Ocean salmon numbers on the upswing

Spring rains, and lots of it, can do wonders for our salmon and steelhead populations. Following a wet spring in 2017, the benefits are starting to roll in. At Wednesday’s annual Ocean salmon Information meeting in Santa Rosa, CDFW suggested 274,222 Klamath River fall Chinook adults are swimming in the ocean. Not a huge number, but still right around the previous five-year average. The CDFW also predicted 87,893 natural area spawners to return to the Klamath this fall. That’s a pretty good increase from last years actual returns of 53,624. This number doesn’t include the hatchery returns or the harvest forecasts. At first glance it looks like we’ll have a comparable run size to what we saw in 2018. And just like in 2018, hopefully we’ll see another good ocean season along with a similar fall sport quota in the Klamath basin.

Over on the Sacramento, the numbers are on the upswing. The 2019 preseason ocean abundance is forecasted to be 379,632, up from 229,400 at this time last year. On paper, it appears we’re headed towards a season where the salmon will be plentiful. One of the reasons for the bump in forecasted salmon numbers is the Central Valley river conditions during the very wet spring of 2017. Increased natural runoff from the Central Valley rivers will always boost salmon survival, as measured two years later when the fish return to spawn as adults. The one bit of not so good news on the Sac is the adult escapement. They fell short of reaching the minimum escapement target of 122,000. This is the fourth year in a row the escapement goal has not been met, and the National Marine Fisheries Service could again up the target to 151,000 like they did in 2018. This could result in a shortened season or some areas being closed. 

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 6 through 12 in Vancouver, WA. The Council will determine if any in-season action for fisheries scheduled to open in April is needed. They will also adopt three regulatory alternatives for ocean salmon fisheries in effect on or after May 1. Final alternatives for public review will be decided on March 12. For information on the meeting, visit, https://www.pcouncil.org. To view the salmon preseason process, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/Preseason

The weather ahead
“After drying out on Wednesday evening, we’ve got a couple weak systems coming in the next few days,” said Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service “Light rain is in the forecast beginning Thursday night and into Friday morning. This won’t likely be enough to raise any of the rivers. Another weak system is predicted for Saturday, but again, not enough to affect any of the rivers. The next bigger storm should arrive on Tuesday and stick around until Wednesday. This system should fall more towards Mendocino and could be enough to stop the rivers from receding,” said Aylward.

Perch’n on the Peninsula coming April 6
The Samoa Peninsula Fire District will be hosting their 10th Annual Perch’n on the Peninsula Surfperch Fishing Tournament and Fish Fry Fundraiser on Saturday, April 6, 2019. The fish fry fundraiser is open to the public and admission is only $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for juniors. Children 6 and under get in free. Adult fishing tournament entry is $20.00 and junior entry (under 16) is $10.00. Tournament day registration is available at the Peninsula Elementary School in Samoa beginning at 6 a.m. or your entries can be purchased at Mad River Tackle in Arcata, Pacific Outfitters, Englund Marine, Shafer’s Ace Hardware in Eureka, or LIVE2DIVE in Fairhaven. For more information, call (707) 443-9042 or visit www.samoafire.org.

HASA fundraiser coming in April
HASA will be holding their annual fundraiser and social event at the Arcata Community Center on April 27, 2019. In 2019, they’re focusing on creating a social event, with less emphasis on some of the fundraising activities. There will still be lots of great door prizes and silent auction items, but the simpler format will allow more time for socializing and telling fish stories. The food will once again be provided by Ramones Bakery and Catering. Tickets will be distributed to local vendors soon. For more info, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/2753296234711122/.

Fresno resident Gavin O’Leary holds a nice steelhead caught on a recent float down the Chetco River. Despite all the rain, the Chetco should be back in fishable shape by the weekend. Photo courtesy Alan Borges/Alan’s Guide Service

The Rivers:
“The Chetco blew out big time Sunday, reaching 38,000 cfs,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The river is predicted to be fishable again by Thursday at the earliest or by Friday. During the derby, 70 steelhead were caught on the Chetco during a two-day period. Many were fresh fish. We should still have a couple weeks of decent fishing.”

According to Martin, the lower Rogue was fishing very well last week but now will be high through the week, although plunkers will be back on the water by the weekend. “The Rogue continues to have the strongest steelhead run so far this winter on the Oregon Coast. Flows hit 70,000 cfs at Agness and close to 100,000 cfs at Gold Beach. Expect the first spring salmon of the season soon with the high water,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith was a little stingy on Friday and Saturday where anglers fishing in the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery Derby caught a total of 20 steelhead over the course of the two days. The river blew out on Sunday, and hasn’t been fishable since. Wednesday’s rain put the river back up to nearly 19-feet on the Jed Smith gauge. It’s predicted to drop Thursday and Friday and should be high, but fishable, for the weekend.

Eel River (main stem and South Fork)
The main stem Eel peaked at flood stage (50 ft.) on Wednesday afternoon and is headed back down. It’s forecasted to be under 20 feet by early next week, but we’re a couple dry weeks away from fishable water. The South Fork surpassed monitor stage on Wednesday morning and is on the drop. It’s predicted to be back down near 4,500 cfs by early next week. With a full week of dry weather, it’s not out of the question that the upper reaches could be fishable by next weekend.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen peaked at nearly 26,000 cfs early Tuesday morning and is now on the drop. Forecasted to be back under 1,700 cfs by Monday. If next week remains dry, the upper reaches could be fishable by next weekend.

Mad River
The Mad leveled off at 24-feet, which is a couple feet above flood stage. It’s predicted to drop through the weekend, but slower than the other rivers due to water spilling out of Ruth Lake. I could be a couple weeks before it’s close to green again.

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 fall king returns on the rise

Sue McCormack of Victor, Montana landed this jack salmon last fall while fishing the Klamath River. The number of returning jacks (two year-old kings) to the Klamath basin were below average last year, which could indicate a smaller run size this fall. Photo courtesy Kenny Priest /Fishing the North Coast

Last fall produced some of the best king salmon fishing on both the Klamath and Trinity Rivers in recent memory, and the preliminary number of returning kings seem to reflect just that. While we’re still not back up to average runs sizes, we’re headed in the right direction. The CDFW predicted a river run size of 91,873 in 2018, and they were nearly spot on. According to the “Review of 2018 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document, recently released by the PFMC, preliminary postseason river returns showed 92,293 adults returned. Considering where we were in 2016 when just 27,353 adults returned, prompting a full fall-run closure in 2017, I’d say the numbers are going the right way. On an average year, we’ll see right around 122,000 adult kings return to the basin. So, we’ve got a little ways to go before the stocks are rebuilt completely.

“The 2018 Klamath fall chinook returns were slightly below average and the number of jacks returning also fell below long-term average,” said Wade Sinnen, Senior Environmental Scientist on the Klamath/Trinity Rivers. In 2018, only 11,114 jacks, or two-year-old salmon, returned. During the previous ten years, the average number of returning jacks was roughly 22,600. The real bright spot according to Sinnen was the number of returning three-year-old fish. “These fish are part of the 2015 brood year, which made a good showing last year as two-year-old. This brood will translate to a decent preseason abundance forecast of age four fish this year.”

