Martin. “The Elk should be fishable before the end of the week, but the Sixes will be high and muddy for a while. The Elk reached 6.5 feet. It fishes best around 4 feet or less. The lower Rogue was also just getting good on New Year’s Day before it also blew out. Guide John Anderson got three steelhead anchoring and fishing MagLip plugs on Jan. 1,” added Martin.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem blew out Monday and will likely be off color until sometime late next week. Prior to blowing out, boats were getting zero to a couple chances per trip on adults. There are plenty of half-pounders around to keep you busy.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork peaked at roughly 5,200 cubic feet per second early Tuesday morning, running high and muddy. After a couple smaller rises later in the week, it could be fishable early next week, predicted to be around 1,000 cfs by Sunday morning.

Van Duzen
The Duzen hit nearly 6,000 cfs Monday evening and will likely be muddy through the week and weekend. Predicted to be down to 650 cfs by Monday. Should have plenty of fresh steelhead around once it starts to turn green.

Ten-year-old Asha Quinlan, of Arcata, landed this nice hatchery steelhead on Dec. 31,2020, while fishing the Mad River. Photo by Richard Burrow

Mad River
The Mad has been the most consistent steelhead producer in Humboldt and even that has been slow, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “The river blew out on Monday and, prior to that, it had been pretty quiet. You had to move around until you found something. It was slow for the boats as well; they were lucky to get a fish per boat over the weekend. There just wasn’t a lot of fish around, hopefully these rises will bring in a bunch.” With more rain on the way, the Mad will be off color through the weekend. Visit the Mad River Steelhead Derby website to view the current leaderboard.

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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Steelhead Anglers Dealing with Tough Conditions

Dave McGrouther of Menlo Park holds a 15-pound steelhead he caught and released Dec. 27 while fishing the Smith River with guide Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips. He was using roe near Jedediah Smith State Park. Photo courtesy of Lunker Fish Trips

From high water to low water back to high water, North Coast rivers are all feeling the effects of the yo-yo syndrome. We’ve had some good storms roll through the area, bringing with them some decent river rises. Unfortunately, dropping flows have been as abrupt as the rises. This recipe does not make for quality steelhead angling. Having storms closer together keeping water levels a little more consistent, along with some snow in the hills, would be ideal. But this is 2020 and Mother Nature is going down swinging. And it looks like more of the same on the horizon. Storms later this week will bring the river levels way up, but they’ll descend just as quickly, making for a narrow window of opportunity.

The weather ahead
“We have two batches of rain headed our way,” said Scott Carroll of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The first system is forecast to arrive Wednesday afternoon and stick around into Thursday. A more significant storm is set to arrive Friday night and will linger through the weekend, with the majority of the rain falling on Sunday. The Smith basin could see an inch on Sunday, and we’ll see slightly less here locally. Rainfall totals for both of these systems combined is roughly 3 inches in the Smith basin, and up to 2 inches in Humboldt.”

New sport rockfish regulations coming in 2021
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the CDFW announced multiple changes to the sport rockfish regulations starting in 2021. Changes that pertain to the Northern Management area, which runs from the CA-OR border south to Cape Mendocino include:

  • Elimination of sub-bag limits for black rockfish, canary rockfish and cabezon within the 10-fish Rockfish, Cabezon, Greenling (RCG) complex daily bag limit.
  • A new sub-bag limit of five vermilion rockfish within the 10-fish RCG complex daily bag limit.
  • The ‘All Depth’ fishery in the Northern and Mendocino Management Areas will continue each November and December, unless modified by an in-season action.

For the complete list of regulation changes, visit https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/new-recreational-groundfish-regulations-for-2021/
The 2020 rockfish season in the Northern Management area will close for boat-based anglers on Thursday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Groundfish-Summary#north

Mad River Steelhead Derby to start Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association’s (NCGASA) second annual Mad River Steelhead Derby starts on Jan. 1 and run through March 31. Anglers must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 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. A youth division winner (16 and under) wins a $150 tackle gift card. In addition, anglers who submit a winning video of their catch in action get a $100 gift card to Bucksport Sporting Goods. Anglers can sign up online at www.ncgasa.org or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport. 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 #madriversteelheadderby

The Rivers:
Smith
The Smith dropped back into shape on Sunday. Boat pressure was very light, and only a couple adult steelhead were landed. There continues to be no shortage of half-pounders. Should remain in fishable shape through Saturday before blowing out on Sunday. Might not fish until mid next week.

