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North Coast rivers rejuvenated by storms

Fishing the North Coast by Kenny Priest, author badge,

ff and on rain is in the forecast for the next week or so, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Ya, the main stem Eel was just coming into prime shape and will likely be toast for a while, but boy did the Chetco and Smith ever need some water. The two rivers to the North have been running on fumes for a couple weeks now, and this rain will provide a nice little shot in the arm. The increase in flows should bring in new fish from the salt and also push some of the fish down from the tributaries and creeks. The same could be said for the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Mad Rivers. While they were green and plenty fishable, a good pulse of water will bring new life, as well as bright steelhead.

Weather update
According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, the wet pattern that has eluded us the past couple weeks has resumed. “On Thursday, we’ll see periods of light rain and higher elevation snow in the morning then rain showers and higher elevation snow showers in the afternoon and evening. Snow level will dip down near 3,500 feet. Thursdays rainfall totals could reach two inches in Del Norte and one and a half in Humboldt. Another system moves in Friday, which could drop another three-quarters to two inches in Del Norte and a half to one and a half in Humboldt. Saturday should be dry, but more showers are expected for Sunday over the mountain vicinity of the Smith and Klamath basins associated with weak front moving across Oregon. Monday is looking dry, but another system rolls in on Tuesday. Del Norte could see up to an inch and a half while Humboldt could see an inch of rain. As of now, next Wednesday through Friday are looking dry,” Kennedy added.

Patrick Cleary lands steelhead, photo courtesy of Fishing the North Coast/Kenny Priest
Patrick Cleary of Meadow Vista landed this nice native steelhead on a recent float down the South Fork of the Eel River. Rain is in the forecast for the next several days, which could turn some coastal rivers muddy. Photo courtesy of Fishing the North Coast/Kenny Priest

Rowdy Creek Hatchery Steelhead Derby this weekend
If you plan on heading to the Smith or Chetco this weekend, keep in mind Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery Steelhead Derby is taking place Friday and Saturday. A total of 22 teams, consisting of 44 boats will be splitting time between the two rivers.

2015 Klamath River Fall Chinook returns
According to preliminary estimates, only 83,846 Fall Chinook salmon made their way back up the Klamath in 2015. Of those, 77,749 were adults and 6,097 were jacks, or two-year old salmon. The preseason predicted run size estimate was roughly 120,000. According to Sara Borok, an Environmental Scientist on the Klamath River, the run-size was quite a bit lower than predicted. “We may be looking at some pretty small quotas this fall,” said Borok.

CDFW to Hold Public Meeting on Ocean Salmon Fisheries
The public is invited to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Annual Ocean Salmon Information Meeting on March 2, 2016 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Sonoma County Water Agency office located at 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. The meeting will provide the latest information on California salmon stocks and the outlook for ocean and river salmon fisheries during the upcoming 2016 season. For more information on the meeting, please contact CDFW Environmental Scientist Kandice Morgenstern at (707) 576-2879 or visit

The Rivers:
Chetco River
Flows were down to 1,400 cfs on Wednesday, and the river is extremely clear according to Val Early of Early Fishing Guide Service. She said, “We are low and clear right now – very little flow. There are a few fresh fish coming in but they are really spooky. We are supposed to get a rise this weekend but we’ll see if that storm hits us enough.” As of Wednesday, rain is predicted to put the Chetco on the rise beginning Thursday and it’s forecasted to peak mid-day Saturday at 6,200 cfs.

Smith River
The Smith dipped below 8-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday, and fishing had been tough under low and clear conditions. That will all change as the Smith could see up to three to four inches of rain between Thursday and Friday. The river will be on the rise Thursday, peaking at just over 12-feet. Another shot of rain will push it to nearly 13 feet on Friday night. The increased flows should do wonders for the river, bringing in new fish as well flushing down lots of spawners.

Eel River (main stem)
Fred Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods reports the main stem Eel has good color, but it’s still a little pushy. “A few fish were being caught, but not that many. There’s still too much water, the river hasn’t slotted up yet and the fish could be in a lot of different places. With the rain returning, it could easily be a week or more before it drops back into shape after it peaks on Saturday,” said Grundman.

Eel River (South Fork)
The river is in good shape, though the upper sections are starting to clear. Most of the action this week has been on the lower end where boats are getting one to four fish per trip. There are quite a few downers around as well as a handful of fresh fish. It’s predicted to blow out on Thursday, but the top end could be fishable by late next week.

Van Duzen
According to Grundman, the river is in good shape, but I’m not hearing a lot of good reports. “I’m hearing the fishing is mediocre at best,” Grundman said.

Mad River
The Mad was down to 815 cfs as of Wednesday and in need of rain. And it’s coming. If the forecast holds, it will be on a vertical rise starting Wednesday night and peaking on Friday night at around 6,500 cfs. The last few days, the bite has been hit and miss, with a mix of beat up hatchery runbacks and a handful of bright, wild fish. The influx of water should bring in another wave of fresh fish and start to bring some more spawners down river.

Upper Trinity
Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service reports the entire Trinity is in good shape as of Wednesday. He said “There’s definitely some fish around, though we’re seeing mostly downers with a handful of fresh wild ones mixed in. My guess is the big water we’ve had moved the fish from the main river into the tributaries a little earlier than the past few years, but what we’re seeing now is normal. Boats are getting one to two per trip, and the fish are in the four to six pound range. With more rain on the way, it looks like the lower section could blow out, but the upper river above Indian Creek should remain fishable.”

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