Rain and Muddy Water Hinders Steelhead Anglers

Eureka resident Mark Faust landed a nice winter steelhead last week while fishing the Smith River. Photo courtesy of Alan’s Guide Service

Other than the Smith and Chetco, all of the coastal rivers are currently running high and off-color due to an extremely wet few weeks. And with the potential for more rain and plenty of snow left in the hills still to melt, it’s likely most of the rivers won’t clear in time prior to closing for the season.

These extremely wet winters may not bring much joy to steelhead anglers, but they’re a blessing for the fish. The extra water will go a long way in helping the steelhead reach their spawning grounds and also provide a helping hand for the juvenile salmonids as they begin their journey down to the saltwater.

So, with the final week of the season right around the corner, it’s quite possible the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad and Redwood Creek, won’t recover prior to closing after March 31. The Smith will remain open through April, and the main stem Eel is open year-round. It would be nice to get a few more days on the river, but I’m not holding my breath.

Weather ahead
According to Doug Boushey of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we’re not forecasting any substantial rain events for the week and weekend. “We’ll see some showers on Wednesday, but it won’t add up to much,” said Boushey. “We could see a tenth here locally and up to a quarter inch in the hills. A colder system is forecast for Thursday and Friday, but it won’t produce much precipitation. The snow levels could drop to 1,500 to 2,000 feet, however. There may be a few light showers over the weekend, but nothing significant. A wetter system is forecast for Monday and Tuesday of next week, but timing and rainfall amounts are uncertain.”

The Rivers:
Mad
The Mad is still high and off-color, which won’t change anytime soon. With the steelhead season closing after March 31, it’s unlikely it will be anything close to green, especially with Ruth Lake spilling dirty water.

Main stem Eel

The main Eel is still very high and dirty. It’s predicted to be down to 13,000 cubic feet per second at Scotia following the weekend. If we see an extended dry period lasting around 10 days, it could come around into fishable shape. But that doesn’t appear to be the case as rain is back in the forecast for Monday. The river is predicted to rise beginning Monday evening. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork, is open to fishing all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork is forecast to be near 2,000 cfs at Miranda by Sunday and that may be the only fishable window we get. It’s forecast to rise starting Monday morning and may not drop into fishable shape before it closes after March 31.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen remains high and off-color, but is dropping quickly. It’s expected to be under 1,000 cfs by Sunday, but another rise is forecast for Monday evening. This will likely blow it out for the season as it closes after March 31.

Smith
The fast-clearing Smith dropped into fishing shape late last week and some fish were caught by the handful of boats drifting from the forks to Ruby. Boat pressure was light, and it will probably stay that way until the season is over. It’s predicted to be right around 9-feet on the Jed Smith gauge by Saturday morning. The main stem of the Smith will remain open through April.

Southern Oregon rivers
Spring salmon fishing is kicking into gear on the lower Rogue River, while the Chetco is dropping into shape for the last few days of steelhead season reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “A handful of hatchery springers were caught just above the head of tide on the Lower Rogue by guides fishing anchovies and spinner blades. Conditions are prime. The Chetco is down to 5,000 cfs. There is a mix of bright steelhead and downrunners around. The Elk, Sixes and Chetco are open for steelhead through March 31.”

Brookings ocean report
According to Martin, lingcod fishing has been wide open out of Brookings, with limits for charter and private boats near Bird Island and Twin rocks. “Although swells will be big, the ocean may fish this weekend. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round out of Brookings.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Sport and Commercial Ocean Salmon Season Shuttered

Due to low abundance, the sport and commercial Chinook salmon season has been shut down statewide in 2023. The decision was made last Friday by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Anglers will have to wait until at least 2024 to catch a salmon like the one pictured with Riley Skillman from Mesa, Arizona, a few years ago out of Shelter Cove. Photo courtesy of Jake Mitchell/Sea Hawk Sport Fishing

The Pacific Fishery Management Council on March 10 provided three options for recreation and commercial salmon fishing from the California/Oregon border all the way south to the California/Mexico border. Unfortunately, but not surprising, all three options included the words “CLOSED.” In an unprecedented decision, the PFMC was left with little choice but to close recreational and commercial salmon fishing this season statewide. Southern Oregon, which also impacts Sacramento and Klamath River fall Chinook, will also be closed from Cape Falcon south.

The sport fishery had been scheduled to open off California in most areas on April 1. The closures were made to protect Sacramento River fall Chinook, which returned to the Central Valley in 2022 at near-record low numbers, and Klamath River fall Chinook, which had the second lowest abundance forecast since the current assessment method began in 1997.

Yet to be determined are the fishing seasons within the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers. It’s widely believed neither will be open to the retention of fall Chinook, but two of the alternatives included both Klamath recreational and tribal allocations. Alternative one and two called for 1,804 recreational quota and 1,872 tribal allocation. Alternative three, which agency representatives and industry advisors view as the most likely, have zero recreational fall Chinook and just 68 for tribal. To view all salmon management alternatives, visit pcouncil.org/annual-salmon-management-process/.