The bottom line of low jack counts is next year’s adult return may not be as robust, and therefore a smaller recreational quota for the whole basin. “In terms of fishing opportunity this coming year, it’s too early to say for sure,” said Sinnen. “We will know more after the Ocean Salmon Information meeting in Santa Rosa. However, I do not expect a large in-river quota based on past runs of the magnitude we experienced this past year.”

While the jack count was low, most of the information coming out of the report was positive for the basin. The number of natural area spawners was 53,624 adults, which exceeded the preseason expectation of 40,700. However, the stock is still in “overfished” status as escapement was not met the previous three seasons. The estimated hatchery return was 18,564 adults for the basin.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 21,109 adults. 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 2018 to the Shasta River was 18,673 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 1,228 and 1,208 adults, respectively.

According to the report, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes shared a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (18,122) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook. Tribal adult harvest was 14,769 (Yurok: 12,444 adults; Hoopa Valley: 2,325 adults), which was 81 percent of the tribal allocation.

Next up is the annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting, which will be held February 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency office located at 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. Ocean abundance will be discussed, which will then trickle down to river quotas. For more information on the meeting, contact Chenchen Shen at 707-576-2885 or Chenchen.Shen@wildlife.ca.gov

The weather ahead
“The next couple days will be dry, but the rain will return over the weekend,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “Del Norte will be the first area hit with the rain beginning on Saturday morning before it moves south on Sunday. Right now, it’s looking like widespread and heavy rain will fall on Monday and potentially on Tuesday. Through Tuesday evening, the Smith basin can expect four to five inches of rain. There’s a little uncertainty about the rainfall totals hitting Humboldt. Both the Mad and Eel basins could see up to five inches, but it will probably be a little less. Several inches are definitely possible. Next Wednesday and Thursday are looking dry, but another storm is forecasted for the weekend,” said Zontos.

HSU Fishery Seminar
John ‘Carlos’ Garza, of NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and UC Santa Cruz will be giving a presentation titled “The origins of ecotypic differentiation in Pacific salmonids” on Wednesday February 27 at 4:00 p.m. in WDFS 258 on the HSU Campus. This is a timely topic given the potential listing of the Upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon as endangered.

Humboldt Steelhead Days Awards Party and Pints for Nonprofits Event Humboldt Steelhead Days # 6 concludes with an awards ceremony for the fishing and photo contest winners on Saturday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mad River Brewing Co in Blue Lake. Registered anglers who submitted photos of the three biggest hatchery steelhead from the Mad river will receive their prizes donated by HSD sponsors and partners. The leaderboard for the Mad River has Tyrone Bachus in the lead with a 32.5-inch fish, Julie Jewell in second place with a 32i inch fish, and Wyatt McBroom in third with a 31-inch fish. A 37-inch hatchery steelhead caught by Gary Fogle won the Mad River contest last year. No entries qualified for the Trinity river portion of the contest this year. In addition, ten entries were submitted for the best fishing photo contest that can be viewed on the HSD Facebook page. Winners will be announced at 6 p.m.

During this pints for nonprofits event, HSD will also host a silent auction fundraiser that includes wines from Fieldbrook Winery, framed art from Michael Zontos and John Freidenback, a guided river fishing trip from Rivers Edge Adventures, gift cards from Pierson Building Center and NHS, oil changes from Lithia of Eureka, a photo book of the Eel River with “A River Last Chance” documentary DVD and posters donated by Jason Hartwick and much more. The silent auction will conclude at 7p.m. 

HSD #6 hosted several events during the steelhead winter run enabling them to raise more than $8,000 that will go toward Mad River Alliance’s (the founder of the HSD contest) science and monitoring, education and conservation programs in the watershed. The clean ups to remove river pollution and garbage dumping will be able to occur every other month thanks to the efforts of HSD. 

The Rivers:
The Chetco has its biggest numbers of steelhead so far this season spread throughout the river reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “The past few days most guides are getting two to six steelhead a day, with a mix of fresh wild and hatchery fish and spawned out fish heading back toward the ocean. The river dropped to fishable levels on Monday and was in prime shape Tuesday after being blown out for a week. Expect a crowd this weekend because of the derby,” added Martin.

“After a week of high water, the lower Rogue was fishable again Monday,” said Martin. “Plunkers are catching good numbers of steelhead on Spin-N-Glows, while jet boaters also are starting to catch fish again. Conditions should be prime all week.”

Smith River
Last weekend saw some of the best steelhead fishing to date on the Smith River. Guides and sport anglers were back on the water Sunday and the scores were good. Most boats landed fish during the high water, and Monday and Tuesday were even better. Conditions should be excellent the rest of the week, but flows are predicted to rise quickly beginning Sunday morning. If the rains come as predicted, the river could be blown out on Monday.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was running at 18,000 cfs on Wednesday and nowhere near fishable. The rain coming on Saturday is forecasted to bump the flows back up to 35,000 cfs. Will need a couple solid weeks of dry weather before it will fish.

Eel River (South Fork)
Hovering around 4,500 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday, the South Fork was still quite a few days away from being fishable. The storms coming this weekend will put us back a square one. It’s predicted to hit 10,000 cfs by early Monday.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was right around 1,200 cfs as of Wednesday. According to Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods, there’s a chance it’s fishable above Yager Creek. “It was still a little dirty on the lower end, but it would be worth looking at above Yager,” Grundman added. Flows are predicted to drop to 850 cfs on Friday and Saturday, which should be good. It’s predicted to blow back out on Sunday.

Mad River
The river is still high and muddy, but a few fish were caught just below the hatchery this week reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “The color is still way off, but guys are catching a few right at the hatchery. With more rain coming this weekend, it doesn’t look like it will be green anytime soon,” 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

Potential closure for Klamath/Trinity springers

At last week’s meeting in Sacramento, the California Fish and Game Commission accepted a petition to list Upper Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook Salmon as endangered, starting the process of a status review to be completed by the CDFW. The one-year review will determine if a CESA listing by the Commission may be warranted. After reviewing the best scientific data available, CDFW will either make a recommendation to the Commission to list the springers as either endangered or threatened. Determining the listing is not warranted is also an option.

Information was submitted by the Karuk Tribe and Salmon River Restoration Council suggesting declining population trends and a low abundance, making the spring-run salmon vulnerable to extinction. The Commission’s action results in spring Chinook salmon being designated as a Candidate Species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), which provides the same protections as species listed as endangered and threatened under CESA.

The following emergency fishing regulations were adopted by the commission at the urging of the CDFW to reconcile them with the CESA protections.

  • Klamath River main stem from the mouth of the river to Iron Gate dam. Closed to salmon fishing from the anticipated effective date of February 22 (subject to approval from the Office of Administrative Law (OAL)) to August 14.
  • Trinity River main stem from its confluence to the Highway 299 Bridge at Cedar Flat. Closed to salmon fishing from the anticipated effective date of February 22 (subject to OAL approval) to August 31.
  • Trinity River main stem from upstream of the Highway 299 Bridge at Cedar Flat to Old Lewiston Bridge. Closed to salmon fishing from the anticipated effective date of February 22 (subject to OAL approval) to October 15.