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco blew out over the weekend, reaching 9,000 cubic feet per second on Saturday, but was down to 5,100 cfs on Sunday night reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It will be in prime shape this week before another big storm arrives to start the new year,” said Martin. “Plunkers caught a few steelhead Sunday in the high water. Catch rates tend to accelerate in early January on the Chetco, and often remain good through February.”
According to Martin, the Elk and Sixes are kicking out a few late salmon. He said, “Guides reported catching salmon and steelhead on Sunday on the Elk while the Sixes was still blown out. Salmon season ends Dec. 31 on the Sixes, but continues into January on the Elk, where fish will trickle in all winter.”

Main stem Eel
The main stem was fishable as of Wednesday and dropping quickly. Predicted to be at 1,300 cfs on the Scotia gauge by Thursday, but will begin to rise in the afternoon. Should remain fishable on Friday, but will likely blow out on Sunday.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was below 300 cfs on Wednesday, but is forecasted to rise on Thursday. It should be fishable through Friday, but might be off color for the weekend. A few bright steelhead have been caught.

Van Duzen
Flowing at just below 200 cfs as of Wednesday. Wednesday night’s rain has the flows reaching 600 cfs on Thursday morning. Muddy conditions are likely through the weekend. Reports have been hard to come by so far, but there should be some steelhead around once it clears.

Mad
The Mad has been the place to be for winter steelhead. The river isn’t plugged with fish, but there are some really nice fish being caught each day. Following rain on Wednesday night, the river is predicted to blowout on Thursday. Will likely be off color through the weekend. Muddy conditions haven’t slowed the angling pressure.

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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

2020/2021 low flow information for North Coast rivers

Low Flow River Closures begin Oct. 1
North Coast rivers that are regulated by low flow closures, including the Eel River, Mad River, Mattole River, Redwood Creek, Smith River and Van Duzen River will begin angling restrictions on October 1st, except for the Mad River, which went into effect September 1st. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at anytime. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. NOTE: The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River will be closed until January 1, 2021

Areas subject to low flow closures:

Mad River: The main stem Mad River from the Hammond Trail Railroad Trestle to Cowan Creek. Minimum flow: 200 cfs at the gauging station at the Highway 299 bridge.

The main stem Eel River from the paved junction of Fulmor Road with the Eel River to the South Fork Eel River. Minimum flow: 350 cfs at the gauging station near Scotia.

The South Fork of the Eel River downstream from Rattlesnake Creek and the Middle Fork Eel River downstream from the Bar Creek. Minimum flow: 340 cfs at the gauging station at Miranda.

Van Duzen River: The main stem Van Duzen River from its junction with the Eel River to the end of Golden Gate Drive near Bridgeville (approximately 4,000 feet upstream of Little Golden Gate Bridge. Minimum flow: 150 cfs at the gauging station near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park.

Mattole River: The main stem of the Mattole River from the mouth to Honeydew Creek. Minimum flow: 320 cfs at the gauging station at Petrolia.

Redwood Creek: The main stem of Redwood Creek from the mouth to its confluence with Bond Creek. Minimum flow: 300 cfs at the gauging station near the Highway 101 bridge.

Smith River: The main stem Smith River from the mouth of Rowdy Creek to its confluence with Patrick Creek; the South Fork Smith River from the mouth upstream approximately 1000 ft to the County Road (George Tyron) bridge and Craigs Creek to its confluence with Jones Creek; and the North Fork Smith River from the mouth to its confluence with Stony Creek. Minimum flow: 600 cfs at the Jedediah Smith State Park gauging station.

Steelhead Season Awaiting Take Off

Arcata resident Elijah Goode landed a nice hatchery steelhead on Sunday while fishing the Mad River. Photo courtesy of Elijah Goode

The transition to steelhead season is taking a bit longer than we had hoped. To date, steelhead fishing has yet to really take off on popular rivers like the Smith and Chetco. The lower Eel has yet to see big numbers of steelhead as well. The lone bright spot has been the Mad River. It’s probably a safe bet that more steelhead have been caught on the Mad than all of the other local rivers combined. There’s been a good mix of wild and hatchery adults, and the river is full of half-pounders. With another round of rain predicted for Friday, all of the coastal rivers should get another good rise. And with each rise comes the possibility of more ocean-bright steelhead. And that’s all we can ask for.