Up next, the PFMC will hold a public hearing March 21 in Santa Rosa to receive public comment on the three proposed regulatory alternatives. The PFMC will then meet April 1 through April 7 in Foster City to procedurally finalize the closures. Details on how to attend the public hearing and PFMC meeting, as well as instructions to provide public comment, can be found at pcouncil.org.

Weekend weather
According to Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we’ll begin to dry out following Tuesday’s rain. “Wednesday and Thursday are looking dry,” said Aylward. “We may see a few showers on Friday and through the weekend, but not enough to raise the river levels. Monday, we’re looking at more widespread rain in the area, and we could see the rivers go back on the rise. And more rain is expected through the week.”

The rivers:
Mad
The Mad nearly reached flood stage, peaking at over 20-feet Tuesday but is now dropping slowly. With only a couple weeks left in the steelhead season, it’s unlikely it will be anything close to green, especially with Ruth Lake dumping over the spillway.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel reached 162,200 cubic feet per second early Wednesday morning on the Scotia gauge. Needless to say, it will be blown out for weeks. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork peaked at over 37,000 cfs at Miranda Tuesday and is also big and brown. It’s going need to stop raining soon or it may not be fishable prior to closing at the end of the month.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen topped monitor stage Tuesday, peaking at over 13 feet at Bridgeville. It will be on the drop from Wednesday through the weekend, but more rain is in the forecast next week. Like the SF Eel, it may not have time to turn green before the season ends.

Smith
The fast-clearing Smith reached monitor stage, 25 feet at the Jed Smith gauge, Monday night. As crazy as it sounds, it could be in fishable shape by Thursday. Conditions for Friday and the weekend are looking even better, when it will be under 11-feet. There were some fresh steelhead caught late last week and there should be some downers starting to make their way to the ocean.

Southern Oregon rivers
The Chetco rose 14 feet in one day, cresting at 18 feet, or 40,000 cfs, Monday night reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing, “It was back down to 20,000 cfs Tuesday morning,” said Martin. “The river may briefly be in shape by Friday, before another rise is expected. Steelhead fishing was fair early last week, before the rise. The recent high water should jump start spring salmon fishing on the Rogue. Fishable conditions are expected by the end of the week.”

Brookings ocean report
Stormy conditions have kept boaters at the docks in Brookings according to Martin. “Better conditions are expected this weekend. Salmon season is expected to open June 17 for hatchery coho on Brookings. Halibut opens May 1. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Hoping for a salmon rebound in 2024

Photo courtesy of Marc Schmidt/Coastline Charters

I know everyone is pissed about the upcoming salmon closures, but I wanted to provide some hope for a salmon rebound in the coming years. The last closure we had was in 2017, which included the ocean (CA and Oregon KMZ’s) and the Klamath and Trinity rivers. That year, the ocean abundance forecast was for only 54,200 Klamath fall kings. Only 18,400 adults were forecast to return to the Klamath basin, including 12,000 natural-area spawners.

But the fall kings had a little surprise for us. A very large return of jacks (2 year-old males) returned –21,82 to be exact. Add in another 31,682 adults, of which 18,310 were natural-area spawners. Counting a small harvest total of 1,951, the total run size turned out to be 31,683. Still very low, but better than predicted.

Due to the large jack return in 2017, the ocean abundance in 2018 ballooned to 359,200 for fall-run Klamath kings. Still not great, but the rebound was in progress. In 2018, 52,352 natural-area spawners returned to the Klamath basin. Another 18,567 hatchery spawners returned as well. Another 10,872 jacks returned, along with 91,060 adults, bringing the run total to over 101,000.

Hopefully we’ll see something similar in 2024…

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Ocean and River Salmon Closures Likely in 2023

Nine-year-old Ryder Gregory is all smiles after catching his limit of king salmon with Heidi Musick out of Trinidad a few years back. Low abundance of salmon in the ocean has put this year’s ocean and river salmon seasons in jeopardy. Photo courtesy of Curt Wilson/Wind Rose Charters

If the forecasts from last Wednesday’s salmon information meeting are accurate, Chinook salmon are going to be few and far between this year. It will also likely result in a complete ocean closure to Chinook fishing state-wide in an effort to protect stocks. Currently, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is meeting in Seattle to decide the fate of our ocean and in-river seasons. While still not finalized, an early version of the three alternatives for our ocean fisheries was released Monday, and all three included the words “closed.” This is far from unexpected as most fishing groups and anglers are urging the PFMC to curtail any Chinook salmon fishing in 2023 in California.

The fate of both the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers will be decided in the coming days but will likely be closed to fishing for fall kings. The last such closure was in 2017, when the Klamath was closed to salmon fishing beginning Aug. 15. That same year our ocean season was also closed within the Klamath Management Zone (California/Oregon border to Horse Mtn.). This year is shaping up to be a whole lot worse, with ocean fall Chinook fishing potentially closed from Southern Oregon to Mexico.

The culprit is the extremely low number of both Sacramento and Klamath fish swimming in the ocean. The forecast estimates Sacramento River fall Chinook, the predominant stock harvested in California fisheries, at 169,767 adults, one of the lowest forecasts since the current assessment method came into play in 2008.