Fishing for Upper Klamath-Trinity River fall Chinook salmon will be allowed in these areas after the closure dates listed above. Quotas, bag and possession limits for fall Chinook salmon will be adopted by the Commission in May of this year. Steelhead fishing will be allowed year-round with normal bag and possession limits.

CDFW will also be working with federal regulatory bodies regarding ocean fishing regulations. Providing a little glimmer of hope for anglers, the Commission asked the CDFW to work with affected counties, fishing organizations, Tribes and conservation groups, to investigate options to allow some recreational spring Chinook salmon fishing in 2019. Under Section of 2084 of Fish and Game Code, the Commission can consider hook-and-line recreational fishing on a Candidate Species. CDFW will present the results of that stakeholder collaboration and potential options at the Commission’s next public meeting, which will be held April 17 in Santa Monica. For more information, visit https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2019/02/07/commission-accepts-listing-petition-requires-closure-of-some-recreational-fishing-in-klamath-basin/

The weather ahead
“Widespread rain is in the forecast for the next few days,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “It looks like we’ll see rain into the weekend, with little breaks between systems before we start to dry out on Monday. From Wednesday through Saturday evening, the Smith basin can expect two to four inches of rain. The Mad basin can expect two to four inches, with potentially five inches falling in the hills.  The Eel basin could see two to three inches in the lower river, while higher in the watershed in Southern Humboldt could see up to six inches. A weak front is forecasted for Wednesday, followed by the next round of storms expected to hit by the weekend,” said Zontos.

Shelter Cove forms fishing organization
With the Humboldt Bay Harbor District potentially relinquishing the boat launching services in Shelter Cove in 2019, a group of locals have decided to form a local fishing organization. The Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation Inc. was formed to be a collective voice for the fishing community and help deal with the many issues Shelter Cove faces, the most immediate issue being a lack of a boat launching operation in 2019. “Shelter Cove’s ability to grow or survive as a fishing community and point of destination depends almost entirely on the boat launch service,” said Jake Mitchell, president of the SCFPI. “It quickly became evident that the group would need to be able to run the boat launch service moving forward. In addition to providing permanent public access to the ocean, the group will also be working on establishing feature infrastructure to support the recreational and commercial fishing fleets,” added Mitchell.

The group is a publicly supported non-profit corporation dedicated to preserving the fishing heritage of Shelter Cove. It’s the goal and mission to help build a viable, sustainable fishing venue for Shelter Cove. The group is incorporated as a California Public Benefit nonprofit corporation and have submitted an IRS Exemption letter. Donations are currently being accepted at Umpqua Bank in SCFPI’s account or mailed  to Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation Inc., PO Box 87 Whitethorn, CA 95589. For more information, you can visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/scfpinc or email them at scfpinc@gmail.com.

Free fishing days Feb. 16-17 in Oregon
It’s free to fish, crab or clam on the Saturday and Sunday of President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 16-17. 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://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2019/02_Feb/020819.asp

David Manning of Santa Rosa holds a steelhead he caught Feb. 8 while fishing the Chetco River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. The fish was donated to the broodstock hatchery program.
 Photo courtesy Andy Martin/Wild Rivers Fishing

The Rivers:
“After a solid week of fishing, despite cold water temperatures, the Chetco blew out on Tuesday and will likely remain high through the weekend,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Heavy rain combined with melting snow will leave the river too high to fish at least through Friday and probably through Sunday. Last week, lots of fish were spread throughout the river. Most guides were getting two to four a day. Fishing should be good for next week’s Rowdy Creek Derby.”

According to Martin, the Rogue blew out Wednesday after fishing well for the past week. “The Rogue is seeing a good return of hatchery steelhead so far this winter. It is expected to be high through the weekend, especially with lots of runoff from the Illinois River,” added Martin.

Smith River
Fishing on the Smith has been off and on over the past week reports Crescent City guide Mike Coopman. “There’s definitely some fish around, we went two for five on Tuesday with very few boats on the water. With some pretty big storms coming the next couple days, we’ll likely be off the water until at least Saturday. There’s a lot of snow on the ground, so that could change the river predictions. I’m expecting the conditions to be really good by late weekend and into early next week.” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem Eel is a long way from being fishable, and it’s about to get longer. With heavy rain predicted in the headwaters, the man Eel is forecasted to hit 183,000 cfs at Scotia by Thursday evening. It’s also predicted to rise to 22-feet late Thursday or early Friday morning at Fernbridge. Monitor stage at this location is 14-feet and flood stage is 22-feet. It will take a couple weeks of dry weather before it’s even close to fishable.

Eel River (South Fork)The South Fork was running at nearly 9,000 cfs as of Wednesday and is predicted to go much higher. With heavy rain predicted through Saturday, flows are expected to reach 34,000 cfs by Thursday afternoon. It will take roughly a week of dry weather to drop back into fishable shape.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen had been running at only 1,000 cfs last weekend and into this week due to most of the precipitation falling as snow in the upper watershed. That changed on Tuesday evening, and it’s on a pretty steep rise as of Wednesday. It’s predicted to peak at just over 17,000 cfs on Thursday afternoon. It’s predicted to drop quickly, and with dry weather could fish late next week.

Mad River
A few fish were caught by the liners earlier in the week, but the river has since risen and turned muddy reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “Fishing was really good late last week and the weekend before it really blew out. With a few more storms lined up, it will be a couple weeks before it’s green again,” added Kelly. As of Wednesday, the Mad was running at 4,600 cfs and was predicted to peak at nearly 11,000 cfs late Thursday night.

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

Increased allocations for Pacific halibut in 2019

Some good news coming out of the fishing world – finally. During the ninety-fifth annual meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), it was announced that our Pacific halibut allocation for California will be set for the next four years at 39,000 pounds. This is approximately 8,000 net pounds greater than our 2018 quota. According to Tom Marking, who sits on the PFMC Groundfish Advisory Panel, the commission was finally able to work out a compromise between Canada and Alaska on a blended allocation. “The Makah and WA Treaty tribes played a large role in achieving this as well, both politically and economically. “They spent all last year working with federal managers and politicians to make this happen. We all supported their efforts,” said Marking.

Photo courtesy of CDFW

Also on the halibut front, the CDFW is seeking input on the 2019 recreational Pacific halibut season dates. California anglers interested in the recreational Pacific halibut fishery are invited to participate in an online survey. The data gathered through this survey will help inform the CDFW about angler preferences for open fishing dates during the upcoming 2019 season, and will be used to develop recommended season dates that will be provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/L3YG86Q, through Friday, Feb. 15. The Pacific halibut fishery takes place off northern California. In 2018, the fishery was open May 1-June 15, July 1-15, Aug. 1-15, and Sept. 1-21. The fishery closed Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m. due to projected attainment of the 30,940 net pound quota. For more info, visit https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/cdfw-seeks-input-on-2019-recreational-pacific-halibut-season-dates/

Weather ahead
“It looks like we’ll be in an active weather pattern through early next week,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A series of storms will be moving across the area through next Tuesday. Snow is in the forecast as well over the weekend. On Saturday, the snow level will be around 3,000 feet in Mendocino/Southern Humboldt and could drop under 2,000 feet by Sunday. For the period of Thursday through Tuesday, the Smith basin can expect from two to three inches of rain. The Mad basin can expect one and a half to two and a half while the Eel basin could see one to two inches falling. The Van Duzen watershed will likely see more snow than precipitation over the weekend. Showers are diminishing on Tuesday but another front is forecasted for Wednesday night into Thursday. The timing and amounts of this system are a little uncertain at this point,” said Zontos.

