Steelhead season ending on somber note

River conditions look excellent for the weekend

Southern Humboldt resident Erica Schuster landed a nice steelhead while fishing the main stem of the Eel River last week. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork, will remain open to fishing all year. Most of the other North Coast rivers will close to fishing after March 31. Photo courtesy of Erica Schuster

The 2020 winter steelhead season is winding down here on the North Coast, and it’s one we’ll likely never forget. Right now, as we head into uncharted territory with the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, the steelhead rivers have become our place of solace. As the virus continues to spread and our movements become more restricted, it’s been nice to have a place to go to and not have to think about what’s happening in the world – and at home. As we head towards the end of March, steelhead fishing will unfortunately come to a close on most of our rivers. After next Tuesday, March 31, the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek, and the Chetco will all be closed to fishing.

A few however, will remain open. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From the mouth to Fulmor Road, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from April 1 through the Friday preceding the fourth Saturday in May. Only barbless hooks may be used from fourth Saturday in May through Mar. 31. From Fulmor Road to the South Fork, it’s open all year. From April 1 through September 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Only barbless hooks may be used from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31.

The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle Fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick’s Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craigs Creek to Jones Creek. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from the fourth Saturday in May through Aug. 31. Only barbless hooks may be used from Sept. 1 through Apr. 30. The bag limit remains the same, two hatchery steelhead per day.

Sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers are open to fishing, but are subject to in-season changes. For more information, visit https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177572&inline.

Regarding the state-mandated shelter in place orders, fishing is still allowed for now. CDFW is urging anglers to practice social distancing of 6 feet or more from other people. If you find your favorite fishing spot crowded, find somewhere else to fish. It’s not worth the risk to your health, and the health of others. You should also avoid crowded trails and parking lots.

Ruth Lake Community Services District closes
As of March 23, the Ruth Lake Community Services District has been shut down due to COVID-19. At this time, the Ruth Lake Marina will be closed to business, the bathrooms will be closed and there will be no boat inspections taking place. Ruth Recreational Campground, Hobart Creek Campground, Barlow Group Campground, and Boy Scout Campground will be closed along with their facilities. The RLCSD office will be open part time to take phone calls but no boat inspections will be taking place. The RLCSD office has already begun calling customers to cancel all campground reservations for the months of April and May. If necessary, to cancel beyond that they will contact customers in the next months. For more information, visit https://www.ruthlakecsd.org/

Shelter Cove crab feed postponed
The Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation crab feed fundraiser scheduled for April 10 at the Gyppo Ale Mill Brewery has been postponed. If you purchased a ticket and would like a refund, contact Jake Mitchell at 223-1600 or you can hold on to it until the event is rescheduled. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/scfpinc

HASA fundraiser canceled
HASA’s 10th annual fundraiser and social event scheduled for April 25 has been canceled. Next year’s event is scheduled for March 20, 2021. Tickets purchased for the 2020 fundraiser will be honored next year with proof of purchase. For more info, visit Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers Facebook page.

Brookings ocean update
Lingcod and rockfish action has been good out of Brookings when weather conditions allow according to Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. “Oregon has enacted stricter social distancing rules, including closing motels, RV parks and campgrounds, limiting lodging options for visiting anglers,” said Martin.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Rogue
According to Martin, few anglers are fishing the Chetco with the low, clear flows. “Access also is limited now that all Oregon state parks have closed, including the launch area at Loeb Park. There are still fresh steelhead around, especially on the lower end,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith was on the rise as of Wednesday following nearly an inch of rain on Tuesday. Flows were predicted to hit 1,860 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday. This should be plenty of water to get the downers on the move and should bring in some fresh ones too. Boat pressure continues to be light. The Smith will remain open to fishing through April.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was on a slight rise as of Wednesday and predicted to hit 1,600 cfs. There’s some fresh fish still coming in, but we should really start to see the downers on the move. There’s also a good number of half-pounders around as well. Conditions should be good for the weekend. Boat pressure has been light.

Eel River (South Fork)
As of Wednesday, flows were 320 cfs on the Miranda gauge and rising slightly. There’s plenty of steelhead around, including some fresh ones. Conditions are perfect for bank fishing.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen bumped up to 485 cfs early Wednesday morning, but is now on the drop. It’s predicted to hover around 300 to 400 cfs the rest of the week. Conditions remain perfect for bank anglers fishing bobbers, spoons, or plugs.

Mad River
The Mad was at 7.5 feet and on a slight rise as of Wednesday morning. The water had a little bit of color, but remained fishable following the rain on Tuesday. According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors of Eureka, there are still a lot of fish around. “We’re starting to see quite a few downers, but there are plenty of fresh ones coming in too,” said Kelly. “I’d say it’s about a 50-50 mix right now. Most of the fish coming in are wild, and most of the downers have been hatchery. Roe has been the bait of choice with all the downers around, and there’s enough water now to drift fish effectively. Soft beads under a float and spinners continue to catch fish as well.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Fishing provides refuge amid virus outbreak

Eureka resident Hannah Haraldson, left is all smiles upon landing her first-ever steelhead. Haraldson was fishing on the Smith River last Thursday with guide Mike Coopman, right. Photo courtesy of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

Our lives are changing at a dizzying pace due to the pandemic created by the Coronavirus. Shelter in place orders are now in effect in several Bay Area counties, keeping people hunkered down indoors except for their essential needs. Here behind the Redwood Curtain, we’re still free to come and go – for now. Social distancing has become the new normal, and what better way to stay out of harm’s way than wetting your line at one of our local watersheds or beaches. Our isolated waterways are perfect for folks looking to take refuge from the crisis that’s taken the world by storm.

While self-quarantining has become the safest way to prevent the spreading of the virus, there certainly isn’t any harm in taking the kids out to the local fishing hole. Just remember if you’re fishing next to someone outside your household, try to maintain a six-foot space.   

Ocean salmon, rockfish and halibut seasons have yet to open, but there’s plenty of angling options on the North Coast. Winter steelhead is still your best bet despite the low water conditions. There’s still quite a few bright fish coming in from the ocean, and we’re now starting to see the spawned-out adults making their way down all of the rivers. Rockfish is open year-round to shore-based anglers. The jetties – when the seas are calm – are the perfect place to try and catch dinner. Springtime, when the surf starts to come down, is when the redtail perch can be easily caught from the beach. Some of the best spots to fish are Centerville, Table Bluff, and any of the lagoon beaches. In addition, Big and Stone Lagoons are excellent options to catch cutthroat trout. Both should have steelhead waiting for the next breach to head back to the ocean. Ruth Lake, a scenic two-hour drive from Eureka, offers excellent Rainbow trout and bass fishing year-round. In the spring, large crappie, bluegill, catfish and Kokanee are most abundant. As the North Coast inches closer towards lockdown, many who love fishing and the outdoors are looking for an escape. If you’re feeling cooped up at home, or need to burn some of your kids pent up energy, they are some angling options if you know where to look.