Weather ahead
Between now and Tuesday, we could see anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rain from Del Norte to Humboldt, according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The bulk of the rain will fall on Friday, when we could see 1 to 1.5 inches,” said Zontos. “Another half could fall in the Smith basin on Saturday morning and Humboldt could see up to a quarter inch. The next chance of rain will be Sunday into Monday but this one is uncertain. Right now, the models are showing a half-inch falling in Southern Humboldt and a quarter in the Smith basin.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby to start Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) is hosting its second annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Jan. 1 through March 31. Anglers must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 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. A youth division winner (16  and under) wins a $150 tackle gift card. In addition, anglers who submit a winning video of their catch in action get a $100 gift card to Bucksport Sporting Goods. Anglers can sign up online at www.ncgasa.org or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport. 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

2021 Fishing license
A reminder that it’s the time of the year to purchase your 2021 sport fishing license, which is required for residents 16 years of age or older to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians or reptile in inland or ocean waters. The cost of a new resident sport fishing license is $52.66. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $7.30, is required for all anglers taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System. If you plan to fish for steelhead, you’ll need to purchase a steelhead report card, which will cost $8.13 this year. The Dept. of Fish and Wildlife does not accept cash for fishing licenses. For more info, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing

Reduced-Fee sport fishing licenses available
Reduced-cost fishing licenses are available in 2021 for $8.38 at CDFW offices (instead of $52.66) for disabled military veterans and recovering service members. For those 65 or older on reduced income, licenses are available for $7.98. For more information on all CA fishing licenses, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521417-free–reduced-fee

Rockfish season to close Dec. 31
The 2020 rockfish season in the Northern Management area, which runs from Cape Mendocino to the OR/CA border, will close for boat-based anglers on Thursday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Groundfish-Summary#north

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing on Friday, Jan. 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry 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 cubic feet per second at the Petrolia gauging station.

The Rivers:
Other than the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the Smith, main Eel, Mad, and Redwood Creek were open to fishing as of Thursday. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Smith River
There aren’t many adult steelhead around right now, reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The river is full of half-pounders, it seems like all the tailouts are loaded,” said Coopman. We had a lot of rain on Monday night and the river came up quite a bit. Hopefully we’ll start to see the adults show up soon.”

Mad River
There are a few adult steelhead around but not a ton, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “There’s fish scattered from the hatchery down, but the lower river seems to be producing better. Right now, there’s about an even mix of hatchery and wild. There’s also a large number of half-pounders in the river now. I can’t remember seeing this many.” Flows are predicted to reach 2,600 cfs on Saturday morning and will likely be muddy through the weekend.

Main stem Eel
The main stem has been fishable since earlier in the week. There are some adult steelhead in the lower river, but fishing has been slow. Following the rain on Friday, the river is predicted to peak at 4,500 cfs on Sunday afternoon.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork has been closed all week due to low flows. Predicted to peak at 2,000 cfs on Saturday night following Friday’s storm.

Van Duzen
The Duzen closed on Thursday, but that should be short-lived. Following Friday’s rain, it’s predicted to reach 2,400 cfs on Saturday morning. Will take a few days to clear, but could fish by mid-week.

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been in prime shape for steelhead but fishing has been slow the past week, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Since the river came back into shape at the end of last week, only a handful of adult steelhead and a couple late-fall salmon have been caught. Catches rates could jump any day, but it may be closer to New Year’s Day before fishing gets decent,” Martin added.