The Rivers:
“The Chetco fished well over the weekend, with good catches on the lower end as well as in the Forest Service section,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The cold weather to begin this week seems to slow the bite, especially on Tuesday when only a handful of fish were caught. There are fish around, but they are sluggish because of the freezing weather. The river also is beginning to get low and clear.”

The Rogue River fished well early last week and then after a slow period, took off again on Monday according to Martin. “Just a few guides are sitting on anchor and running plugs, but they are catching limits or near limits. Bank anglers plunking Spin-N-Glos also are doing well. The Elk and Sixes are on the low side, but there are steelhead around. Some guides are doing better with plugs than bait. The rivers likely will be pretty low for drift boats by the weekend,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith is low and clear and in need of rain. The bite has been tough, with quite a few zero’s this week due to the conditions. Flows were 8-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday and dropping. It’s predicted to get down to 7-feet by Saturday afternoon. Friday’s rain is predicted to push the river to almost 9 feet by early Sunday morning.

Eel River (main stem)The main stem is still big and dirty, and it doesn’t look to be fishable any time soon. Flows were right around 12,000 cfs on Wednesday and expected to rise following the weekend storms.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was running at 2,000 cfs as of Wednesday and should be fishable on Thursday and Friday. The river is predicted to rise late Friday afternoon and will likely be blown out for the weekend and into early next week. Depending on how much and where the storms hit next week, it could drop back in to fishable shape by late next week or the weekend.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was under 1,000 cfs as of Wednesday, and isn’t predicted to rise as much as the other coastal streams. According to the National Weather Service, the majority of precipitation in the Duzen watershed will fall as snow over the weekend. Flows are predicted to be down to 575 cfs by Friday afternoon.

Trinidad resident Julie Jewell landed this nice hatchery steelhead while fishing the Mad River last Saturday. The steelhead, which measured 32-inches, is currently in first place in the Humboldt Steelhead Days fishing contest. For contest info, visit http://www.humboldtsteelheaddays.com/
Photo courtesy of Fred Contaoi

Mad River
According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the Mad was still off-color as of Wednesday. He said, “The liners have been getting a few around the hatchery the last few days. Prior to the last blowout, the fishing was really good. There were good numbers of fish from the hatchery all the way to the pump stations. The river is dropping and could be somewhat green by Friday. With rain returning over the weekend, it looks like it will be high and muddy by Sunday,” Kelly said.

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 likely to blow out Humboldt rivers

Mother Nature can be so cruel at times. For the first time in nearly a month, the Mad, Van Duzen, and the South Fork of the Eel are all on the verge of turning emerald green. It’s the color that will make any winter steelhead angler giddy. But no sooner will they be in prime shape, rain will once again rear its ugly head. Storms, which are predicted to hit the area Friday afternoon, are forecasted to bring two to three inches of rain in the Mad and Eel river basins, wiping out our brief moment of bliss. If you’re looking to fish pristine waters, you best do so prior to the weekend. While the untimely rainfall will put an end to our green water, the Smith and Chetco will benefit greatly. Both are running low and clear, especially the Smith. If you’re looking for steelhead water this Super Bowl weekend, you’ll need to head north.

Weather ahead
“More rain is on the way, with the heaviest precipitation beginning on Friday afternoon,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “A series of storms will be pushing through with rain sticking around through Monday. For the period of Friday through Sunday, the Smith basin can expect from one and a half to two and a half inches of rain. The Mad basin can expect similar totals. The Eel basin could see a little more, with up to three inches falling. Showers are diminishing on Monday, and Tuesday and Wednesday are looking mostly dry. Another front is forecasted for Thursday and Friday, but the timing and amounts are a little uncertain at this point,” said Zontos.

Upcoming meetings
California Fish and Game Commission meeting will be held Feb. 6 at the Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth St., Sacramento at 8:30 a.m. Topics include potential listing of Northern California summer steelhead as well as the upper Klamath-Trinity river spring Chinook salmon. Issues regarding the Klamath River Basin sport fishing will also be discussed. The late comment deadline for this meeting is noon on February 1, 2019. Comments received by this deadline will be marked “late” and made available to Commissioners at the meeting. For more information, visit https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=164452&inline. The meeting will be live streamed; visit www.fgc.ca.gov the day of the 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 provide the latest information on California salmon stocks and the outlook for ocean salmon fisheries for the upcoming 2019 season. The public is encouraged to provide comments on potential fishing alternatives for California ocean salmon fisheries in 2019. A panel comprised of fishery managers, scientists and industry representatives will be assembled to address questions and collect public input that will be used in developing a range of season alternatives for California salmon fisheries at the March 5-12 Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Vancouver, WA. For more information, please contact Chenchen Shen at 707-576-2885 or 

The Rivers:
Steelhead fishing has gone from slow to good to slow again on the Chetco the past week reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A slide at Redwood Bar made the lower river muddy, but as it cleared fishing took off Sunday and Monday with at least one to two steelhead per angler,” said Martin. “Then on Tuesday fishing suddenly slowed. On the good days, there have been a lot of hatchery fish. The lower river has fished better than the upper river.”
The lower Rogue is fishing very well, with guides anchoring and running MagLip plugs catching limits of steelhead according to Martin. “Big numbers of fish are moving up the river each day, and with perfect conditions, are willingly biting,” added Martin.

Alan Plumbridge of Sacramento landed a nice steelhead while drifting the Smith River on Wednesday. Rain is in the forecast for the weekend, which should improve fishing conditions on both the Smith and Chetco rivers. Photo courtesy of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service

Smith River
The Smith is low and clear, and the fishing has gotten a little tougher reports guide Mike Coopman. “There’s definitely some nice fish around, we’re catching some in the teens. On average, we’re getting between three and five bites a day, and what you do with those is how your day will go. We do have some rain coming this weekend, so I’d expect the conditions and fishing to improve. We’ll also see a lot more pressure from boats fishing down south,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The Eel still has a lot of water, but the edges are starting to turn green. Unfortunately, the storm coming this weekend will put us back to square one. Flows are predicted at nearly 31,000 cfs by Sunday. The main Eel starts to fish well once it gets in the 3,500 cfs range.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork dropped into fishable shape earlier this week, and there were quite a few boats working the area below Benbow. On Monday and Tuesday, boats were averaging two to three fish per day. Conditions should be excellent on Thursday and Friday before it blows out again on Saturday.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 640 cfs as of Wednesday afternoon, the Van Duzen has good color and is plenty fishable. Reports are hard to come by, but judging the angler effort, I’d say there’s a few fish being caught. Like the rest of the southern rivers, it’s forecasted to blow out late Friday.