The weather ahead
“The weather looks to be dry through Saturday, but we could see some changes beginning on Sunday,” said Matthew Kidwell of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A few showers are possible on Sunday, but it won’t be enough to affect any of the river levels. A moderate system is forecasted for Monday and Tuesday where we’ll see some rain each day. This will be a colder storm, so the hills will see some snow. As for precipitation, we could see a half inch in Humboldt, with an inch possible in some of the higher elevations. The Smith basin will see about the same.” said Kidwell.

PFMC public hearings/meetings will be held via webinar
In a press release issued last Friday by the PFMC citing COVID-19 public health concerns, the public hearing scheduled for March 24 in Eureka regarding the 2020 ocean salmon management alternatives will go forward as a webinar only. Visit https://www.pcouncil.org/events/public-hearing-on-salmon-management-alternatives-eureka/ for information on how to attend the webinar and ways to provide public comment. The PFMC also determined that the April 4 through 10 meetings originally planned to be held in Vancouver, WA will be conducted by webinar as well. At this meeting, the council will tentatively adopt final proposed alternatives for 2020 ocean salmon fishery regulations. The Council staff is preparing information for participation in these webinars, and instructions will be posted at https://www.pcouncil.org/council_meeting/april-3-10-2020-council-meeting/.

Perch’n on the Peninsula event canceled
The Samoa Peninsula Fire District has canceled their 10th Annual Perch’n on the Peninsula Surfperch Fishing Tournament and Fish Fry Fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, April 6. The Facebook post from the Samoa Peninsula Fire District states, “With the current state of the Coronavirus pandemic, the health and safety of our attendees, supporters, and community is our number one priority. In response to this it has become clear that holding our fundraiser this April is not currently possible. We look forward to seeing all of you next year.”  For more info, visit https://www.samoafire.org/

Brookings ocean report
Lingcod and rockfish action is very good out of Brookings according to Andy Martin with Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Charters are getting limits of lingcod and a good grade of black, blue and canary rockfish from Bird Island to House Rock. The season is open year-round in Oregon. Crabbing is slow. Surfperch are biting at most Brookings-area beach. Small swells are expected this week.”

The Rivers:
Southern Oregon rivers
Another batch of fresh steelhead moved into the Chetco over the weekend after flows got a slight bump from last week’s rain reports Martin. “Catch rates are still good on the lower river, mainly because few anglers are fishing. Local guides continue to find plenty of bright steelhead, including hatchery fish. More rain is coming next week. Steelhead and spring salmon fishing are slow on the Rogue. Flows are down to 2,300 cfs at Agness. Next week’s rain will likely bring the first schools of springers in as long as flows come up. Steelhead fishing remains slow on the Elk and Sixes,” added Martin.

Smith River
The same old story from the Smith River, low and clear conditions, but there are fish around. The bite was a little slow over the weekend due to the cold water temps, but some fish were caught. Boat pressure remains light.

Eel River (main stem)
The main Eel was flowing at 1,600 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, up from last Saturday’s 900 cfs. There are reports of bright fish still making their way upriver, and the downers have started to show in bigger numbers. Boat pressure this week has been light.

Eel River (South Fork)
After a bump in flows pushed the South Fork from 230 cfs to 430 over the weekend, the river is dropping back into clear water conditions. Even though it’s low, there’s still plenty of water for the fish to move up and down. Conditions are good for tossing spoons or bobber fishing from the bank.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen bumped up to 240 cfs from 80 cfs following the weekend storm. The much-needed rain added some color and flows were enough to get fishing moving both directions. Conditions are perfect for bank anglers fishing bobbers, spoons, or plugs.

Mad River
The water color is perfect on the Mad, and fresh steelhead are still being caught. Flows were right around 290 cfs (7 feet) on Wednesday afternoon. With a new layer of snow in the hills, it should stay green until it closes at the end of the month. The slight rise put the downers on the move, but plenty of fresh ones are still coming in. Bobbers, spinners and plugs fished with side planers are all working.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Slim year ahead for Klamath and ocean kings

Klamath River sport anglers won’t have as many adult king salmon to take home this fall as ocean abundance numbers are forecasted to be lower than previous years. The number of adult salmon returning to the Klamath in 2019 were also lower than expected. This years quota will range from 1,291 to 801 adult kings for the Klamath and Trinity basin. In 2019, the basin-wide quota was 7,636. Final river quotas and ocean seasons will be decided during the April 4-10 PFMC meeting in Vancouver, WA. Photo courtesy of Alan’s Guide Service

Looking at the ocean abundance of Klamath River kings and the numbers that returned to the river in 2019, I’d say we’re pretty fortunate to have any type of salmon season this fall. But we will, and a couple of the alternatives don’t look half bad. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) on Monday released three preliminary alternatives for managing salmon fisheries from the OR/CA border to Horse Mountain (which includes Humboldt County). According to the PFMC, 186,600 Klamath and 473,200 Sacramento fall Chinook are said to be swimming in the ocean, which will restrict the North Coast on season lengths and river quotas. The three alternatives currently on the table: June 6 to July 31; or June 11 to July 31; or July 1 to July 19. All three scenarios are the same, two fish per day, seven days a week, Chinook only, 20-inch minimum size.

From Horse Mountain to Point Arena, which includes Shelter Cove and Fort Bragg, the three alternatives are: April 11 to Nov. 1; or April 11 to Oct. 31; or April 11 to Oct. 30.
All three scenarios are the same, two fish per day, seven days a week, Chinook only, 20-inch minimum size.

To view all of the salmon management alternatives, visit https://www.pcouncil.org/draft-council-adopted-salmon-management-measures-tables-for-public-review-from-march-2020-pfmc-meeting/

Final season dates will be decided during the April 4-10 PFMC meeting in Vancouver, WA. The public is invited to comment on the PFMC’s season proposals at that meeting or at a hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 at the Red Lion Hotel, 1929 Fourth St. in Eureka. Comments can also be submitted through the PFMC website at www.pcouncil.org.

Klamath/Trinity fall salmon allocations
Not only will the recreational ocean salmon season be restricted, sport anglers will have quite a few less Klamath/Trinity River fall Chinook to harvest this year as well. The recreational allocations, or quotas, as proposed by the PFMC will range from 1,291 to 801 adult fall Chinook in 2020 across the three alternatives. Last year’s basin-wide quota was 7,636 adults. If, for example, Alternative One was chosen, the quota for the Klamath and Trinity basins would be 1,291 adults. Of those, 645 would be allowed for sport harvest from Hwy. 96 bridge to the mouth of the Klamath. From the 96 bridge to Iron Gate, 219 could be harvested. The Trinity would receive 426 adults for harvest. The Spit Area (within 100 yards of the channel through the sand spit formed at the Klamath River mouth) would close when 194 adult kings were taken downstream of the Highway 101 bridge.