According to Martin, the Elk and Sixes both blew out with Monday’s rain. “The further up the Oregon Coast anglers go, the higher the rivers are. Late salmon were caught on both rivers over the weekend but overall action has been slow. A few guides are now anchoring and running plugs for steelhead on the lower Rogue, but are still awaiting the winter run to begin arriving,” 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 www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Storms should keep the steelhead coming

Charlie Holthaus, of Weaverville, landed a nice steelhead while fishing the Trinity River Friday, Dec. 11. With more storms in the forecast, the Trinity, as well as the coastal rivers, should see a good push of fresh steelhead. Photo courtesy of Charlie Holthaus

Following a weekend that saw slightly less rain than predicted, conditions on our steelhead rivers are starting to improve. Storms impacting our coast one after the other are what’s really needed to kick off the winter steelhead run, and that looks to be the case through the weekend. A good soaking is forecasted for Wednesday with another coming late Saturday and into Sunday. The Smith and the Chetco will see significant flow increases, but should remain fishable. Closer to home, Wednesday’s storm will likely turn the Mad, Eel and Van Duzen rivers muddy. But it’s possible they’ll bounce back by Saturday before the flows head back up. A few steelhead have made their way to the hatchery on the Mad and there should be plenty more behind them. The Eel and Van Duzen haven’t seen many boats or anglers yet, but you can bet there are steelhead around. If you’re looking to get out of the house this weekend, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a fishable river.

Weather ahead
Widespread rain is in the forecast for Wednesday, according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “Rain is going to be heavy at times and we could see 1 to 2 inches,” said Zontos. “We’ll start to dry out on Thursday but there is a chance for some light rain, up to a tenth of an inch. The next system will move in sometime late Saturday night but the timing of this one is a little uncertain. The majority of the rain looks like it will fall on Sunday and linger into Monday. This system has the potential to drop 2 to 4 inches of rain over the three days, with the Smith basin seeing the higher totals. For the seven-day forecast ending next Tuesday, the Smith basin could see anywhere from 3 to 5 inches. The Mad and lower Eel could see 1 to 2 inches. Above normal precipitation is predicted in the Smith basin from Sunday through next Thursday.”

Oregon increases rockfish bag limit for 2021
Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, Oregon ocean anglers will be able to keep 6 rockfish instead of 5 according to a press release issued last Friday by the ODFW. Oregon anglers can keep any combination of black, blue, canary, yellowtail and vermilion rockfish as part of that limit, and have a sub-bag-limit of one China, copper or quillback rockfish. Anglers also can have one cabezon as part of the rockfish limit beginning July 1. The daily bag limit for lingcod remains at two, with a size limit of 22 inches. For more information, visit https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2020/12_Dec/121120.asp

Mad River Hatchery ladder now open
The water running down the ladder to the river was turned on last Saturday. The hatchery hopes to begin spawning on Tuesday, Jan. 5 and then each following Tuesday.

The Rivers:
All North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures, including the Smith, main Eel, South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing as of Thursday. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Smith River
The Smith was in fishable shape on Monday but was dropping quickly. There were a few boats on the river, with some side-drifting for steelhead and others targeting salmon. Reportedly, there were a few dark salmon caught on the lower river. The steelhead report wasn’t very good either. I heard of one adult steelhead along with some half-pounders being landed. Following Wednesdays, rain, flows peaked at 28,500 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge early Thursday morning. Conditions should be good for the weekend.

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
“The Chetco hit 5,000 [cubic feet per second] and blew out Sunday evening, but was fishable again Monday as flows dropped back below 3,500 cfs,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Fishing was slow for the plunkers, in part because of treacherous conditions at the Chetco River bar, which prevented new fish from moving in. More rain is expected this week; could fish Friday and Saturday if the storms are not too severe. Next week the Chetco may reach 14,000 cfs or higher, according to long-range forecasts.”

The Elk was fishable Monday at 3.6 feet but was clear and fished slow, according to Martin. “A few late kings were caught. It will be a good option after this week’s rain. The Sixes was turning green and dropped to 2 feet Monday evening, but by Wednesday could blow out for several days,” added Martin.

Mad
The Mad is forecasted for a steep rise on Thursday as flows are predicted to reach 1,400 cfs early in the morning. Will likely be off-color through the weekend. Visit the Mad River Steelhead Derby website to view the current leaderboard.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was fishable on Wednesday and might remain so through early Thursday. It’s predicted to rise all day Thursday, reaching 4,800 cfs on Friday morning. It will likely take a few days of dry weather before it clears.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork opened on Thursday. Predicted to peak at 2,400 cfs Thursday evening, but will drop quickly.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 175 cfs on Wednesday, the Duzen still had some color. After Wednesday’s storm, the Duzen peaked at 1,680 cfs on Thursday. It will likely be muddy through the weekend.