Klamath River Chinook is forecast to be 103,793 adults, the second-lowest forecast since that body of water’s assessment method started in 1997. Please see the ocean salmon webpage at wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason for a complete calendar of events and contact information regarding the Salmon Preseason Process, including other opportunities for public engagement in the season-setting process. For information on the PFMC meetings, visit pcouncil.org/managed_fishery/salmon/.

The weather ahead
The next round of precipitation will arrive Thursday afternoon according to Matthew Kidwell of Eureka’s National Weather Service office. “We’re looking at 1.5 to 2 inches before the rain starts to taper off on Friday afternoon,” said Kidwell. “The next round of showers is forecast for Saturday where we’ll see off and on rain, but it won’t add up to much. A more noteworthy system will arrive on Sunday and stick around through Tuesday. This will be a fairly warm and wet system. We could see 3 to 5 inches over the course of the three days, with higher totals in the mountains. We may see some flooding in the low-lying areas, but the rivers should remain intact.”

The rivers:
Mad
The Mad reportedly saw a good push of fish come in late last week. River conditions are still far from ideal, and they’re about to get worse. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 2,500 cubic feet per second (9.8 feet). The rain coming Thursday night will push flows up to 7,700 cfs by Friday afternoon. It’s unlikely we’ll see the river green prior to closing at the end of the month.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel has been high and off color since late last week and won’t be fishable anytime soon. It’s predicted to peak at over 80,000 cfs at Scotia early Saturday morning.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork blew out last weekend and it hasn’t been close to fishable since. Another big rise is slated for Friday when flows could reach over 15,000 cfs at Miranda. Will need at least a week of dry weather before the upper reaches drop into fishable shape.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen hasn’t been fishable all week and more rain is on the way. Flows were right around 950 cfs Wednesday, but it’s forecast to peak at 6,800 cfs Friday. With more rain coming next week, it won’t be fishable anytime soon.

Smith
The Smith is clear in spots, but some of the creeks are adding some much-needed color. As of Wednesday, flows at Jed Smith had risen to 3,650 cfs. It will be receding slowly until Friday when it’s predicted to rise quickly to over 12,00 cfs. It’s predicted to drop Saturday and should be in fishable shape before rising again Sunday. Despite the conditions, some steelhead are being caught. Boat pressure has been light. The rise in flows should bring in some fresh fish and could bring some spawners downriver.

Southern Oregon rivers
Late-arriving steelhead boosted catch rates on the Chetco over the weekend, even with cold, stormy weather reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The Chetco has been hovering at 1,600 cfs, but a major rain, and snow melt, is expected to jump flows to over 10,000 cfs by the end of the week,” said Martin. “Steelhead fishing also has been decent on the Elk and Sixes. Rogue River anglers expect the first spring chinook of the season to move into the river after this weekend’s storm. The first big rise of March usually kicks off springer season, although April and May are the peak months.”

Brookings ocean report
Rough ocean conditions have kept Brookings anglers at the dock according to Martin. “A brief break in the weather may allow boats to get out on Wednesday, before another round of winter storms arrive Thursday. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round out of Brookings.

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Commercial Anglers, Ocean Passenger Fleet, and Inland River Guides Call For 2023 Salmon Season Closure and Disaster Assistance Funding

For Immediate Release

Friday, March 3, 2023 Sacramento, CA

Contacts
George Bradshaw, PCFFA, 707-954-9339 Rick Powers, GGFA, 707-481-4536 James Stone, NCGASA, 530-923-9440

Today, leadership of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, and the Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association are calling for an immediate closure of the 2023 salmon season and requesting the Governor Newsom, the State Legislature, and state agencies seek Federal and State disaster assistance funding for affected ocean and inland commercial operators.

On March 1, 2023, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife held their annual pre-season briefing and reported some of the worst fisheries numbers in the history of the state. These numbers follow years of drought, poor water management decisions by Federal and State managers, occasional failure to meet hatchery egg mitigation goals, inaccurate season modeling, and the inability of fisheries managers to meet their own mandated escapement goals.

“Unfortunately we have gotten to a point that we have been warning was coming; another collapse of our iconic salmon fisheries”, said George Bradshaw, President of PCFFA. “The harvest models, escapement goals and model inaccuracies show there is no warranted opportunity to harvest Chinook Salmon in the state of California in 2023. Our organization is asking Federal and State managers to take the required steps to ensure the survival of the resource and close the fishery. We demand we work towards future sustainable solutions so we can once again have robust salmon runs and thriving fisheries. Our coastal communities and generational fisherman deeply rely on the proper management. Therefore this requires our Federal and State leaders lead the effort to secure disaster assistance until we all get through these foreseeable hard times.”