The three quota alternatives are not final, but will be decided during the April 4-10 PFMC meeting in Vancouver, Washington Once the quota is agreed upon, 50 percent will go to the lower Klamath basin, 17 percent to the upper basin, and 33 percent will be allocated for the Trinity River. When adopted, these quotas will go into effect August 15, 2020.

The weather ahead
After another week of dry conditions, rain is in the forecast for the weekend. “We should start to see the rain move in sometime late Friday evening,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The wet weather should stick around through the weekend, and will start to clear on Sunday night. In the Smith basin, three-quarters to an inch and a quarter of rain is forecasted. In Humboldt, we could see a half to one inch. In the Eel basin, they can expect from a half to possibly three-quarters in the mountains. After Sunday, the next week looks dry. There is another chance of rain next weekend, but it doesn’t look like it will be much,” said Zontos.

Brookings ocean report
Bottom fishing has been very good out of Brookings reports Andy Martin with Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Lingcod are staging in shallow water to spawn. Crabbing has been slow, with far more females than keeper-size males.”

The Rivers:
Southern Oregon rivers
New steelhead continue to move into the lower Chetco, but fishing is tough because of low, clear conditions according to Martin. “Flows are down to 305 cfs. A few boats a day are still drifting from Loeb to Social Security, and picking off a few steelhead at first light. The Rogue, Elk and Sixes are low, clear and slow for steelhead,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith remains low and clear, running at under 1,000 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge as of Wednesday. Despite the conditions, the fishing is still relatively good. There isn’t much boat traffic during the week, but the few out there are catching some nice steelhead. Nearly an inch of rain is expected over the weekend and flows are predicted to bump around 150 cfs. This could be just enough to really turn on the bite. It could also start to bring some of the spawned-out fish down river.

Eel River (main stem)
Down to just about 973 cfs as of Wednesday, the main Eel is still a good option for fresh steelhead. The river is low and clear and lacking current, but there’s fish to be had. Bobbers or plugs are your best options.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is down to summertime flows, running at 250 cfs as of Wednesday. It’s definitely low and clear, but there are plenty of fish around. If you’re looking for a place to throw a bobber or a spoon, conditions are still good. A slight increase in flows is predicted for the weekend.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was under 90 cfs as of Wednesday and looks to be the largest benefactor from the weekend rain. Flows are predicted to rise to roughly 500 cfs beginning on Sunday. If this happens, conditions could be excellent next week. There are still plenty of fish around.

Mad River
Plenty of fresh steelhead are still being caught despite the low, clear conditions. The fish are holding in the deeper holes and slots, and guys fishing stealthy with bobbers, spinners or plugs are doing well. Flows were right around 500 cfs on Wednesday, but it looks like changes are coming. The river is forecasted to rise to nearly 1,000 cfs late Sunday evening. If that happens, the fishing could bust wide-open.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Klamath salmon numbers down, restrictions expected

After hearing the news a couple weeks ago regarding the adult Chinook salmon returns to the Klamath last fall, we knew this year’s ocean abundance numbers wouldn’t be good. And that was confirmed at last Thursday’s annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting in Santa Rosa, where CDFW suggested only 186,600 Klamath River fall Chinook adults are said to be swimming in the ocean. These numbers are lower than the 2019 forecast of 274,200. The one bit of good news is this year’s preseason abundance is higher than last seasons postseason estimate of 156,244. To simplify, more fall adult salmon are predicted to be in the ocean in 2020 than the postseason estimate confirmed for 2019, which hopefully is a step in the right direction. Regardless, the low ocean and river numbers will likely result in reduced fishing opportunity in the areas north of Pt. Arena.

First-time angler Allie with a limit of Klamath River kings from 2019.

The CDFW also predicted that in the absence of fishing, 48,274 natural area spawners will return to the Klamath this fall, which is slightly higher than the actuals from 2019 (37,270). This number doesn’t include the hatchery returns or the returning spawners to the upper Klamath tributaries. This potential spawner abundance forecast applied to the KRFC control rule results in an allowable exploitation rate of 25 percent, which produces 36,206 natural-area adult spawners. This could potentially leave 6,034 adult salmon to be split between ocean commercial, ocean sport, and in-river harvest. Though not confirmed as of yet, we may be looking at a roughly 900 adult salmon quota for the Klamath and Trinity.   

Over on the Sacramento, the numbers are trending upwards. The 2020 preseason ocean abundance is forecasted to be 473,200. In 2019, the forecast was, 379,632, while the postseason estimate came in higher at 505,500, which was 133 percent of the preseason forecast.  Another bit of good news on the Sac is the adult escapement. Regulations adopted in 2019 were expected to result in 160,159 hatchery and natural area adult spawners. Postseason estimates showed an escapement of 162,532 hatchery and natural area adult spawners.

What the PFMC chooses to do with these forecasts will be determined in the next couple of months. Up next, the PFMC is meeting March 3 through 9 in Rohnert Park, CA. The Council will determine if any in-season action for fisheries scheduled to open in April is needed. They will also craft three regulatory alternatives for ocean salmon fisheries in effect on or after May 1. Final alternatives for public review will be adopted on March 9. For information on the meeting, visit, https://www.pcouncil.org. To view the salmon preseason process, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason

PFMC public hearing coming to Eureka
A public hearing on California ocean salmon will be held at the Red Lion Hotel, 1929 4th Street, Eureka on March 24, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will receive comments from the public on the three California ocean salmon fishery regulatory alternatives adopted by the Council in March. More information is available at www.pcouncil.org.