Mad River
The river is in great shape, and quite a few fish are being caught reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors. “The river has about two and a half feet of visibility as of Wednesday, and there’s fish spread throughout the river. The heaviest concentration of anglers is near the hatchery, where they’re mostly catching hatchery fish. Between the hatchery and the pumping station, there’s been more wild fish caught. Roe, soft beads and Spin-N-Glo’s have been the top producers. With more rain coming Friday, the Mad is predicted to blow out late Friday night.” 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

Green rivers headed our way

Chico resident Jason Ferguson holds a nice hatchery steelhead landed on the Smith River on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of John Klar’s Salmon & Steelhead Sportfishing

Our coastal rivers finally received the flushing and scouring they desperately needed. Last week’s storms brought the rivers to their highest levels of the season, providing ample water for steelhead to make it back to the streams and creeks where they originated. The extra flows will also trigger the fish that are still swimming in the salt to begin their migration upriver. With dry weather forecasted for at least the next week to 10 days, all of the rivers are now dropping towards fishable levels. One by one, our rivers will begin to turn steelhead green. It started with the Smith on Tuesday, and the Chetco is looking good for Thursday. Next week sometime the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, and Mad should fish. And in 10 days or so, we’ll see the main Eel go from brown to green. If the stars align and the forecasters are correct, we could have a convergence of green water on the distant horizon.

The weather ahead
Expect another seven or eight days of dry weather along the coast. The next chance for rain is forecasted for Friday, Feb. 1. This extended dry period should be enough for all of the coastal rivers to drop back into fishable shape.

Upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon listing
At the Feb. 6 California Fish and Game Commission meeting, the commission will be taking public comments to determine whether listing Upper Klamath-Trinity river spring Chinook salmon as an endangered or threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) may be warranted. This potential listing could have far reaching financial impacts within our community. Repercussions could range from no fishing on the Klamath from Jan. 1 through Aug. 14 to catch and release during this time period, essentially shutting down our winter and summer steelhead fishing as well as the estuary fishery. The fishing community is encouraging anglers to attend the meeting in Sacrament on Feb. 6.  If you can’t attend in person, you can send public comments on this agenda item via email to fgc@fgc.ca.gov. You can also mail your comments to California Fish and Game Commission, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090. The Written Comment Deadline for this meeting is 5:00 p.m. on January 24, 2019. Written comments received at the Commission office by this deadline will be made available to Commissioners prior to the meeting. The Late Comment Deadline for this meeting is noon on February 1, 2019. Comments received by this deadline will be marked “late” and made available to Commissioners at the meeting. For more information, visit https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=164452&inline. The meeting will be live streamed; visit www.fgc.ca.gov the day of the meeting

HSD trout pond coming to Blue Lake
CDFW and RMI Outdoors, in conjunction with the annual Humboldt Steelhead Days Fishing Contest, will be donating a trout pond and live hatchery-raised fish where anglers of all ages can learn how to catch a trout on Sunday Jan. 27. The fishing event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Blue Lake at Prasch Hall Community Center at Perigot Park. There will roughly be 200 fish to catch, so first come first serve. There will be six stations at the trout pond, and each kid that catches a trout can take it home. This will be an indoor/outdoor event, rain or shine. Visit http://www.humboldtsteelheaddays.com/event/kids-fishing-event/ for more information.

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
“The Chetco was still too high for side-drifters on Tuesday, but should be in prime shape from Thursday on” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It has been slow to come into shape after nearly 10 inches of rain Friday through Monday. The 30,000 cfs is the highest in more than two years. Plunkers caught a few on Tuesday at Social Security Bar and at Loeb. There seems to be good numbers of fish after the big rise in flows.”

The Elk, according to Martin, was down to 5 feet on Tuesday and was crowded, with nearly 20 boats, as it was the only river on the Oregon Coast that was fishable early this week. “Guides averaged two to three fish a boat, a good sign for the rest of the week along the coast. The Sixes will fish by Thursday, maybe earlier. Rogue River reached close to 100,000 cfs at Gold Beach and likely will be blown out for the rest of the week,” added Martin.

Smith River
The Smith fished really well on Wednesday according to guide Mike Coopman. He said, “There were fish from the top to the bottom, and it seemed like everyone was catching a few. The boat pressure was high, but it didn’t seem to deter the fish from biting. The river was still a little high, running right around 11-feet when we started. With no rain in the forecast, the river will begin to drop and clear and the fishing will start to get a little tougher, but it should be good for at least the next few days.” Flows are predicted to be right around 9-feet on the Jed Smith gauge this weekend.

Eel River (main stem)
As of Wednesday afternoon, the main Eel was running at 24,500 cfs. It will need 10 days to a couple weeks of dry weather before it turns green.

Eel River (South Fork)The South Fork was down to 5,500 cfs on Wednesday and should be fishable at the top by early next week. Flows are predicted to be down around 2,300 cfs on the Miranda gauge by Monday morning.

Van Duzen
Flowing at just over 2,150 cfs on Wednesday afternoon and on the drop. It’s predicted to be down to 1,200 cfs by Monday, but will need about a week to come around.

The Mad is currently high and off color, sitting at 10.5 feet as of Wednesday. The river is dropping slower than usual due to Ruth Lake spilling over, and is predicted to remain just above 9-feet through the weekend. It should be bait-fishable sometime mid to late next week.

Upper Trinity
The upper Trinity is in great shape after all of the rain has moved on reports Tim Brady of Trinity Outdoors in Weaverville.  He said, “I haven’t heard too many reports, but I did hear that there are more fish around now. The catch-rate for the boats went up quite a bit from what I understand. I don’t think the winter fish are here yet, but that last rain should have put them on the move. It’s been really quiet up here as far as fishing pressure. There’s a few boats on the water, but there aren’t many bank anglers.”

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 rise – steelhead fishing on hold

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Devin Peterson, right, holds a nice hatchery steelhead landed earlier this week while fishing the Smith River with guide Sam Stover, pictured left. Photo courtesy of Carl Peterson

The fierce round of storms pounding the North Coast has brought a sudden stop to the winter steelhead season. From the Chetco south to the top of the Eel River system, you’ll be hard pressed to find any water that resembles anything close to green. And the dirty water conditions may be with us for a quite a few days as rain is in the forecast all the way through the weekend. There’s a real good possibility that neither the Smith nor the Chetco will drop back down to fishable levels until the middle of next week. For the other coastal rivers that aren’t so quick to clear – it could be a week or more before they resemble anything close to green.

Weather outlook

The biggest storm of the winter season is upon us, and is forecasted to dump up to seven inches of rain in some of the higher elevations beginning Wednesday and lasting through Sunday. The heaviest precipitation is predicted to fall on Wednesday and Thursday, with two and a half inches forecasted to fall in the Eureka area. More is expected in the mountain areas. The Eel River at Fernbridge is expected to surpass monitor stage by Thursday afternoon. In the coastal areas of Crescent City, two and a half inches is expected through Thursday, with another inch and a half on Friday. Rain is also predicted throughout the weekend, with nearly 3 inches predicted through Sunday. The Smith is forecasted to stay well within its banks, but will reach nearly 32,000 cfs on Sunday afternoon. The North Coast will begin to dry out on Monday, and the rest of the week is looking dry.