A Klamath River fall Chinook harvested by Kenny Priest, along with his father Tex,

“Inland recreational salmon anglers and salmon fishing guides are the last user group to access the resource every year when salmon return to their natal, spawning grounds and hatcheries”, said James Stone, Executive Director of NCGASA. “We have seen historic low runs in the Sacramento Valley since 2015, with 75% of the last 8 years falling short of the required conservation objective of 122,000 spawning adult fall run salmon. Current salmon management policy and poor water management, without proper hatchery mitigation, has got us to this point of full collapse. Our small rural communities throughout the Delta and upper Sacramento river systems that rely on salmon for food, recreation, sport, and industry have been drastically affected. We need to enact immediate conservation measures and close the fishery in all sectors ocean and inland, coupled with a complete overhaul of our salmon management models and policies that have led to this scenario.”

“After several consecutive years of poor river conditions fishery managers have forecasted near record low salmon returns to the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers”, said Rick Powers, President of GGFA. “With low returns we feel it would be irresponsible to participate in a 2023 season. While we make our living fishing for salmon, we are willing to make a short-term sacrifice to ensure a return of robust salmon populations that our families depend on. Therefore, we suggest that this year’s salmon season be suspended to protect the salmon runs that are vital to California Coastal Communities, and we call for Governor Newsom and state leaders to fight for disaster assistance funding for our communities immediately.”

********

PCFAA, GGFA, and NCGASA comprise the three largest licensed operators and businesses that rely on the Fall Run Chinook fishery. These three organizations have partnered together on numerous previous meetings with each other and Federal and State fisheries managers seeking changes and improvements to California’s fisheries management, with mixed outcomes. While the communities they represent will be irrevocably harmed by a 2023 closure, they believe there is no other conscionable alternative at this time.

George Bradshaw, PCFFA, 707-954-9339, georgebradshaw707@gmail.com

James Stone, NCGASA, 530-923-9440, jstone@ncgasa.org

Rick Powers, GGFA, 707-481-4536, dpamundsend@gmail.com 

Limited Options for Weekend Steelhead Anglers

Lizzie Ebert, of Eureka, along with Jake Budd, of Fair Banks, Alaska, landed this nice winter steelhead Feb. 12 on the Smith River. Photo courtesy of Tyler Gillespie Guide Service

For those of you who aren’t yet ready to throw in the towel on this year’s steelhead season, you’ll have limited angling options this weekend. If you’re wanting to head north, you’ll likely run into low and clear conditions. Both the Smith and Chetco did see a rise in flows the past couple days, but will be back on the drop headed into the weekend. If you wanted to head south to the SF, main Eel and Van Duzen, you’ll find rivers that aren’t lacking water. All are currently high and off color but will be headed in the right direction soon. Depending on how quickly they drop and the level of snowmelt, the Van Duzen and South Fork Eel could be fishable by Saturday. At least according to the NOAA’s River Forecast Center. If you want to fish the Mad, you’ll be treated to the same conditions we’ve had most of the season – big and brown water. The Trinity River in the Willow Creek area is sporting the best conditions around, but getting there might be tricky. If you haven’t suffered enough and are dead set on wetting a line this weekend, you may need to look around.

The weather ahead
After a short-term drying trend from Wednesday through Friday, another winter storm is in the forecast for the weekend, according to Jonathan Garner of Eureka’s National Weather Service office. He said, “The storm should roll in Saturday afternoon and could stick around until early next week. We’ll see snow above 1,000 feet, similar to what we’ve seen early this week. We could see some precipitation below 1,000 feet which could impact some of the rivers, mainly to our south.”

Preliminary 2023 ocean salmon abundance forecast

Prior to Wednesday’s Salmon Information Meeting, preliminary 2023 ocean salmon abundance forecasts were announced. For the Klamath, the preseason expectations are for 102,500 adult fall kings to be swimming in the ocean. This forecast is more than 95,000 less than in 2022.

On the Sacramento River, the 2023 ocean abundance forecast is 169,800, which is a whopping 226,700 less than the 2022 forecast.

Based on these numbers, having any kind of ocean or in-river fishery is extremely uncertain. Look for the complete salmon meeting wrap-up in next week’s Fishing the North Coast.

The Rivers:

Mad
There were a few fish caught prior to the latest rise, but we’re now back to high and off-color conditions. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 1,700 cubic feet per second (9.1 feet). It’s predicted to drop through early next week but it’s unlikely we’ll see green water anytime soon.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel produced some of the better fishing of the season late last week with boats getting a chance at three to four fish per trip. Unfortunately, the river succumbed to snowmelt on Saturday and remains high and off color. Flows as of Thursday were 17,000 cfs and it’s predicted to drop for the next few days. It won’t recede to a fishable height before the rain returns.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork blew out on Sunday and was on the rise through Wednesday morning. As of Thursday, it was down to 3,670 cfs and dropping quickly. But the chances of it dropping into fishable shape by the weekend are iffy at best. Saturday would be the only day it would be close to fishable before it starts to rise again Saturday night into Sunday. Forecast to be right around 2,175 cfs by Saturday morning at Miranda.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen also blew out on Sunday and is currently a little high and off color. It’s predicted to drop and could be fishable early next week as more snow than rain will fall into the basin. Flows are predicted to be around 570 cfs by Saturday morning.