Mad River Steelhead Derby wrap up
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportmen’s Association Mad River Steelhead Derby concluded on Feb. 29 with more than 20 registered anglers entering a measured hatchery steelhead photo into the contest. Mad River Steward volunteer angler Richard Burrow submitted the biggest steelhead, measuring 35.75 inches in length from nose to fork of the tail. Burrow will receive a $500 prize from the non-profit organization, NCGASA.org at the Derby Awards party. The awards party will be held this Saturday at Six Rivers Brewery starting at 5 p.m. There will be a slide show of anglers and their catches, silent auction, raffles and giveaways for all who participated in this inaugural event. A $10 donation is requested to cover the food costs. NCGASA would like to thank their premier sponsors: Lithia Eureka, Coast Central Credit Union, RMI Outdoors and HASA

Richard Burrow of Eureka was the first place winner in the inaugural Nor-Cal Guide and Sportsmen’s Assoc. Mad River Steelhead Derby, which ended on Feb. 29. Burrow’s hatchery steelhead measured 35.75 inches. The Derby awards party will be held this Saturday at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville starting at 5 p.m. Photo courtesy of Richard Burrow

Weather ahead
“We’re starting to see a slight change in our pattern where the ridge of high pressure has weakened slightly and has started to move westward, allowing for storm systems to move into our area,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “We’re not expecting any big storms that will impact the rivers in the next few days. We will see a system move into the area on Friday afternoon and into Saturday. Rainfall totals in the Smith basin will be from a quarter to a half inch. In Humboldt, we may see up to a quarter. Rainfall amounts will be less as you move south. Locally next week is looking dry. There is however, a potentially wetter system for next Friday and Saturday that could bring more widespread rain, with accumulations likely under an inch. The confidence in this storm is low as it’s still quite a ways out there.”

Brookings ocean report
Lingcod and rockfish have been biting well out of Brookings when the weather allows boats to get out according to Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Big swells and northwest winds have kept boats in the harbor since late last week. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round in Oregon. Surfperch are biting well from the Southern Oregon beaches.

The Rivers:
Southern Oregon
Low, clear water continues to make fishing tough on the Chetco, but steelhead are being caught on the lower end by the first few boats to float down reports Martin. “There are still a lot of hatchery fish between Loeb Park and Social Security Bar, but they are challenging to catch with flows already near early summer levels. Few boats are fishing the upper river because of low flows. The Rogue, Elk and Sixes also have slowed because of low water. Spring salmon will arrive soon on the Rogue, likely after a decent rain. The Elk and Sixes are now practically too low to drift, said Martin.

Smith River
The Smith is extremely low and clear, running at 1,130 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge as of Wednesday. Boat pressure has been light as most have moved to other rivers, but there were a few fish caught last week. When we do get some rain, the fishing should bust wide-open as the downers are all waiting for some water. A slight bump in flows is predicted for Saturday, but probably not enough to change the current conditions.

Eel River (main stem)
Down to just about 1,000 cfs as of Wednesday, the main Eel is still a decent option for fresh steelhead. The river is clear, and you’ll likely need to drag your boat in multiple spots, but there are fish around. Bobbers or plugs are your best options.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is down to 277 cfs as of Wednesday, and reports have been hard to come by. It’s definitely low and clear, but there are still fish holding in some of the deeper spots and places with broken water. If you’re looking for a place to fly fish, conditions are still good.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is down to roughly 100 cfs. and should be good for bank and fly anglers. Like the rest of the coastal rivers, a fair number of fresh steelhead are still being caught.

Mad River
Despite the low, clear conditions, plenty of fresh steelhead are still being caught. A good number of fish remain spread out through the river, but more are being caught on the lower end. The fish are holding in the deeper holes and slots, and guys fishing stealthy with bobbers or plugs are doing well.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Coastal rivers lack water, but not steelhead

Cole Vandenplas, right, along with buddy Lucien Ricker were all smiles after landing this bright steelhead on Sunday while drifting the Mad River. Lucien’s father Seth accompanied the young anglers down the river. Photo courtesy of Seth Ricker

With records going all the way back to 1887, February 2020 is shaping up to be the third driest February on record for Eureka – and that’s not a record that anyone wants to see broken. Especially winter steelhead anglers. Despite the lack of rainfall that’s turned most of our rivers into glorified trout streams, there’s steelhead being caught in good numbers on most of them. Seeing photos of chrome-bright steelhead all over social media really has me thinking. If the fishing is still this good after a month-long dry spell, how good would it have been if we had a few good storms mixed in? I don’t have the answer, but I can only imagine. Looking at the extended forecast, it appears we’ll be fishing in spring-like conditions at least through early March. With all the rivers chocked full of steelhead, my guess is we could see some really good fishing when and if the rains come.

Weather ahead
Warm and dry conditions will continue through this week according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A few light showers are expected Friday night into Saturday. Rainfall totals won’t be much, if any. We could see maybe a tenth locally, with most of the rain falling across Del Norte county. It certainly won’t be enough to raise any of the river levels. There is a slight chance of rain early next week, but again, it will be very light if it does happen,” said Zontos. A gradual warming trend is expected Tuesday through the end of next week as high pressure slowly builds back into the region, with little hope for meaningful rainfall through at least the next week and potentially longer.

HSU looking for surfperch anglers
The HSU Dept. of Fisheries Biology are looking to hire two FISH undergraduate students to hook-and-line fish for surfperch in four sandy beach surf zones in Humboldt County. Salary is $13 per hour, 12-16 hours per month from April through June 2020. Must be experienced fishing for perch and have own gear and transportation. You can apply through HSU’s Handshake website, Job #3607824, Title Angler – Hook-and-line fish for surfperch.

Upcoming Events
Perch’n on the Peninsula coming April 4
The Samoa Peninsula Fire District will be hosting their 11th Annual Perch’n on the Peninsula Surfperch Fishing Tournament and Fish Fry Fundraiser on Saturday, April 4, 2020. The fish fry fundraiser is open to the public and admission is only $15 for adults and $10 for juniors. Adult fishing tournament entry is $25 and junior entry (under 16) is $15. Tournament day registration is available at the Peninsula Elementary School in Samoa beginning at 6 a.m. Entries can be purchased online at www.samoafire.org. or Pacific Outfitters, Englund Marine, Shafer’s Ace Hardware in Eureka, or Sportsman’s Warehouse. For more information, call (707) 443-9042 or visit www.samoafire.org.

HASA fundraiser coming April 25
HASA will be holding their 10th annual fundraiser and social event at the Arcata Community Center on April 25, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Adult and youth tickets are available at Englund Marine, Bucksport Sporting Goods, and Pacific Outfitters in Eureka, or you can purchase them online at http://tiny.cc/8tdikz. Only adult tickets can be purchased online at this time. If you need youth tickets, please stop by one of the vendor partners in Eureka. Ticket pricing: $30 Adult $15 Children. The food will once again be provided by Ramones Bakery and Catering. For more info, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/377649006458649/

Brookings ocean report
Saltwater fishing has been good near Brookings, both for bottom fish from boats, and surfperch from area beaches reports Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Striped and redtail perch are being caught at Crissy Field, the Port beach and north jetty. Lingcod fishing has been good on calm days, but a big swell this week could keep boats at the harbor. Crabbing is slow out of Brookings.”