Humboldt Steelhead Days Kick Off this Saturday

HSD’s annual hatchery steelhead fishing contest, that runs from Jan. 19 to Feb. 23, will begin with a pint for nonprofits event at Mad River Brewing Co., on Saturday, Jan., 19 starting at 5 p.m. Event organizers will be on hand to talk about other events that will be held during the contest window. At the Kick Off event, anglers can sign up for the contest and CDFW warden John Fraley will be in attendance to review the fishing regulations. There will also be a fundraising silent auction and raffles to fund future restoration projects on the Mad River watershed. For more info., visit humboldtsteelheaddays.com or their Facebook and Instagram pages. 

King tides this weekend

Some of the biggest high and low tides of the year are forecasted over the coming holiday weekend. On Sunday in Eureka, a high tide of 9.1 feet at 10:47 a.m. will be followed by a low tide of minus-1.6 feet at 5:38 p.m. Monday’s high tide of 9.1 feet at 11:38 a.m. will be followed by a low tide of minus-1.9 feet at 6:23 p.m.

Crab domoic acid levels on the decline

Domoic acid levels are finally beginning to decline north of Patrick’s Point and in Crescent City, providing hope that both sport and commercial crab seasons will open soon. The California Dept. of Public Health released lab results on January 11 from samples taken from Jan 5th and 6th.

In Crescent City, six samples were taken with an average domoic acid level of 16.5 ppm, with no crabs tested above the federal action level of 30ppm. In the north area of Trinidad, six crabs were tested with an average domoic acid level of 6.7ppm. No crab tested above the 30ppm action level. These are the first clean tests for both areas. Another round of clean tests and they could both open to recreational and commercial crabbing. The next round of testing was scheduled Jan. 12. For the latest test results, visit https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CEH/DFDCS/Pages/FDBPrograms/FoodSafetyProgram/DomoicAcid.aspx

The Rivers:

Chetco River/Lower Rogue

“Steelhead fishing was good last week between storms, but slowed over the weekend and early this week,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “There seems to be decent numbers of hatchery fish, but the overall number of fish appears to be a little low. There also are a ton of smolts throughout the river, which can make drifting bait less productive. Hopefully this week’s storms bring in bigger numbers of fish.” The Chetco is predicted to reach nearly 28,000 cfs late Sunday night, and won’t fish until mid-next week at the earliest.

The lower Rogue River has been fishing well, especially for jet boaters anchoring and running MagLip plugs reports Martin. “Between the head of tide and Lobster Creek has been best. This week’s rain will give shore fishing a boost for the plunkers,” said Martin

Smith River

Similar to the Chetco, the Smith fished well late last week and the weekend according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The river dropped into shape on Friday, and the fishing was really good. It fished good on Saturday as well, but then got a little tougher on Sunday and Monday. There were fish caught however, just not very many. This Friday looks like it will be plunkable in the morning and maybe side-drifting in the afternoon. The rest of the weekend it looks like it may be blown out. Hopefully this big rise will bring in some more fish,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)

The main stem was just starting to turn green around Rio Dell prior to Wednesday’s storm, now we’re back to square one. The Eel near Scotia is predicted to peak Thursday evening at just under 97,000 cfs. We’re looking at a couple weeks of dry weather before it’s fishable. Good news is it was full of bright steelhead, hopefully this big rise will keep them coming.

Eel River (South Fork)

The South Fork dropped into fishable shape on Monday, and the fishing reports from the last few days were good. It’s on the rise as of Wednesday afternoon and predicted to peak at Miranda at nearly 23,000 cfs Thursday afternoon. It should be on the drop beginning Monday. With no rain in the forecast next week, it could fish late in the week or by the weekend.

Van Duzen

The Duzen was in great shape the last two days, but was on a steep rise as of Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t hear any fishing reports, but prior to the latest storms there were quite a few caught. It’s forecasted to peak at nearly 19,800 cfs early Thursday morning. With rain in the forecast through the weekend, it will likely need a solid week to turn green.

Mad River

The Mad was still fishing as of Wednesday afternoon, and there were fish being caught according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “The fishing is still spotty, definitely not red hot. I heard there were fish caught right below the hatchery and a few below the bridge. A few were caught by the boats on Tuesday as well. Overall, I’d say it’s kinda slow, and the fish are scattered throughout the river.”  The Mad is predicted to peak at just over 11,200 cfs (13.1 ft.) Sunday evening, and will likely need a good solid week of dry weather to clear.

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

Smith, Chetco best bets for green water

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Willie Patton of McKinleyville holds a nice steelhead landed last week while fishing the Eel River. Photo courtesy of Alan’s Guide Service

If you’re on the hunt for green water this weekend, you’ll want to head north. The Smith and Chetco will both be on the drop and should be in prime shape. All stretches of the Eel, Van Duzen, Mad and Redwood Creek are currently blown out, with very little relief in sight. A chance of rain is in the forecast almost daily for the next few days before a bigger system arrives next Wednesday. This is great news for the quick-clearing rivers to our north. The Humboldt rivers on the other hand, won’t likely have enough breaks in the rain to drop back into shape in the next week or so. If you’re looking to fill your steelhead fix this weekend, your best bet lies to the north.

Weather ahead
The heavier rain will begin to taper off on Thursday, but there’s a chance of showers in daily beginning on Sunday. The next big system is predicted for Wednesday, with a half inch forecasted in the Smith and Eel basins. Another quarter inch is expected on Thursday, and close to three-quarters is expected on Friday.

Commercial crab season set to open Jan. 15 south of Patrick’s Point
The Northern California Dungeness crab fishery in Mendocino and parts of Humboldt County will open at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. The opener will be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 8:01 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2019. No vessel may take or land crab in an area closed for a meat quality delay (i.e., Fish and Game districts 6, 7, 8 and 9) or within an area closed for a domoic acid delay. In addition, any vessel that takes, possesses onboard or lands crab from ocean waters outside of a delayed area is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in any delayed area for 30 days following the opening of those areas. This applies to any delayed areas in Oregon and Washington as well as in California.

Dungeness Crab season delayed north of Patrick’s Point
Commercial crab season in ocean waters north of Patrick’s Point, Humboldt County, were officially delayed on Jan. 7 by the Director of the CDFW due to elevated levels of domoic acid. The delay will remain in effect until the Director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), in consultation with the State Public Health Officer at California Department of Public Health (CDPH), determines that domoic acid no longer poses a significant risk to public health and recommends opening the fishery in this region. This area north of Patrick’s Point remains closed for recreational take of Dungeness crab, also due to domoic acid. For more information on Dungeness crab, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/crab

Red Abalone closure extended
In a press release issued on Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to extend the closure of the recreational red abalone fishery until April 1, 2021. The vote was taken at its December 2018 meeting in Oceanside. In December 2017, the Commission closed the recreational abalone fishery season due to the declining abalone population because of starvation conditions. The commercial red abalone fishery closed in 1997. Visit https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/california-fish-and-game-commission-meets-in-oceanside/ for more information.