Smith
The Smith was on the rise Tuesday, but as of Wednesday was back on the drop. Flows were down to 2,500 cfs (7.5 feet) at the Jed Smith gauge Thursday. The river is still low and clear, but a few fish are being caught. It’s predicted to drop through the weekend and will likely be just above 7 feet by Sunday.

Southern Oregon rivers
Steelhead fishing has been slow on the Chetco, Rogue, Elk and Sixes rivers because of low, cold water, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A major boost in flows is needed to bring fresh steelhead in,” said Martin. “A slight boost in flows is expected this week. Catch rates have been poor the last week.”

Brookings ocean report
“Rough ocean conditions have kept Brookings anglers at the dock,” said Martin. “While herring have been thick in Crescent City, they have not shown up at the Port of Brookings. More stormy weather is expected this week.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Klamath King Returns Fall Below Predictions

Based on information from last year’s ocean and in-river salmon counts, we may have decreased opportunities in 2023 to fish for salmon like the one pictured here with Dee Lehman, of Eureka. Photo courtesy Tim Klassen/Reel Steel Sport Fishing

The Pacific Fishery Management Council released its “Review of 2022 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” report last week and the news wasn’t good. Based on an ocean abundance of 200,100 Klamath River fall Chinook thought to be swimming in the ocean last fall, forecasters predicted roughly 66,759 adults would return to the river. Unfortunately, the run fell a little shorter than the preseason prediction, with a total of 46,639 adults returning to the river. The escapement to natural spawning areas was 22,050 adults, 58 percent of the preseason prediction of 38,180 adults. The estimated hatchery return was 13,235 adults. Jack (2-year-old kings) returns to the Klamath basin were 7,582, including 4,151 that escaped to natural spawning areas. In 2021, 54,225 adults returned along with 10,350 jacks.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott and Shasta rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 6,604 compared to 9,169 in 2021. The escapement in 2022 to the Shasta River was 4,403 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott rivers was 1,274 and 927 adults, respectively.

According to the report, an estimated 2,461 fall Chinook adults were harvested in the Klamath Basin recreational fishery, which exceeded the quota of 2,119.

What our season will look like in the coming year is still a work in progress, but signs are pointing toward a limited fishery both in the ocean and rivers. “The age composition of this year’s Klamath-Trinity run (adults and jacks) will be used to estimate current ocean abundance and will determine the number of fish available in 2023 for tribal harvest and both state ocean and in-river fisheries,” said Dan Troxel, environmental scientist with CDFW’s Klamath River Project. “There are a variety of factors that determine available harvest, including current ESA constraints in ocean and in-river fisheries. Based on this year’s run-size and age composition, Klamath fall Chinook stocks remain in ‘overfished’ status per federal guidelines. It is likely that the abundance of Klamath stocks will be relatively low and we may have decreased opportunity in both the ocean and in-river fisheries as a result.”

Next up is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Annual Salmon Information Meeting, which will be held via webinar on Wednesday, March 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The meeting will provide the latest information on California salmon stocks and the outlook for ocean salmon fisheries for the upcoming 2023 season. The public is encouraged to provide comments on potential fishing alternatives for California ocean salmon fisheries in 2023. 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 5-14 PFMC meeting in Seattle. Final season recommendations will be adopted at the April 1-7 PFMC meeting in Foster City, CA.

Salmon information meeting details can be found on the Ocean Salmon webpage at wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason. For more information, contact Katherine Osborn at OceanSalmon@Wildlife.ca.gov.

The weather ahead
According to James White of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we can expect steady precipitation through Saturday. “With this system, we can expect 3 to 4 inches in the higher elevations, but it won’t add up to much water,” said White. “Most of this will fall as snow so the rivers will see very little impact. A warmer system is forecast for next Monday and Tuesday when we could see 1 to 2 inches over the course of the two days. This will likely be more impactful on the rivers due to the chance of melting snow.”

The Rivers:
Mad
With water conditions improving the past few days, a few more fish are now being caught. The river should stay in fishable shape through the weekend, but will likely get dirty on Monday due to rain coming and snowmelt. Flows are forecast to be over 1,000 cubic feet per second early Tuesday and rising.

Main stem Eel
As of Thursday, flows were just above 5,000 cfs at Scotia and rising slowly. The river is in great shape with perfect green water. Scores have improved the last few days with boats getting a chance at three to four fish per day. Depending how much rain falls next week, it could blow out by Tuesday.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork should be in good shape through the weekend, but flows were starting to get low. They jumped from 560 cfs to 750 cfs Wednesday, and should remain fairly steady through Sunday. Changes are forecast for Monday as the river will likely blowout with over an inch of rain predicted for Monday through Tuesday. The river will likely be off color for a few days.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen went up to 480 cfs on Wednesday but should be on a slow drop through the weekend. If you’re looking to bank fish, this is a good option. Boats are reportedly catching a few fresh steelhead per day. With rain coming, it could blow out early next week.