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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Rain and Steelhead Both on the Horizon

Winter steelhead season has yet to take off on the North Coast but that could soon change. A pretty sizeable storm is headed our way this weekend that should put all of the coastal rivers on the rise, and hopefully open them up to fishing. And more rain is on the way next week according to the National Weather Service. 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 over the weekend. The Mad should open by the weekend, and the southern rivers should be right behind it. Once all of the rivers crest and begin to recede to fishable levels, we should see the first wave of winter steelhead. After another tough late-fall salmon season, seeing the rivers loaded with bright steelhead sure would be a welcome sight.

Weather ahead

The seven-day forecast is looking good for steelhead anglers. An atmospheric river is predicted for the weekend, which will put all of the coastal rivers on the rise. “Lighter rain is possible on Thursday and Friday, with the heavier rainfall totals coming over the weekend,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “Sunday and into Monday should produce light rain, with a potential small break on Tuesday. The next chance of wet weather is next Wednesday through Friday. The seven-day forecast ending next Tuesday is calling for 3 to 5 inches in the Smith Basin. Here locally, the Mad and lower Eel could see 1 to 2 inches. Further up the South Fork Eel, a half to an inch of rain is possible. From Dec.13-21, the probability of above normal precipitation is predicted.”

Richard Burrow with the winning hatchery steelhead from last years Mad River Steelhead Derby. Submitted

Mad River Steelhead Derby to start Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) is hosting its second annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Jan. 1 through March 31. Anglers must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 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. A youth division winner (16  and under) wins a $150 tackle gift card. In addition, anglers who submit a winning video of their catch in action get a $100 gift card to Bucksport Sporting Goods. Anglers can sign up online at www.ncgasa.org or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport. 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 #madriversteelheadderby

Brookings update
Big swells have kept anglers at the docks in Brookings, and likely will through the weekend reports Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Last week, sport crabbers did well in shallow water, with large crabs that were full of meat. Rough weather has made bottom fishing tough. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will adopt the 2021 bottom fishing regulations on Friday.”

The Rivers:
Other than the Smith, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the main and South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, and Van Duzen were closed to fishing as of Thursday. Sections of rivers that are open include the main stem Eel River from the paved junction of Fulmor Road to its mouth. The Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream is closed until Jan. 1, 2021. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Smith

The Smith opened back up to fishing  Sunday morning and remained open as of Thursday. Another closure is possible before the weekend as flows drop. A big storm is expected by Saturday, however. Flows are predicted to peak at 9,300 cubic feet per second on Sunday night on the Jed Smith gauge. Boat pressure has been light but some kings were caught on the lower river last week. Riffles between the Outhouse and the Outfitters were holding quite a few half-pounders along with an occasional adult steelhead. The storm coming this weekend should push the rest of the kings upriver and bring in the first big wave of steelhead.”

Mad

The Mad is forecasted to reach 2,100 cfs Saturday afternoon. Could open to fishing on Saturday morning. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 200 cfs. For flow predictions, visit https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/graphicalRVF.php?id=ARCC1

Main stem Eel
The main Eel is predicted to rise starting Saturday night, and could open to fishing on Sunday or Monday. Will likely be muddy for some time. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 350 cfs on the Scotia gauge. For flow predictions, visit https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/graphicalRVF.php?id=SCOC1

South Fork Eel
The South Fork is predicted to rise beginning early Saturday morning and peak at 1,500 cfs on Monday morning. Will likely be muddy for the weekend, but the higher reaches could be fishable by mid next week. If flow predictions are correct, could open to fishing on Sunday or Monday. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 340 cfs. For flow predictions, visit https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/graphicalRVF.php?id=MRNC1

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is forecasted to rise starting Saturday and predicted to peak at roughly 1,400 cfs early Monday morning. The river will likely be muddy through the weekend. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 150 cfs. For flow predictions, visit https://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/graphicalRVF.php?id=BRGC1