Shasta Lake Bass tournament coming Jan. 19
The Unhooked Bass Anglers are hosting the first qualifying tournament for the Unhooked Bass Anglers championship series on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Shasta Lake. The tournament is catch and release, with no live bait. There is a five fish limit and all fish must be over 13 inches. Artificial lures only, and must have a working live well. Life jackets are required. Check in is Friday night between 4:00 p.m. and 6:30p.m. at Phil’s Propeller in Redding or Saturday morning between 4:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. at Packer’s Bay. Blast off is 7:00 a.m. or at first safe light. For more information, contact Jared Gadberry at 707-502-4966 or visit https://www.facebook.com/Unhookedbassanglers/

The Rivers:
Chetco River
Steelhead fishing has picked up considerably on the Chetco reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing.  “There are now fish spread throughout the river, with the section from Loeb down holding the biggest numbers of steelhead,” said Martin. “Monday was the best day so far this season, with most boats catching multiple fish and the plunkers doing well at Social Security Bar. Several fish over 15 pounds have already been caught. The river will probably blow out for a couple days this week but should be prime by the weekend.”

Smith River
Despite the rain, fishing has remained tough on the Smith according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “The little rises we’ve had hasn’t brought in many fish, there’s just not many in the river right now. Conditions were low and clear early this week, which made it tough. We really need a good blowout to get the river in shape. Hopefully we’ll see a few more fish show up following Thursday’s rise,” Coopman added.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was fishable up until Sunday, but it’s high and off color due to the latest round of storms. It’s predicted to peak Thursday morning at roughly 35,000 cfs. It will be on the drop over the weekend, but it will need a good 10-day window to drop back into fishable shape. Prior to blowing out, the main stem fished really well, with most boats landing three to four adults per trip. There’s also a lot of half-pounders in the river.

Eureka residents Jon and Patty Stocum with a nice Eel River winter steelhead. Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork also blew out on Sunday, and looks to remain off color through the weekend. Flows are predicted to be near fishable levels on Sunday, but more rain next week will likely keep it too high. Some big steelhead were caught last week even though the river was low and clear.

Van Duzen
Like the Eel, fishing really picked up last week on the Van Duzen. Bank anglers reported multiple hookups fishing from Yager Creek down. It’s currently muddy from the rain, and is forecasted to peak at nearly 7,000 cfs early Thursday. With more rain in the forecast, it probably won’t fish next week.

Mad River
The Mad is currently running high and muddy, and will need about a week of dry weather before it turns green reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said, “Prior to the rain, the fishing was spotty. It definitely wasn’t red hot, you really had to work for your bites. Flows were down to 240 cfs over the weekend, so you had to find holes and slots that had color. The guys who were bobber fishing did well.” The Mad is predicted to peak at just over 4,300 cfs (10.3 ft.) Wednesday afternoon, and will likely hover around 2,000 cfs through the weekend.

 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.

Slow start to the steelhead season

It’s been somewhat of a sluggish start to the winter steelhead season on the North Coast, and it’s hard to put a finger on exactly why. All of the coastal rivers saw a good rise on Christmas Day, but that influx of water didn’t bring much in the way of steelhead numbers. Granted, a handful of steelhead have been caught on all of the rivers, but not nearly as many as there should be considering the conditions of the rivers. Could this be the year we really feel the effects of the most-recent drought? Or has there been enough years between the drought and now that it’s no longer a threat? There’s certainly no shortage of theories floating around, but no one knows for sure. The good news is we have storms lined up that will trigger some very large river rises, let’s hope the steelhead are riding those waves into our coastal rivers.

Weather ahead
Rain is back in the forecast along the North Coast beginning on Saturday, with the possibility of an atmospheric river rainfall event arriving as early as Sunday. The Smith basin is forecasted to receive over an inch of rain on both Saturday and Sunday, with nearly an inch falling on Monday and Tuesday. Locally, the Eel and Mad basins could see up to two inches over the weekend. More rain is forecasted for Monday and Tuesday, where we could see up to an inch and a half. Light rain is forecasted for Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday both looking dry.

Humboldt Steelhead Days starts on Jan. 19
Year #6 of the HSD hatchery steelhead fishing contest runs from Jan. 19 to Feb. 23 on the Mad and Trinity rivers. Licensed anglers can sign up and register for just $10 online at www.humboldtsteelheaddays.com or in person at RMI Outdoors, Mad River Tackle, and Mad River Brewing Co. The three biggest fish measured, photographed and submitted to humboldtsteelheaddays@gmail.com are eligible to win all kinds of donated prizes. Even if you don’t catch the biggest steelhead during the contest, registered anglers can still submit a “steelhead fishing” photo to be entered into a side photo contest. The two photo categories are: Any generic steelhead fishing photo and take your kids fishing photo. All the upcoming HSD events are listed on the website and their social media pages. 

Mad River steelhead tag

Mad River steelhead being tagged for research
In 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is applying spaghetti tags to some hatchery steelhead returning to Mad River Hatchery for research purposes. The purpose of tagging hatchery steelhead is to see how many of the tagged fish return next year (multiple year spawning). The tags look similar to reward tags used for studies with fish in the Trinity River, but there is no reward for returning the Mad River tags. If you catch a hatchery steelhead with the green tag, you may:

  • Keep the hatchery steelhead and return the tag to CDFW, 50 Ericson Court, Arcata, CA 95521. You can also call Fisheries Biologist Michael Sparkman (707-496-5692) and provide him the tag number along with info on where the fish was caught.
  • You can also release the fish with tag still attached. Please do not remove the tag and then release fish.

CDFW will also be radio tagging both wild and hatchery steelhead similar to last year. The radio tag will be attached to a green spaghetti tag, and there is no reward for this tag either. Wild steelhead may not be retained and must be released immediately with the radio tag attached. If you catch a hatchery steelhead with a radio tag attached, you can harvest the fish and return the tag to CDFW, 50 Ericson Court, Arcata, CA 95521. CDFW prefers you release radio tagged hatchery steelhead, because these fish will help CDFW determine how many steelhead successfully spawned, migrated to the ocean, and returned to the Mad River to spawn again.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
“The Chetco has been fairly slow so far this steelhead season,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Fishing was decent a few days last week during the high water, but was slow over the weekend as the Chetco dropped. A few fish are being caught daily close to Social Security Bar. This week’s rain should draw some more fish in before the river blows out next week.”
According to Martin, the bright spot on the Southern Oregon Coast has been the lower Rogue River. He said, “The lower Rogue in Gold Beach turned on this week. More anglers were fishing Jan. 1 with the annual regulation change that allows the harvest of wild fish. The guides on the water on New Year’s Day reported good fishing while on anchor and running plugs.”

Smith River
Flows dipped under 7 feet, and the river is low and clear. Most of the boats have moved to other rivers, and reports have been hard to come by. Hopefully the next big rise, which will hit on Saturday, will bring in a good push of fish.

Eel River
Main Stem
The main stem dropped into shape over the weekend, and is probably your best bet for the next couple days. The rains forecasted for Saturday will blow it out beginning on Sunday, with flows predicted to reach nearly 16,000 cfs. Boats have been averaging a handful of hookups per trip this week.