The Rivers:
Southern Oregon
The Chetco has dropped to its lowest flows of the season, resulting in low, clear water and slow fishing according to Martin. “There are plenty of steelhead around, but the fish are spooky, especially with bright, sunny conditions. The best fishing has been on the lower end, early in the day. The lower Rogue has been fair for steelhead, with a mix of hatchery and wild fish still moving through. As the run tapers off on the lower river, it is just starting to pick up between Galice and Grants Pass. Low, clear water has stalled steelhead fishing on the Elk and Sixes. The Coquille also has slowed. The best action has been on the Umpqua, which is experiencing a big run,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith is low and clear, but there are fish around. During last week’s Rowdy Creek derby, quite a few were caught even though conditions were extremely tough. Boat pressure has been light as most have moved to other rivers. When we do get some rain, the fishing should bust wide-open as the downers are all waiting for some water.

Eel River (main stem)
Running at 1,350 cfs as of Wednesday, the main Eel is still one of the best options for fresh, bright steelhead. The river is definitely clearing, and you’ll likely need to drag your boat in multiple spots, but there are fish around. Flows are predicted to be around 1,200 cfs by the weekend.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is down to 350 cfs as of Wednesday, and reports have been hard to come by. It’s definitely low and clear, but you can still catch fish in the deeper slots. If you’re looking for a place to fly fish, conditions are good.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is low, but still has decent color. It’s down to 220 cfs, and should be good for bank and fly anglers. Like the rest of the coastal rivers, it still has a good number of fresh steelhead despite the low water.

Mad River
Despite the low, clear conditions, the fishing is still pretty good reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors of Eureka. “The fish are still spread out, but the fishing seems to be better downriver right now. With the low flows, they are holding in the deeper holes and slots. It’s pretty much a bobber-only fishery at this point as finding spots that have current is getting tougher. The best bite is before the sun hits the water or closer to dusk,” Kelly added.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Fall Klamath king returns fell short in 2019

Following a promising 2018 fall Chinook salmon season on the Klamath that saw the run size trending upwards, the 2019 returns fell significantly short of expectations. Looking at the numbers presented in the PFMC “Review of 2019 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document, it’s likely we’ll have some severe restrictions both in the ocean and in the Klamath and Trinity rivers in 2020.

“Based on PFMC’s 2019 salmon review, the 2019 return of fall Chinook salmon to the Klamath basin did not meet expectations for returns, harvest or escapement,” said Wade Sinnen, Senior Environmental Scientist on the Klamath/Trinity Rivers.

The CDFW predicted a river run size of 97,912 in 2019, however according to Sinnen, the post season estimate was 37,270 adult fall Chinook, roughly 38 percent of the projection and fifth lowest return on record. “The return of fall Chinook jacks was 9,991 fish, which is also below the long-term average of 17,740. Both the tribal and in-river recreational adult Chinook harvest quotas went unmet in 2019.  Returns to hatcheries were also down and it is unlikely that full mitigation production for fall Chinook will be achieved in the coming year.” According to Sinnen, the cause for the lack luster performance of Klamath stocks this year appears to be related to poor survival and growth conditions, fish were significantly smaller at age this year as compared to most years. “The population can rebound quickly if suitable environmental conditions prevail in the future. As an example, the population doubled between 2017 and 2018 and the basin had a record high return of 316,754 fish in 2012. It is too early to prognosticate regarding 2020 Klamath fall Chinook population levels and fishing opportunities,” said Sinnen.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 8,564 compared to 21,109 adults in 2019. The Shasta River has historically been the most important Chinook salmon spawning stream in the upper Klamath River, supporting a spawning escapement of 27,600 adults as recently as 2012 and 63,700 in 1935. The escapement in 2019 to the Shasta River was 5,926 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 957 and 1,681 adults, respectively.

According to the report, an estimated 5,365 fall Chinook adults were harvested in the Klamath Basin recreational fishery, which was roughly 70 percent of the 7,636 allocated quota. The Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes share a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (32,401) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook. Tribal adult harvest was 5,974 (Yurok: 3,909 adults; Hoopa Valley: 2,065 adults), which was 18 percent of the tribal allocation.

Next up is CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting on February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting marks the beginning of a two-month long public process used to develop annual sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing recommendations. The process involves collaborative negotiations with west coast states, federal and tribal agencies, and stakeholders interested in salmon fishery management and conservation. Public input will help California representatives develop a range of recommended season alternatives during the March 3-9 PFMC meeting in Rohnert Park. The PFMC will finalize the recommended season dates at its April 4-10 meeting in Vancouver, WA. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

The weather ahead
“We’re not seeing any substantial rainfall through the end of February, but a couple weak systems could bring some precipitation,” said Alex Dodd of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There isn’t any rain in the forecast through Saturday, but there is a weak front that could clip our area late Saturday night or Sunday. Rainfall won’t be much, if any. Smith basin may see up to a tenth, and just trace amounts here locally. After that we’ll dry out again, with another weak system moving into the area Wednesday night that may bring some light rain. It doesn’t look like any of the river levels will be impacted,” said Dodd.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Rogue
This weekend’s rain added enough color to the Chetco to kick steelhead fishing into high gear, producing a couple days of nearly wide-open fishing according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Some guides were getting two to four steelhead a rod on Sunday and Monday,” said Martin. “By Tuesday, the river was clearing and catch rates dropped. There are still a lot of fish in the river, but flows are their lowest of the season, expected to drop to 650 cfs by the weekend. Expect a crowd with the derby Friday and Saturday. Steelhead fishing has been fair on the Elk, Sixes and Rogue. All are low and clear and will benefit from the next rain.”

Smith River
The Smith is low and as clear as it can get, but there are some fish around according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. He said, “Conditions are tough, but guys are catching a few each day. Most are averaging about a fish per rod, and some days are better. The fish are spread out and are holding wherever there’s broken water. Expect a busy weekend with lots of boats due to the Rowdy Creek Derby.”

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was running at just under 1,700 cfs on Wednesday and is still holding some color. Some of the spots are running out of current, but there’s still plenty of areas where fish are holding. Over the weekend, which wasn’t too crowded, boats were getting two to six fish per trip. Even without rain, the main stem should continue to fish.

Eel River (South Fork)
Hovering around 400 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday, the South Fork is low and clear. A few boats are still drifting, but most have moved down to the main. There should be plenty of fish in some of the deeper stretches. When the rains do return, we should see a real good push of downrunners.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is getting very low, but still has some color. Flows were right around 270 cfs on Wednesday. Reportedly there are quite a few steelhead in the lower river. The Duzen would be a good choice if you’re looking for bank fishing options.