Michael McGahan, a guide with Wild Rivers Fishing and Brookings Fishing Charters, holds his first steelhead of the season from the Chetco River. He caught the hatchery fish Dec. 6 drifting roe. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
Steelhead are showing up in good early season numbers on the Chetco, with adult fish now spread throughout the system, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The best fishing has been at Social Security Bar, where at least half a dozen adult steelhead were caught on Sunday, but steelhead can be seen below spawning salmon all the way to the upper river,” said Martin. “A few bright kings are still around, with lots of salmon still spawning. Drift boaters are seeing steelhead in the tailouts from Ice Box to the head of tide. The river likely will blow out this weekend but should be in great shape next week.” According to Martin, shore anglers have been catching salmon near the Sixes Grange, while drift boaters were back on the Sixes after the weekend rains. “The big storm this weekend should lead to a big rise on both the Elk and Sixes, bringing in another batch of fall kings and the first winter steelhead of the year,” 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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Winter Steelhead Up Next for Coastal Rivers

With no rain in the forecast for at least the next 10 days, the end is in plain view for the late, fall-run salmon season on the North Coast. The Chetco saw a few good days of fishing but the Smith was somewhat of a disappointment. The rains, along with the runs of salmon, were short-lived, forcing most of the anglers to throw in the towel by mid-November. With the calendar now saying it’s December, it’s transition time. The majority of the salmon have reached their destination and we now wait for the winter steelhead to make their way into all of the coastal rivers.
The Chetco has seen a few adults make their way in along with a bunch of half-pounders, and the Smith steelhead should be right behind them. But don’t give up entirely on salmon just yet. The Smith, Eel, Mad and Chetco should each see another spurt or two of fresh kings move in when and if the rivers rise.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, the first couple weeks of December are looking dry. “There’s some light rain in the forecast for Monday night but it won’t be enough to impact river flows,” said Zontos. “The high pressure that’s set up off the coast looks like it will holdover for the next few weeks. The trend is for below normal precipitation predicted through Dec. 14.”

Sport crab fishing update
Sport crabbing out of Eureka remains slow. Boats fishing on either side of the entrance are averaging around four keepers per pot on an overnight soak. Tim Klassen of Reel Steel Sportfishing was on the water over the weekend and reports the crabbing isn’t improving. “Our trip on Sunday was tough,” said Klassen. “We ended up with limits, but we averaged around three and a half crabs per trap.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby coming Jan. 1
Join your fellow North Coast anglers for the second annual Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association’s (NCGASA) 2021 Mad River Steelhead Derby. The fishing contest starts on Jan. 1 and will run until March 31. Anglers will be fishing for hatchery steelhead only during the winter steelhead run on the Mad River. The three longest measured, photographed and entered fish will win cash and prizes from our sponsors and community partners. There will also be a youth prize for anglers 16 years old and under. Part of the proceeds from this derby will benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler’s broodstock program that works in concert with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. For more information, visit the Mad River Steelhead Derby on Facebook or Instagram. Register online at ncgasa.org, RMI Outdoors, or Bucksport Sporting Goods.

The Rivers:
Currently, all the North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, Smith and Van Duzen are closed. Sections of rivers that are open include the main stem Eel River from the paved junction of Fulmor Road to its mouth and the main stem Smith River from the mouth of Rowdy Creek to the Smith’s mouth. The Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream is closed until Jan. 1, 2021. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Haley Hensel, of Crescent City, holds a 35-pound king salmon she caught and released Nov. 29 while fishing with guide Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips. Photo courtesy of Lunker Fish Trips

Smith
With no rain for a couple weeks, the Smith is very low and clear and will close to fishing above Rowdy Creek starting on Thursday, Dec. 3. Boat pressure has been light as most guides have canceled their salmon trips due to the conditions and lack of fish. Winter steelhead should start to trickle in even during the low-water conditions. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 720 cubic feet per second on the Jed Smith gauge.

Chetco River
Low water has slowed an already slow salmon season on the Chetco reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Flows are now below 900 cfs and no major rain is in sight. A few dark jacks and an occasional bright adult salmon are being caught by the handful of boats still fishing. Half-pounders have shown up, along with the first adult steelhead of the season. Four adult steelhead were reported last week at local tackle shops.”

Elk/Sixes
Salmon fishing was good on the Elk and Sixes before Thanksgiving, but both are now low and clear and difficult to float with drift boats according to Martin. “They should have another batch of salmon after the next major rain,” he added.

