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Heavy rains blow out North Coast rivers

Fishing the North Coast by Kenny Priest, author badge,

he parade of storms currently 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, there isn’t a patch of green water to be had. And the dirty water conditions may be with us for an extended period of time.

Storms are lined up one after the other off the coast, each bringing the potential for one to two inches of rain. There’s real good possibility that neither the Smith nor Chetco could drop back down to fishable levels until late next week. For the other coastal rivers that aren’t so quick to clear – it could be a couple weeks before they resemble anything close to green.

Hannah Whitely of Laytonville landed this bright Chetco River hatchery steelhead Photo courtesy of Brice Dusi's Guide Service

Hannah Whitely of Laytonville landed this bright Chetco River hatchery steelhead last Sunday while fishing with guide Brice Dusi. The Chetco, along with all of the North Coast rivers, is currently blown out due to the storms that hit the region on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Brice Dusi's Guide Service

Weather outlook
According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we’ll see one system after another through at least next Thursday. “We’re expecting to see heavy rain on Thursday, with one to one and a half inches falling in the 24-hour period. We may have a little break Friday morning, with the rain expected to return in the evening and into Saturday. Another one to one and a half inches is expected. Another wet storm will arrive Sunday that could dump up to two inches. Depending on how fast the system moves through the area, we could see a break on Monday though another system will arrive Monday night and stick around into Tuesday. Again, another one to one two inches is expected. Following a short break on Wednesday, rain again is in the forecast for Thursday,” Kennedy added. Snow levels will remain in the four to five-thousand foot range for the week.

Crab domoic acid levels on the decline
Domoic acid levels are finally beginning to decline along the North Coast, providing hope that both sport and commercial crab seasons will open soon. The California Dept. of Public Health released lab results on January 8 from samples taken from December 26 to the 30th.

Two areas were tested in Crescent City. In the north area, six samples were taken with an average domoic acid level of 17ppm, with no crabs tested above the federal action level of 30ppm. In the south area, six crabs were tested with an average domoic acid level of 23ppm. One crab tested above the 30ppm action level.
Two areas were tested in Trinidad with an average domoic acid level of 20ppm. One crab tested above the action level.

Fort Bragg tested two areas, Usal and Manchester. The average domoic acid levels from six samples were 26ppm and 28ppm with two crabs from each area testing above the action levels. For the latest test results, visit HealthInfo/Pages/fdbDomoicAcidInfo

Mad River Hatcher to close?
Rumors have been circulating this past week that the Mad River Fish Hatchery is once again on the chopping block due to lack of funding. No official word yet from the CDFW, but information should be forthcoming in the next few days.

The Rivers:
Chetco River

The Chetco blew out on Wednesday, and it could be done for awhile reports guide Alan Borges of Alan’s Guide Service. He said, “With how much rain is expected and how the creeks looked on Wednesday, my guess is it won’t be fishable until mid next week. Prior to blowing out, the fishing was really good. There were lots of fish around, with some real decent schools of hatchery fish mixed in. The influx of water should allow the fish to push into the creeks, and will likely bring in some fresh ones from the ocean. We may even begin to see a few downers.”

Smith River
It could be awhile before the Smith is back down to a driftable level reports Crescent City guide Mike Coopman. “The river blew out on Tuesday night and it was still rising on Wednesday. If the snow level drops, we may get a few plunkable days in. If the storms continue to drop a couple inches of rain a day, it could be late next week before we’re back on the water. Before blowing out, the fishing was steady, with most boats getting between four to five opportunities per trip,” Coopman added.

Mad River
The river is big and dirty after jumping from 2,600 cfs to 8,200 cfs overnight. With more rain on the way, it will awhile before it comes back into shape. In the meantime, liners are still catching their share of steelhead.

Eel and Van Duzen rivers
As of Wednesday, the main stem was running at nearly 26,000 cfs and still going up. It will take a couple weeks of dry weather, which isn’t in the forecast, to drop back into shape. The upper end of the South Fork was just starting to turn green when the latest rounds of storms hit. It jumped from 3,000 cfs to over 10,000 on the Miranda gauge in 12 hours. Like the South Fork, the Van Duzen jumped from just under 2,500 to over 10,000 cfs overnight on Tuesday. With more storms on the way, it won’t fish for the foreseeable future.

The entire Trinity blew out on Wednesday reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “Almost all of the creeks I looked at on Wednesday were dirty; the only exception was the North Fork. If we don’t get a bunch more rain, the top of the river could fish in a couple days. It just depends on how quickly the creeks clear up,” Huber said. As of Wednesday, flows were 1,400 cfs on the Douglas City gauge and 16,000 cfs at Hoopa.

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

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