McKinleyville resident Whitney Floyd holds a nice hatchery steelhead landed last Friday on the Mad River. Despite low water conditions, fishing remains excellent for winter steelhead on the Mad. The season is open through March 31. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mac

Mad River
Like the rest of the coastal rivers, the Mad is getting low. However, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the river is still holding some nice color. “Even with the low water, there’s still lots of fish being caught,” said Kelly. “The fish are spread out now, and holding mostly in the spots where there’s broken water or in the deeper holes and slots. There’s still plenty of fresh fish coming in from the ocean every day, and there’s lot of chrome hatchery fish around now. The past few days the bite has been much better in the morning.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Steelhead fishing rolls on despite lack of rain

Bayside resident Kirk Younker landed a nice hatchery steelhead while fishing the Mad River on Tuesday. The 27-inch fish was entered into the NCGASA Mad River Steelhead Derby, where the top fish stands at 37.5-inches. The Steelhead derby will run through the end of February. Photo courtesy of Kirk Younker

While the lack of rain on the North Coast has some steelhead anglers looking elsewhere for green water, there are a few local bright spots. Especially if you like to throw on a pair of waders and head to the river bar. The Mad River was as good last weekend as it’s been all year. With plenty of bank access, it’s probably one of the best steelhead options at the moment. The river is a perfect height, and water spilling from Ruth Lake has kept the color a beautiful shade of green. Chrome-bright hatchery steelhead are being caught by anglers working the river from the hatchery all the way to the pump stations. Both the South Fork Eel and the Van Duzen are getting low for boats, but both have excellent bank fishing opportunities. Both are full of steelhead, and if you put your time in, tugging on a handful of fish is not out of the question.

If you’d rather fish from a drift boat, your options are somewhat limited. The main Eel is your best bet as it still has plenty of green water. There’s also a real good chance of catching a few bright steelies. The Klamath and Trinity rivers are both good options as well. Both are green, and should have their share of winter steelhead moving through.

With no substantial rain for nearly three weeks, and very little predicted for the rest of the month, the coastal rivers are all headed towards low and clear conditions. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of steelhead options.

Weather ahead
The ridge of high pressure sitting of our coast continues to deflect any substantial rain systems well to our north according to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The next chance for rain will be this weekend, but it won’t be much of a soaker,” said Zontos. “Most of the rain will fall on Saturday and into Saturday night, with showers possibly lingering into Sunday. The Smith basin could see from 1 to 1.5 inches. In the Mad basin, totals range from a quarter to three-quarters. The Eel will see much less, anywhere from a tenth to a quarter. After Sunday, dry conditions will return through at least Wednesday,” said Zontos.

Upcoming Meetings:
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting will be held February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting will cover the 2019 ocean and in-river salmon fishing seasons, Central Valley and Klamath Basin river returns, 2020 abundance forecasts, and serves as an opportunity for the public to provide input regarding the upcoming ocean salmon season. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

CA Fish and Game Commission
The CA Fish and Game Commission will meet on Feb. 21 at the Natural Resources Building – Auditorium, First Floor, 1416 Ninth Street in Sacramento. Among the agenda items is the Upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon sport fishing emergency regulations, where they’ll consider adopting a second 90-day extension of the upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook salmon emergency regulations. Also on the agenda is the Klamath River Basin sport fishing, where proposed changes to Klamath River Basin sport fishing regulations will be discussed. The full agenda can be found at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177021&inline. The meeting will be live streamed at www.fgc.ca.gov the day of the meeting.

Free fishing days this weekend in Oregon
It’s free to fish, crab or clam on the Saturday and Sunday of President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 15-16. During these two days, no fishing licenses or tags (including a Combined Angling Tag and a Columbia River Basin Endorsement) are required to fish, crab or clam anywhere in Oregon. Although no licenses or tags are required, all other regulations apply including closures, bag limits and size restrictions. For more information, visit https://myodfw.com/articles/2020-free-fishing-days-and-events

The Rivers:
Chetco/Rogue/Elk/Sixes
After last week’s exceptional steelhead fishing on the Chetco, the action slowed down as the river dropped to 1,000 cfs reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The color is still a nice green, but flows are down enough boats are starting to hit bottom in the shallow riffles,” said Martin. “Fish are still being caught, but catch rates are down to a fish or two per boat for the guides, and one fish for every four or five private boats. Lots of steelhead were donated to the Chetco’s hatchery broodstock program the last 10 days, with 91 total adults, including 49 females.”

The Elk and Sixes have slowed, but the Sixes remains floatable for steelhead according to Martin. “Catch rates have dropped with lower flows on the Rogue, but guides anchoring and running MagLip plugs are still getting steelhead on the lower river,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith remains low and clear and in need of a good shot of rain. Flows were just above 7-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday and dropping. Boat pressure has been light as most guides have moved to other rivers. There are reportedly a few fish around, but overall, fishing is tough.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem is in great shape and holding a nice shade of green. Boat pressure was fairly heavy over the weekend, and could get worse as other coastal rivers are dropping out. Boats are averaging one to four fish per trip. There are some nice adults in the mix and some runbacks have shown up. There’s also a good number of half-pounders around. Flows are predicted right around 2,000 cfs by Saturday.

Eel River (South Fork)
As predicted, conditions were perfect over the weekend on the South Fork. The boat pressure was heavy, but the fishing was excellent. Average scores ranged from two to five fish per trip. With no rain, the river is clearing and is forecasted to be roughly 450 cfs by the weekend. Most boats have moved to the main stem, but there’s plenty of good bank fishing opportunities.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is getting low, with flows hovering around 385 cfs on Wednesday. The river was reportedly full of fresh steelhead over the weekend and earlier this week. Flows are predicted to get down to 300 cfs by the Saturday, but will bump back up to nearly 800 cfs after the rain on Saturday. If the rains come as predicted, it could be off color for a couple days.

Mad River
The Mad is in great shape and the fishing is still good reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “The fishing was excellent over the weekend, but the river has dropped a little, which has spread out the fish. Most of the fish are now holding in some of the deeper spots. It looks like we have a little bit of rain coming on Saturday that will increase the flows slightly. That should pull in some fresh fish, but it could put the river off color for a day or so,” added Kelly.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Spring-run Klamath salmon will open to fishing July 1

Julie Jewell, left, landed a nice spring Chinook last July on the Klamath River. Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife is reminding anglers that emergency regulations affecting spring Chinook salmon fishing in the Klamath River Basin were re-adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission effective December 2019. The emergency regulations listed in California Code of Regulations prohibit fishing for spring Chinook salmon in the Klamath River Basin from Jan. 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020. Chinook salmon fishing season will be open on the lower Klamath River between July 1 and Aug. 14, and on the upper Trinity River and New River between July 1 and Aug. 31. These emergency regulations supersede spring Chinook salmon fishing regulations found in the 2019-2020 California supplemental sport fishing regulations booklet.