Smith
The Smith rose overnight Tuesday and was holding right around 1,600 cfs (6.70 feet) Thursday at the Jed Smith gauge. The river is low and clear but a few fish are being caught. The rain coming next week should be the ticket to boost flows and bring in some fish.

Southern Oregon rivers
Low, clear water has limited success in the Chetco, but steelhead catch rates should improve with rain expected the middle of this week, and a bigger storm over the weekend reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Fishing was slow over the weekend, in part because of flows hovering at 1,000 cfs, and an overall lack of fish,” said Martin. “Local guides are picking up a fish or two a day. Steelhead fishing has been slow on the Rogue, while the Elk and Sixes are too low for effective drift boat fishing. Rain this week could improve fishing on all three systems.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, ocean anglers may get a short window to target lingcod and rockfish out of Brookings on Saturday. “Big swells kept boats at the docks to begin the week, while another storm arrives Sunday. So far, fishing for smelt and herring has been slow in the Chetco estuary and harbor.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Coastal Steelhead Season on the Brink

Steve Soli of Fortuna holds a winter steelhead caught on a recent float down the South Fork of the Eel River. Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast Guide Service

With the majority of our coastal rivers in prime fishing shape, it’s starting to feel like it’s now or never for the 2023 winter steelhead season. In what has been one of the most dismal seasons anyone can remember, if the next couple of weeks don’t produce some quality fishing, it’s likely the season will go down as big, giant dud. There’s plenty of theories on why the steelhead haven’t returned in big numbers, but nobody really knows for sure. Drought, ocean conditions, climate change, habitat are all playing some type of role. We’re right at the halfway point in the season, so there is time for a resurgence. We’ve pulled a few “Miracle Marches” out of the sky in the past, and it’s looking like we may need to do it again.

The weather ahead
According to Merl Heinlein of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we’re looking mostly dry through the weekend. “There is a chance of rain Thursday, but it won’t be enough to impact the rivers,” said Heinlein. “The eight-to-14-day outlook is looking wetter, but it’s a little too far out to be certain.”

2023 Salmon information meeting coming March 2
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Annual Salmon Information Meeting will be held via webinar on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The meeting will provide the latest information on California salmon stocks and the outlook for ocean salmon fisheries for the upcoming 2023 season. The public is encouraged to provide comments on potential fishing alternatives for California ocean salmon fisheries in 2023. 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 5-14 Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Seattle. Final season recommendations will be adopted at the April 1-7 PFMC meeting in Foster City, CA.

Salmon Information Meeting details, informational materials and instructions for attendance will be published in advance of the event on CDFW’s Ocean Salmon webpage,  Please see the Ocean Salmon webpage at wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason for a complete calendar of events and contact information regarding the Salmon Preseason Process, including other opportunities for public engagement in the season-setting process.

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. 18-19. 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 myodfw.com/articles/2023-free-fishing-days-and-events

Flow releases from Lewiston Dam set to increase
The California Department of Water Resources on Feb. 8 released the B120 forecast that states there is a 90-percent probability that inflows to Trinity and Lewiston lakes will meet or exceed 945,000 acre-feet for water year 2023 (Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept 30). Under TRRP’s Winter Flow Variability plan, this allows scheduling 60,000-acre feet of release from Lewiston Dam, above the winter base-flow level, as of Feb. 15.

Flow releases from Lewiston Dam to the Trinity River will change from the 300 cubic feet per second baseflow to the flow schedule presented below beginning Feb. 15 through March 14. Dam releases are then likely to remain elevated above the 300 cfs baseflow until the spring flow release commences on or around April 15. To view the flow schedule, visit trrp.net/restoration/flows/current/?fbclid=IwAR1E31LpHhKW7-4gJ2VmZp0KItUCU8u8pkcue-MLY7Fml3U2Qam3UzX50FY.

The Rivers:
Mad
The Mad is just starting to turn green and water conditions should be much improved by the weekend. Fishing continues to be slow, as not many hatchery or wild steelhead are making their way into the river. Flows as of Thursday were right around 1,350 cfs.

Main stem Eel
As of Wednesday, flows were just under 5,900 cfs at Scotia. The river is in good shape color-wise, but it’s still a little big. It will be in prime shape by the weekend and should take some pressure away from the South Fork. Hopefully there will be some fresh steelhead making their way through the system.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork continues to draw the biggest crowds, but the slow fishing has put a dent in the boat traffic. Conditions remain excellent, but there isn’t a surplus of fish. Most boats are getting one to three chances per day. Flows are predicted to be right around 800 cfs at Miranda by Saturday.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 460 cfs as of Thursday and is in great shape. There are plenty of bank anglers taking advantage of the conditions, but reports were hard to come by. It’s not forecast to drop prior to the Saturday.

Craig Nakata of Sacramento holds a limit of steelhead he caught Feb. 13 on the Chetco River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He also donated a wild steelhead to the hatchery brood stock program.

Smith River
The Smith was sitting just below 7 feet at the Jed Smith gauge as of Thursday. The river is low, clear and snaggy. The boat pressure has been light, as most guides have moved to other rivers. It’s forecast to be down to 6.7 feet (1,525 cfs) by Saturday. Will likely need some rain to bring in some new fish.