South Fork
The South Fork was below 600 cfs on Wednesday and starting to clear. Scores were best above Garberville earlier in the week. Boats fishing the lower end were getting a chance at one to two fish per day.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 250 cfs as of Wednesday, and low and clear. The fishing has reportedly been slow, but a few bank anglers are still giving it a go. Predicted for a big rise late Saturday, which should bring in some fresh steelhead.

Mad River
River conditions are ideal for fishing, but there isn’t a ton of fish round right now. A few fresh steelhead are being caught by the bankies and boats, but there’s plenty of zeros mixed in. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 340 cfs and the river had good color. All this will change by the weekend when the next round of rain is expected to arrive. You should be able to get Saturday in, but the river will blow out on Saturday night. Flows are expected to hit 3,500 by early Sunday morning.

The upper Trinity could use another shot of rain, but the steelhead continue to move up reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. He said, “The mornings have been really cold, but we’re finding between two and four fish per trip. Your best bet is to cover a lot of water to find a group of fish moving. It’s been a mixture of hatchery and adults, with all methods working. With another good storm coming in this weekend, we’ll start to see the first of the winter steelhead coming in.”

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

Winter steelhead season set to take off

Ruben Rios Jr., of McKinleyville landed an early-season winter steelhead while fishing the Mad River on Saturday. The coastal winter steelhead season should be in full swing following the latest round of storms. Photo courtesy of Sage Romberg

For North Coast river anglers, the past couple weeks were spent waiting on the rain – as well as the arrival of the winter steelhead. Well, we now have both. The latest storms delivered a much more powerful punch than predicted, especially to the Smith and Chetco. Both rivers peaked at well over 20,000 cfs, and got the flushing they badly needed. Here in Humboldt, all of the rivers rose to their highest levels of the winter. And plenty more is on the way. The storms predicted for Sunday and Monday are looking like good ones. While not a ton of angling activity has taken place this past week, there are some good signs. A few adult steelhead were landed on the Mad over the weekend before it blew out. A few also showed up at the hatchery. There’s been a handful of steelhead caught on the main stem Eel, so there’s surely fish making their way up the Duzen and the South Fork Eel by now. Quite a few fresh steelies also made their way to the Rowdy Creek hatchery on the Smith. All signs point towards a good start to the winter steelhead season, all it will take is a few rainless days and we’ll know for sure.

Weather ahead
“More rain is on the way, with a couple pretty good systems bearing down on the North Coast,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The first system will arrive early Thursday evening and is forecasted to leave some decent rainfall totals in it’s wake. The Smith basin should see from three-quarters up to an inch and a quarter. The hills could see up to an inch and a half. Locally, the Eel and Mad basins could see a half-inch up to an inch and a quarter. Friday and Saturday are looking mostly dry, with the next system forecasted to arrive on Sunday afternoon. This storm, which could linger through Tuesday, will pack a pretty good punch. The Smith basin could see three to four inches, and the Eel, Mad basins could see up to two inches,” said Zontos. More rain is forecasted for Wednesday and Thursday, but the amounts are uncertain according to Zontos.

Humboldt Bay Entrance Safety Zone established
In a recent press release, the Coast Guard established a safety zone in the navigable waters of the Humboldt Bay Entrance Channel to promote the navigational safety of all vessels near Humboldt Bay, when extreme environmental conditions are present. The safety zone will run through March 31, 2019. The safety zone prohibits vessels from transiting the Humboldt Bay Entrance Channel as a result of extreme environmental conditions.

During times of extreme environmental conditions, the temporary safety zone applies to the navigable waters of the Humboldt Bay Bar Channel and the Humboldt Bay Entrance Channel, of Humboldt Bay. This safety zone is effective from the time of promulgation through March 31, 2019; this safety zone will be enforced when on-scene conditions reach 20 feet breaking seas or as the Captain of the Port determines that the on scene environmental conditions are hazardous and unsafe for vessel transits, as announced via Broadcast Notice to Mariners. During times of enforcement, all vessels are prohibited from transiting through or remaining in the safety zone.

Any vessel requesting permission to transit the safety zone during times of enforcement shall contact Station Humboldt Bay on VHF-FM channel 16 or at 707- 443-2213 between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., or to Sector Humboldt Bay on VHF-FM channel 16 or at 707-839-6113 between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
For more information on boating safety and required and recommended safety equipment, please visit www.uscgboating.org. For more information on weather conditions, please visit www.weather.gov.

2019 Fishing license
A reminder that it’s the time of the year to purchase your 2019 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 $49.94. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $6.74, 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 $7.56 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 2019 for $7.47 (instead of $49.94) for those 65 or older on reduced income or disabled military veterans. For more information on all CA fishing licenses, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing#44521417-free–reduced-fee

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing on Tuesday, January 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 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station.

Mad River Hatchery ladder open
The water running down the ladder to the river was turned on Sunday and a few fish had already made their way up as of Wednesday. The hatchery hopes to begin spawning on Wednesday, Jan. 2 and then each following Tuesday.

The Rivers:
For the first time this season, the Chetco reached the top of its banks and completely blew out on Tuesday, hitting 20,000 cfs at the Ice Box gauge reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A steady stream of logs and trees flowed into the ocean. The forecast shows there is an outside chance the river will fish for drift boaters by Saturday. It could be fishable for plunkers as early as Thursday or Friday. To side-drift, it needs to drop below 5,000 cfs. There should be some steelhead in the river when it comes into shape,” added Martin.

The Elk and Sixes also blew out big time according to Martin. He said, “The Elk reached 8.9 feet Tuesday afternoon, up from 4 feet the day before. The Sixes went completely over its banks. The Elk will be fishable by the weekend. The Sixes may be out for the rest of the salmon season, which runs through December. The Elk will remain open to salmon fishing in January.”

Smith River
The Smith exceeded monitor stage on Tuesday, but was quickly dropping as of  Wednesday. According to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service, the color looked good, but it was big. He said, “This is the blowout we needed, the river should have really cleaned up. There haven’t been many boats out due to the weather and flows, but I did hear some fresh steelhead made it to the hatchery. Once the flows drop to fishable levels, I expect there to be plenty of fish in the river.” Flows are looking good for the weekend, but another rise is predicted for late Sunday.

Main stem Eel
Flows peaked at nearly 15,000 cfs on Monday night and looks to be blown out for some time. There were a few adults around as well as half-pounders. This latest rise should have brought the first big batch of adult winter steelhead into the system.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork topped out at 6,500 cfs on Wednesday morning. Another smaller rise is predicted for Friday, with flows dropping down to fishable levels by the weekend. There’s a couple of active slides that will likely keep it too muddy to fish. Another rise is predicted for late Sunday.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen peaked at 3,330 cfs on Tuesday night, but is predicted to rise again on Friday and Monday. The river will need a few days of dry weather before it turns green, especially on the lower end. Will likely be end of next week at least before it’s fishable.

Like all of the coastal rivers, the Mad blew out on Tuesday and won’t be green any time soon reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “We’ll need about a week of dry weather for the river to come around. Prior to the rain, a few adult steelhead were caught below the bridge in Blue Lake. A few fish have made it back to the hatchery as well, so the river definitely has some fresh fish in it.” The Mad is forecasted to rise on Friday to nearly 10 feet and another decent rise is predicted for Monday.

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