Upon completion of the Certificate of Compliance, the CA Fish and Game Commission is proposing to permanently adopt these emergency regulations allowing limited sport fish take of upper Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook Salmon. The proposed regulation would allow continued limited sport fishing take of UKTSCS on the Klamath River downstream of the Highway 96 bridge at Weitchpec between July 1 and August 14, and the Trinity River from the Old Lewiston Bridge to the mouth of the South Fork Trinity River between July 1 and August 31, with a bag limit of one Chinook Salmon and a possession limit of two Chinook Salmon.

Two public hearings have been scheduled where anyinterested person may present statements, orally or in writing. Both hearings will take place at the Natural Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, California, 95814. The first hearing is Friday, February 21, 2020, at 8:30 a.m. The second hearing is scheduled for Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 8:30 a.m., or as soon thereafter as the matter may be heard. It is requested, but not required, that written comments be submitted on or before on April 2, 2020, to Fish and Game Commission, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090, or by email to FGC@fgc.ca.gov. Written comments mailed, or emailed to the Commission office, must be received before 12:00 noon on April 10, 2020. All comments must be received no later than April 16, 2020, at the hearing in Sacramento.

Also, fishing for steelhead in the Klamath and Trinity rivers remains open year-round consistent with the 2019-2020 regulations booklet. The fall Chinook salmon season begins on Aug. 15, 2020, on the Klamath River and Sept. 1, 2020, on the Trinity River. Regulations pertaining to fall Chinook salmon fishing will be adopted in May 2020 and will include the annual basin quota, size, bag and possession limits, which can be found at https://fgc.ca.gov/Regulations/2020-New-and-Proposed#5.87f.

Annual salmon meeting coming in February
CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting will be held February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting will cover the 2019 ocean and in-river salmon fishing seasons, Central Valley and Klamath Basin river returns, 2020 abundance forecasts, and serves as an opportunity for the public to provide input regarding the upcoming ocean salmon season. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov. Meeting info can be found here https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason

Weather ahead
According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, the rest of the work week is looking dry. “The next chance of rain will be Saturday, but it looks very light,” said Zontos. “The Smith basin could see up to a quarter, and here locally maybe a tenth to a quarter. It shouldn’t affect any of the river levels. We have a few chances of rain next week, mostly on Tuesday and Wednesday, then again on Friday and Saturday. Over the course of those four days, up to 1 inch could fall in the Smith basin. In the Mad River basin, we could see a half to three-quarters. The Eel will see even less,” said Zontos.

The Rivers:Chetco/Rogue/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been in prime shape since Saturday, and is in peak-season form according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “Fishing is good, with steelhead spread throughout the system. The crowds have also arrived, with lots of bank fishermen, private boaters and guides. There have been a lot of hatchery fish on the lower end. Slides up high are keeping the water green.”

The Elk and Sixes are fair for steelhead reports Martin. “Boaters anchoring and running MagLips are doing very well for wild and hatchery steelhead on the Lower Rogue. Shore anglers using Spin-N-Glos also are doing well on the Rogue.”

Fortuna resident Cliff Chapman landed a nice steelhead on Monday while drifting the Smith River. Fishing on the Smith has gotten tough this week as the lack of rain has led to low and clear water conditions. Photo courtesy of Coopman’s Guide Service

Smith River
Conditions on the Smith right now are low and clear according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “Fishing has been tough this week. We’re getting a few hookups per trip. A lot of the fish that were around last week have probably moved up river, and the ones around now are getting harassed by the seals. It’s making for some tough fishing. The water has also gotten colder, so the bites that we are getting are light. Hopefully some fish will come in with the king tides over the weekend,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem should be in great shape by the weekend. Flows are predicted to hit 3,500 cfs by Friday.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is in perfect shape as of earlier this week, and should be fishable through the weekend. Flows are predicted to be around 600 cfs by Monday morning. Boats fishing from Benbow all the way down are reporting two to four fish per trip.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 700 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen is in perfect shape and should fish through the weekend. Flows are predicted to drop to 400 cfs by Monday morning, but should remain fishable through the early part of next week.

Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the color is starting to look good on the Mad. “It was milky green on Wednesday, and the color should be about perfect for the weekend,” said Kelly. “It seems like there’s plenty of fish in the river, the guys flossing below the hatchery are hooking quite a few. I would expect the river to be crowded this weekend, and there will likely be quite a few boats too. Conditions should be good for bait and plugs.” Flows are predicted to get down to 1,000 cfs and 7.7 feet by Saturday morning.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Rivers on the drop, green water on the way

Guide Rye Phillips of Wild Rivers Fishing holds a steelhead caught and released Jan. 29 on the Smith River by Kerry Simmons of Livermore. The steelhead bit a watermelon Spin-N-Glo while plunking on the anchor. It is Simmons’ first steelhead. Photo courtesy of Andy Martin

After a wet few weeks that saw most of the steelhead fishing focused on the Smith River, it appears the rest of the coastal rivers will finally come into play. A slight chance of showers is in the forecast on Thursday and again on the weekend, but it doesn’t look like they’ll put a rise back into any of the rivers. It may slow the drop slightly, but that’s about it. If the forecast holds and the rain stays away, all of the coastal rivers could be green by sometime next week, including the main stem Eel.
The Smith has been chocked full of steelhead for the past couple weeks, and we’re seeing a good return of steelhead to the Mad as well. With any luck, the main and South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, and Redwood Creek will all be flush with steelhead. Looks like we’ll get to find out very soon.

Weather ahead
For at least the next seven days, we’ll be moving towards a drier and colder weather pattern. According to Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we still have a couple chances of rain over the next few days, but it won’t be much and likely won’t affect any of the river levels. “Up in the Smith basin, there’s a chance of rain on Thursday and again over the weekend. Rainfall totals for the period are from a half inch to 1 inch, with the heaviest rain falling in the mountains. Monday and Tuesday are looking mostly dry. Here locally, there’s a chance of showers for Thursday morning, but then looks dry until the weekend. There’s a chance of rain over the weekend, but it won’t add up to much. We may see a quarter inch or less. Monday and Tuesday look dry,” said Zontos.

Fishing Report Cards Due Friday
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds anglers that Jan. 31, 2020 is the due date for turning in steelhead, sturgeon and North Coast salmon report card data.
Anglers are required to return their report cards even if they lost their report card, they did not fish or they didn’t catch any fish. There are two ways to meet the mandatory angler reporting requirement. Online reporting through the CDFW website (https://wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521416-harvest-reporting) or by mail to the addresses listed below:

North Coast Salmon Report Cards CDFW – Klamath River Project, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521-9269

Steelhead Report Cards CDFW – Steelhead Report Card, P.O. Box 944209 Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.

More information about report cards is available at wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing.