Southern Oregon rivers
Steelhead fishing remains slow on the Chetco but there are a few fish around, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Flows are down to 1,100 cfs and expected to slowly drop through the weekend,” said Martin. “The best fishing has been on the lower river, where a handful of local guides are getting a fish or two a day. Pressure has eased. The Rogue, Elk and Sixes have been slow for steelhead.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, rough weather has kept bottom fish anglers at the docks in Brookings. “Big swells and wind are expected through the week. Surfperch are now being caught from beaches around Brookings.

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

Winter Steelhead Remain Elusive

Justin Richardson of Fortuna landed a nice steelhead on the Van Duzen River over the weekend. The Van Duzen is currently off color but should be fishable later in the week. Photo courtesy of Zack Richardson

Another week gone by and another week of very poor steelhead catching. As we approach mid-February, I’m no longer certain the fish are just running late. I’m starting to think they aren’t coming. At least in big numbers. We’ve had some excellent water conditions on our coastal rivers this season and that still didn’t do the trick. But green rivers with perfect flows, unfortunately, are only half of the equation that make up winter fishing success. The other is the “gray ghost” otherwise known as steelhead. It’s entirely possible after a few drought-ridden years, we’re seeing the aftermath. But, I, for one, will hold out hope the season will turn around. But they better make it quick, we’re starting to run out of days.

Weather outlook
According to Jeff Tonkin of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, the next reasonable chance of rain will come Friday morning into Saturday. “We’re looking at about a third of an inch of rain for both the Smith and Eel basins,” said Tonkin. “After that, it looks like we’ll go back into a wetter pattern next Tuesday through Saturday. These will be colder systems and most of the precipitation will fall as snow so we don’t expect to see large river rises.”

CDFW seeks input on 2023 sport Pacific Halibut fishery
California anglers who are interested in the recreational Pacific halibut fishery are invited to participate in an online survey to help inform the CDFW about angler preferences for open fishing dates during the upcoming 2023 season and offers an opportunity for input on development of the 2024 Catch Sharing Plan that is used to allocate quota to several West Coast fisheries. Results of the survey, which is open until Feb. 12, will be used to develop recommended season dates that will be provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The Pacific halibut fishery takes place off Northern California. In 2022, the fishery was open May 1 through Aug. 7, with a one fish daily bag limit. The fishery closed Aug. 7 due to projected attainment of the quota. The 2023 California recreational Pacific halibut quota will be 39,520 net pounds, approximately the same as all prior years since 2019.The online survey can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/DDYWDGP. For more information on the Pacific halibut fishery in California, visit wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Pacific-Halibut.

The Rivers:
Mad
The Mad was just starting to drop into fishable shape right before the rain fell on Saturday. After reaching nearly 3,000 cfs Sunday, flows were back down to 1,000 cubic feet per second as of Thursday and it remains off color. A small push of fish made their way back to the hatchery Monday night, so hopefully we’ll start to see some better numbers. To date, the fishing has been very slow. River conditions through the weekend don’t look good.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was fishable over the weekend, but flows were still really high. A few boats ventured out Friday, but it was the same story — not many fish around. The river blew out Sunday with flows peaking at 21,000 cfs Monday morning. It’s now back on the drop but will need at least another week before it’s in fishable shape.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was the most popular river on the coast judging by the number of boats. Conditions were excellent up until Sunday, but scores still remained low. Boats were getting a chance at one to three fish per trip, but there were a lot of zeros. The river is dropping quickly this week and it should be back in fishable shape by later in the week. As of Thursday, flows were 2,160 cfs at Miranda.

Van Duzen
Like the rest of the coastal rivers, the Van Duzen blew out Sunday. As of Thursday, flows were back under 750 cfs and it could be fishable by later in the week. Prior to the blowout, fishing was decent with bank anglers catching a few fresh steelhead.

Smith River
The Smith received a much-needed bump in flows Sunday, going from 1,825 to 4,200 cfs (8.9 feet) on the Jed Smith gauge. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for the fishing. Fishing this week has been reportedly very slow. The river is dropping quickly and will be back to low and clear conditions soon. Another slight increase in flows is forecast for Friday night.

Chetco/Southern Oregon
“Steelhead fishing improved over the weekend on the Chetco, as rains increased flows and brought in fresh fish,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Guides have enjoyed the best catch rates so far this season the last few days, with the best action in the lower river. Larger numbers of hatchery fish have arrived. Fishing has been slow on the Rogue, Elk and Sixes, but improved on the Coquille and Umpqua.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, rough weather has kept bottom fish anglers at the docks in Brookings. “Big swells are expected through the weekend.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

Coastal Rivers Lacking Steelhead

Jeff Bounsall of Napa holds a steelhead caught Jan. 23 on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

After the January storms provided the flushing and scouring our coastal rivers desperately needed, anglers were thinking and hoping the winter steelhead would be there waiting once the rivers turned fishable. So far, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Up and down the coast, well known steelhead rivers are not seeing the numbers we’re accustomed to. This same scenario happened a couple years ago, but the fish finally showed up. And that will more than likely be the case again this year. But with the calendar now saying February, it’s getting a little more nerve racking. While no one knows for sure the reason for the tardiness, there are some theories out there. The one I’ve been hearing the most is the storms that hit the coast made conditions tough for steelhead to navigate across the bars where the rivers meet the ocean. I’m hoping this is the case and we’ll start seeing better numbers soon. The storms headed our way this weekend will certainly help.