Kenny Priest (he/him) 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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Kings Tough to Come by on Smith, Chetco

Minda Lawrence and Grant Vallier, of Lakeview, Oregon, hold one of the two kings they caught to limit out Saturday on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Michael McGahan of Wild Rivers Fishing. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

After being open for just over a week, salmon fishing on both the Smith and Chetco has proven to be challenging. By the sound of things, the end is likely near for the run of late-fall kings on the coast. Only a couple small storms hit the coast and dropped enough rain to open the two rivers to fishing. While the fishing window was very small, that doesn’t necessarily mean the number of returning salmon was small. Even during the low water conditions, salmon were seen making their way upriver on all of our coastal streams. Typically, the season’s first big rains come in October, leaving us a good four to five-week window to fish. That hasn’t been the case the last few years as the salmon didn’t bother to wait for us or the strong flows to get them to their end destinations.

On the other hand, as we inch closer to December, it’s time to start thinking about winter steelhead. There are some half-pounders around, and the adults typically start showing in December. But don’t give up entirely on salmon just yet. The Smith, Chetco and even the Eel could each see another spurt or two of fresh kings move in on the next substantial river rise.

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we’re looking pretty dry as we head into December. “There is a chance for some rain late in the weekend, but it doesn’t look like it will impact river flows,” said Zontos. “Below normal precipitation is predicted through Dec. 7.”

Sport crab fishing update
Tim Klassen of Reel Steel Sportfishing reports the crabbing is a little on the slow side out of Eureka. “We’re still getting limits but it’s getting a little tougher,” said Klassen. “We’ve only had one trip where we didn’t get full limits. On an overnight soak, we’re averaging between four to six keepers per pot. Longer soaks are definitely producing better results. There are a lot of small crabs that are chewing up the bait pretty quickly. Fresh bait, like tuna scraps or rockfish carcasses, will improve the number of keepers as well. The crabs are in great shape, but we aren’t seeing very many jumbos,” added Klassen. Big swells are in the forecast Tuesday night through Thursday morning. Seas could reach up to 20 feet on Wednesday.

Nov. 27 and 28 free fish days in Oregon
ODFW is waiving all fishing licensing requirements on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to experience fishing during the long holiday weekend. All fishing, crabbing and clamming in Oregon will be free for both Oregon residents and non-residents. No licenses, tags or endorsements are needed on those days, but all other fishing regulations apply. Visit www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2020/11_Nov/112020b.asp for more info.

Lower Trinity River adult Chinook salmon quota met
In a press release issued on Friday, the CDFW projected recreational anglers will have met the Lower Trinity River adult fall Chinook salmon quota below the Denny Road Bridge at Hawkins Bar for the 2020 season as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. This triggers the closure of the adult Chinook salmon fishery on the Trinity River from the Denny Road Bridge at Hawkins Bar to the confluence with the Klamath River. This reach will remain open for harvest of jack (two-year-old) Chinook salmon (less than or equal to 23 inches). All adult Chinook salmon caught must be immediately released and reported on the angler’s report card. Adult Chinook salmon harvest is now closed in all sectors of the Klamath River basin. For more info, visit cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2020/11/20/lower-trinity-river-adult-chinook-salmon-quota-met/

The Rivers:
Other than the Smith and main stem Eel, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, and Van Duzen are closed to fishing. The main stem Eel is scheduled to close as of Thursday, Nov. 26. Be sure and call the low flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.

Smith
Since it opened to fishing on Nov. 14, salmon fishing has steadily gotten tougher. There are some fish around but most of the boats are having a hard time getting one per trip. Flows were hovering around 1,000 cfs on Wednesday and the river is low and clear. Roe under a float or back-bouncing the deeper holes are your best bet until we get some significant rainfall.

Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco opened to salmon fishing last Tuesday but quickly blew out reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “After cresting at 12,000 cfs, flows dropped below 5,000 cfs on Friday and were down to 2,200 cfs on Sunday. Overall, fishing has been slow, but a few nice kings are being caught. The best action is on the lower end. The Elk is now low and clear, while the Sixes is low but fishable. The Sixes has been fishing the best of the Southern Oregon rivers.”

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 kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com