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 Friday, 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:
Chetco/Elk/Sixes
The Chetco has been too high for drift boats for more than two weeks, but will finally drop back into shape by the end of the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers were doing well before it blew out, so expect fishing to be good river- wide as it drops,” said Martin. “Next week should be prime. The Chetco reached 20,000 cfs on Sunday, its highest level since the April 2019 flood.”

The Elk and Sixes also have been high according to Marin. “The Elk crested at 7.1 feet on Tuesday. It is generally too high to fish when it’s over 5.2 feet. It will be in good shape by Friday. The Sixes will be fishable by early next week. The next week will be prime on both rivers.”

Smith River
The Smith has been the bright spot on the coast, and has given up some nice steelhead – even with the high water. It hasn’t been under 11-feet since last Friday, but that hasn’t slowed the fishing. A few boats have drifted in the high water, but the majority of boats are plunking on the anchor. Boats are getting a few opportunities, and landing a couple each day. With very little rain on the way, the river should drop into perfect drifting shape by Friday. Look for excellent conditions through the weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
The Eel is dropping, but was still big as of Wednesday, flowing at 17,000 cfs. If the dropping trend continues, it could be fishable by sometime late next week. The main Eel starts to fish well once it gets in the 3,500 cfs range.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is dropping into shape, and could fish by the weekend or early next week at the latest. Flows are looking decent, but the color will depend on what’s coming out of the East Branch. Above Benbow will clear first and should be green by the weekend, but it will be pushy. Flows are predicted right around 2,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Saturday morning.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 2,200 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen is dropping quickly and could fish by mid to late next week. Flows are predicted to be right around 950 by Monday morning.

Mad River
The Mad is still high and brown, but there’s plenty of fish in the river according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Most of the fish are holding right below the hatchery, and guys are getting quite a few hookups a day. River conditions aren’t going to change much due to Ruth Lake being full and spilling over. It will take at least a week to 10 days of dry weather and cold nights before the river drops enough to turn green,” said Kelly.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Storms could derail hot steelhead bite on the Smith

Steelhead fishing on the Smith River has been off and running for a week, but the storms headed our way this weekend may put a damper on the hot action. The river has been chocked-full of steelhead since last week and anglers drifting from the forks to Ruby van Deventer Park have enjoyed some of the best fishing in recent memory. But now it looks like the boats may be off the water for a few days. As of Wednesday, the river looks to be fishable on Friday, but it will be big. Saturday forecast is calling for the river to rise all day, going from 12 to 15 feet by early Sunday morning. Monday doesn’t look much better, with the height sticking around 14.5 feet, which is too high to safely drift. Next week is calling for more rainfall, but the totals remain uncertain. With any luck, once the river drops, the good fishing will continue.

The weather ahead
“The North Coast can expect to see quite a bit of rain through Friday, followed by a larger system moving in on Friday night,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “From Wednesday through the day Friday, we’re looking at up to 1.5 inches falling in the Smith basin and Northern Humboldt. For the 24-hour period beginning Friday night to Saturday night, the Smith basin could see an additional 2 to 3 inches. In Humboldt and the Eel basin, we may see another 1 to 1.5 inches. Rain will continue into Sunday, but will diminish by the afternoon or evening,” said Zontos. “Next week is looking active as well. We’re following another storm system for Tuesday, but we’re not sure where it will hit yet or how much rainfall it will bring. We’ll remain in a rainy pattern throughout the rest of the week.”

Oregon Commission denies petition to prohibit wild winter steelhead retention in the SW Zone
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission denied a petition to prohibit the retention of wild winter steelhead in rivers throughout the SW Zone via temporary rule in a split vote (4-2) according to a press release issues last Friday.

The Commission heard from more than 50 people who signed up to testify for and against the petition. ODFW staff had recommended Commissioners deny this petition as staff do not have a conservation concern for wild winter steelhead on the south coast for 2020. The declines in wild steelhead in other parts of the state have not been observed in the SW Zone and current regulations are already conservative. Also, staff continue to work on a multi-species conservation plan for the Rogue and South Coast where concerns about wild steelhead are being addressed. Commissioners denied a similar petition in 2018. For more information, visit https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2020/01_jan/011720c.asp

The Rivers
Chetco/Rogue

High water has kept drift boaters off the Chetco for the past week, but steelhead are still being caught by plunkers fishing from the lower river gravel bars reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “The river is high from rain and snowmelt and likely will remain high for boaters through the weekend. Slides above Loeb Park and up the South Fork continue to keep the Chetco muddy. The Rogue continues to be a bright spot for Southern Oregon rivers, as big numbers of fish have returned and Lost Creek and Applegate dams have kept the river fishable. MagLip plugs are working best.”

Smith
The Smith has fished well since last Thursday and guides and private boats have enjoyed some of the best steelhead fishing in a few years. Fish are spread out from the forks down and are being caught on a variety of offerings including roe, yarnies, and soft beads. Storms coming this weekend could blow the river out temporarily. Flows are predicted to reach 15 feet on Sunday morning, which are the biggest of the year. This will likely push the fish in the river now into the creeks, and bring in some new fish from the ocean.

Eel River (main stem)
As of Wednesday afternoon, the main Eel peaked at roughly 14,000 cfs. More rain is on the way, which is predicted to push the flows to 25,000 cfs by early Monday morning. This will be the biggest rise of the season, and should bring in plenty of fresh steelhead. However, it will be blown out for quite a while, it typically needs 10 days to a couple weeks of dry weather before it turns green.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was down to 2,100 cfs late Wednesday afternoon, but was still dirty. The East Branch, which dumps into the South Fork near Benbow, appears to be the culprit as it was chocolate milk-looking on Tuesday. Flows are predicted to reach fishable levels on Thursday and Friday, but the color may still be off.

Van Duzen
Like the Eel, the Van Duzen is forecasted for its biggest rise of the year on Sunday, reaching nearly 7,000 cfs on the Grizzly Creek gauge. It was just above 1,750 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon and dropping. It’s highly unlikely it will drop to a fishable level before it starts to rise again on Friday. It will likely take a week of dry weather to drop into shape.

HSU student and Mad River Steelhead Steward member Jacob Stout landed a nice steelhead Monday on the Mad River. The Stewards programs consists of volunteer anglers who aid in the collection of wild-origin steelhead to meet the hatchery’s annual production goals. Photo courtesy of Cody Baughn

Mad
The Mad is currently high and off color, sitting at 9.5 feet as of Wednesday. But that hasn’t stopped anglers from catching fresh steelhead according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Guys fishing around the hatchery and along the willow line are catching their share of fish,” said Kelly. There hasn’t been much happening below the Blue Lake bridge. Most of the fish I’ve seen have been hatchery fish, not a lot of wild ones are being caught right now.” As a reminder, the maximum leader length is 6-feet in CA anadromous waters.

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com