Weather outlook
According to James White of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, a small low pressure system will arrive on Thursday bringing the coast some light rain. “We could see anywhere from a half to 1 inch of rain coast-wide overnight Thursday into Friday,” said White. “This system will also bring with it some high winds up to 45 miles per hour along the coast. Showers will linger into the weekend before a more focused system arrives Sunday and into Monday. We could see another half to 1 inch of rain. Next week we’ll see a parade of weak systems with a couple of wet days followed by a couple dry days.”

CDFW to host virtual ocean salmon meeting
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) invites the public to attend its annual Salmon Information Meeting via webinar on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The meeting will feature the outlook for this year’s sport and commercial ocean salmon fisheries, in addition to a review of last year’s salmon fisheries and spawning escapement.

Following the informational presentations, stakeholders are encouraged to offer testimony and recommendations for the 2023 fishing season regulations in advance of the upcoming Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meetings in March and April.

The 2023 Salmon Information Meeting marks the beginning of a two-month long public process used to develop annual sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing regulations. The process involves collaborative negotiations between West Coast states, federal agencies, tribal co-managers, and stakeholders interested in salmon fishery management and conservation.

Public input will help California representatives develop a range of recommended season alternatives at the March 5-10 PFMC meeting in Seattle. Final season recommendations will be adopted at the PFMC’s April 1-7 meeting in Foster City, CA. For more information, visit wildlife.ca.gov/News/cdfw-to-host-virtual-public-meeting-on-ocean-salmon-fisheries3

Eel River steelhead returns
According to Andrew Anderson, an Aquatic Biologist with PG&E, during the week of January 23 – January 29, 15 steelhead (female 3, male 10, unknown 2) were observed moving through the Van Arsdale Fish Station (VAFS). This brings the season total for adult upstream migrating steelhead to 35 (female 11, male 19, unknown 5).

A final round of salmon carcass surveys was conducted in the Tomki Creek watershed during the week of January 23 – 29; no live fish or redds were observed. For more information, visit www.eelriver.org/the-eel-river/fish-count.

The Rivers:
All North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith, main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened at any time. The low-flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit fishingthenorthcoast.com/2021/09/22/2021-2022-low-flow-information-for-north-coast-rivers/

Mad
The Mad dipped below 525 cubic feet per second, but the water color remains dirty. On top of that, there aren’t many fish around. The hatchery has seen very few returning compared to years past. Hopefully the rain coming later in the week will bring in some fish. Flows are predicted to peak at 3,500 cfs (10.5 feet) early Monday morning.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem is dropping, albeit very slowly. Flows on Thursday were around 5,900 cfs, which is still big. The color is starting to come around, but it doesn’t look like it will drop into fishable shape prior to the rain coming later this week. It will probably need another week or so of dry weather before conditions are really good. Predicted to go above 16,000 cfs Monday morning.

Seamus Steele of Capistrano Beach, CA holds a nice steelhead landed on the South Fork Eel on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Fishing the North Coast Guide Service

South Fork Eel
The South Fork provided the best conditions over the weekend and drew quite the crowd. The fishing wasn’t red hot by any means. Most boats got the opportunity at a fish but there were plenty of skunks. Conditions will continue to improve throughout the week and into Saturday before it blows out again. Predicted to peak at over 4,300 cfs Monday morning. Depending on how much rain we get next week, it could be off color for at least a few days.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was down to 415 cfs as of Thursday and is in great shape. There were plenty of bank anglers taking advantage over the weekend but reports were hard to come by. It’s predicted to jump up to over 1,400 cfs by Friday night followed by a bigger rise on Sunday. Will likely be off color most of next week.

Smith River
The Smith was sitting at just above 7 feet at the Jed Smith gauge as of Thursday. The river is low, clear and snaggy. The boat pressure has been light as most guides have moved to other rivers. It’s forecast to receive a much-needed bump in flows beginning Sunday morning. Predicted to peak at 11.5 feet Sunday night, which should make conditions excellent next week. Hopefully this will bring in some fresh fish.

Chetco

Steelhead fishing has been slow on the Chetco, lower Rogue, Elk and Sixes rivers reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The action appeared to be picking up early last week, with guides getting four or more a day,” said Martin “By the weekend, catch rates were a fish for every three or four boats. Rain this week may boost the action. The Chetco still has green water in the deeper slots, but is dropping and clearing quickly.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, crabbing has been very good out of Brookings, but will slow after the Feb. 4 commercial opener. “Fishing has been slow for lingcod and rockfish because of rough weather. A few surfperch are being caught from Brookings-area beaches.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.