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Steelhead season heats up coastal rivers

orth Coast rivers are likely seeing the last of the late fall-run salmon push in this week as all of the rivers are back on the drop following last weekend’s storms. The majority of these late-season kings have already made their way up rivers like the Chetco, Smith, Mad, Van Duzen and Eel, but you can bet a few more spurts of fresh fish will push in between now and the new year. The season was a good one, especially on the quick-clearing Smith, which had more fishable days than all of the other rivers combined.

A lot of the success can be attributed to the well above normal rainfall that’s fallen since October.

One of the best parts of living on the North Coast and being surrounded by coastal rivers — no sooner does one season come to a close, another one’s right behind it. So it’s out with the kings and in with the widely-popular winter steelhead. With the rivers dropping and turning green, 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.

Winter Steelhead, Photo courtesy of Steve Huber’s Guide Service.
Steve Malatesta of Watsonville landed a nice hatchery steelhead on a recent trip to the upper Trinity River. Winter steelhead have started to make their way into the lower Trinity River, with the run typically lasting well into March. Photo courtesy of Steve Huber’s Guide Service.

Weekend forecast
The dry weather will stick around through Saturday, with the next system arriving on Sunday according to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “We can expect periods of light rain on Sunday turning into widespread showers in the evening. These will linger into Monday. This will be a colder system, with snow levels dropping to 2,500 to 3,000 feet. Del Norte could see up to two inches of rain with this system and Humboldt could see a half to one and a half inches. Tuesday will be a transition day with scattered showers not amounting to much. Tuesday night and into the day Wednesday will be dry, with rain returning on Wednesday evening. There’s a really good chance we’ll see heavier rain on Thursday with higher rainfall totals possible,” Kennedy added.

Eel River salmon returns
As of Nov. 28, a total of 390 Chinook salmon have entered the Van Arsdale fish count station according to Scott L Harris, an associate Biologist with the Northern Region. Making up that total is 167 males, 171 Females, and 52 jacks. A total of 138 were counted this past week. For more information, visit

The Rivers:
Chetco River
The Chetco was down to 4,610 cfs on Tuesday night after cresting at 16,000 cfs on Friday reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “It should start fishing on Wednesday, with prime conditions Friday and Saturday. There may be a few salmon still around, but fishing will probably be slow until the middle part of December. I will be side-drifting, looking for early steelhead, along with running salmon plugs in some of the more likely salmon holes. Salmon fishing was slow before the big rains last week.”

Smith River
Its transition time on the Smith, with the majority of the salmon having made their way to the spawning grounds. A few were caught this week, but overall, it was pretty slow. There are a few half-pounders around, which is typical for this time of the year. A few winter steelhead are starting to show, so it’s probably time to get out the side-drifting gear.

The Mad is still big and brown and probably won’t fish until sometime next week reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “With Ruth Lake full, it won’t drop as quickly. Looking at the predictions, it probably won’t turn green until late next week at the earliest. And that’s if we don’t see any more rain. It’s currently at running at just under 9.5 feet, ideal conditions are right around 7.5 feet,” Kelly added.

The main stem is still big and dirty, but dropping quickly according to Paul Grundmans of Grundmans Sporting Goods in Rio Dell. He said, “It should drop back into fishable shape in a week or so if we have some dry weather. There’s been some steelhead caught already, and we typically see them start to show up in bigger numbers by mid-December. Once the river turns green, we should see some really good fishing for both late kings and steelhead.”

South Fork
The Leggett area should be fishable late this week, and the Miranda area should drop back in by the weekend. There should be a few kings around and some early steelhead in the mix as well.

Van Duzen
Still running at nearly 1,800 cfs, the Van Duzen still has a way to go before it comes back into shape. According to Grundman, it could fish by Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Upper Trinity
It must be steelhead season as cold weather and rain have hit the Trinity reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber’s Guide Service. “This past week, we were getting one to four fish per trip. Most of our action is coming on plugs, with the Maglip 3.0’s really working well. We are starting to see the beginning of the winter run, but there aren’t a lot of fish in the system right now. The fish we are catching are a nice size for the Trinity. Snow on the Alps and more rain will only help,” Huber added.

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