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Big rains should entice winter steelhead

Fishing the North Coast, by Kenny Priest, author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com

orth Coast rivers will likely see the last of the late fall-run salmon push in over the next few days as most impressive storm to date is barreling down on the region. The majority of these late-season kings have already made their way up rivers like the Chetco, Smith, Mad and Eel, but you can bet a few more spurts of fresh fish will push in between now and the beginning of the year. For the Smith and Chetco, the season was a good one. The rest of our rivers had barely enough water to allow the salmon to migrate, and never reached the minimum flows necessary to open for fishing. The exception was the Mad, which opened for a couple of days.

One of the best parts of living in such a fishing mecca like the North Coast — no sooner does one season come to a close, another one’s right behind it. So it’s out with the salmon and in with the widely popular winter steelhead. And as the influx of water hits our coastal rivers this weekend and brings in the salmon stragglers, the first wave of steelhead should begin to make an appearance. Most of the rivers have already seen a few, but I expect they’ll start to show up in bigger numbers in the coming days.

Nelson Money landed this nice hatchery steelhead on a recent float down the Trinity River. Photo courtesy of Steve Huber's Guide Service
Grass Valley resident Nelson Money landed this nice hatchery steelhead on a recent float down the Trinity River. The Trinity, like the rest of the North Coast rivers, should see increased flows over the next few days due to the storms currently hitting the region. Photo courtesy of Steve Huber’s Guide Service

Weekend forecast
We’re entering into an active pattern now, and for the next week we should see rainfall just about every other day according to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The first system will have begun Wednesday night and will last through Thursday, with showers continuing on Friday. Rainfall totals will be two to four inches in Del Norte and one and a half to two and a half in Humboldt. The next rainfall will hit Saturday night and stick around through Sunday, with a break coming Sunday evening. Totals will be from one to two inches. A smaller system will arrive on Monday, dropping another half to three-quarter inches. After a break on Monday night and Tuesday, the next system will arrive sometime on Wednesday,” Kennedy added. “These next few storms will be cold, with the snow level hovering around the 3,500 to 4,000 foot level.”

Crab update
State Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, will host a public forum on Thursday Dec. 3 to discuss the future of the crab-fishing industry in the wake of emergency closures due to a toxic algal bloom. Fishery experts, commercial interests and decision-makers will gather in Santa Rosa to discuss ocean conditions, health issues, economic factors and the future of the $60 million commercial North Coast crab industry. The meeting will run from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Steele Lane Community Center, 415 Steele Lane, Santa Rosa. Live stream is available here.

On the local front, according to the Public Health Dept., the next domoic test results will be available here sometime on Thursday prior to the meeting.

The Rivers:
North Coast rivers that are regulated by low flow closures, including the Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, and Van Duzen could all open by the weekend, depending on how much rain falls. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at any time. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is 707-822-3164. NOTE: The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River will be closed until January 1, 2016

Chetco River
As of Wednesday evening, the Chetco was running close to 1,600 cfs and going up quickly. It’s predicted to rise through Friday and will likely peak sometime Friday evening at roughly 5,000 cfs. If the rain falls as predicted, it should remain fishable through the weekend, especially the upper end. Like the Smith, the last of the salmon are making their way in and the winter steelhead should be right behind them.

Smith River
Like the Chetco, there are still bright salmon around and plenty that have already spawned. Without a major river flushing to date, there’s a good chance more salmon could be on the way. We’ll know pretty quickly this weekend. The river is predicted to reach nearly 10,000 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge early Friday morning, which should also bring in the first wave of winter steelhead.

Main Stem Eel
Predicted to rise beginning Thursday night and may open on Friday morning. It could go as high as 2,300 cfs on Saturday. Minimum flows needed to open are 350 cfs at the gauging station near Scotia, see this file.

South Fork Eel
Predicted to rise beginning Thursday night and may open on Friday morning. Forecasted to peak at roughly 1,600 cfs early Saturday morning. Minimum flows needed to open are 340 cfs at the gauging station at Miranda. Refer to this file.

Mad River
Forecasted to rise on Thursday and again on Sunday, it could open to fishing on Thursday or Friday. Peak flows are predicted at 1,400 cfs on Friday morning. Minimum flows needed to open are 200 cfs at the gauging station at the Highway 299 Bridge. Check this file for the latest info.

Van Duzen
Forecasted to rise on Thursday and again on Sunday, it could open to fishing on Thursday. Minimum flows needed to open are 150 cfs at the gauging station near Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. See graphic here.

Redwood Creek
Predicted to rise on Wednesday and should peak on Sunday evening at roughly 1,700 cfs. Minimum flow needed to open to fishing are 300 cfs at the gauging station near the Highway 101 Bridge. Check flows here.

Upper Trinity
Working the Douglas City area, guide Steve Huber reports the water is low and clear as of Wednesday, but there are some fish around. He said, “The rain coming this weekend is just what the doctor ordered. It’s definitely going to shuffle the deck, moving the fish around as well as bringing in new ones from the Klamath. The steelhead have been sitting in the deeper holes, but the increased flows will put them in their more traditional holding areas like the flats, riffles and tailouts. As of Wednesday, most of the boats were getting between two to five adults per trip,” Huber 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


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