Steelhead Season Off to a Slow Start

Joshua Auckland landed this nice hatchery steelhead on Saturday while fishing the Mad River. The big buck weighed in at 14 pounds. The Mad has been the best choice for winter steelhead this past week, and river conditions should remain ideal through Saturday.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Auckland

by Kenny Priest
1-2-2020
Website

It’s been somewhat of a slow start to the winter steelhead season on the North Coast. At one time or another, all of the coastal rivers have been in fishable shape, so it’s not for a lack of effort.  If anything is missing, it’s the fact that none of the rivers have had a real good blowout. When that happens, which is usually earlier in the season, that’s typically when we see the first good wave of steelhead move into the rivers. To date, we’ve had some decent rises, but no real gully washers as of yet. I’m sure there’s other factors leading to the sluggish start, but the most commonly mentioned is the absence of large storms. Even with less than ideal conditions, there’s been steelhead caught on all of the rivers. Just not in big numbers. Right now, the Mad River is probably your best bet. The main stem Eel would be the next option while the rest of the rivers are either dirty, low, or short on steelhead. As has been the case this season, another couple weak storm systems are forecasted for Wednesday and Friday. We’ll likely see some small flow increases on all the rivers, but it won’t be the big one we’ve been waitiIt’s been somewhat of a slow start to the winter steelhead season on the North Coast. At one time or another, all of the coastal rivers have been in fishable shape, so it’s not for a lack of effort.  If anything is missing, it’s the fact that none of the rivers have had a real good blowout. When that happens, which is usually earlier in the season, that’s typically when we see the first good wave of steelhead move into the rivers.

To date, we’ve had some decent rises, but no real gully washers as of yet. I’m sure there’s other factors leading to the sluggish start, but the most commonly mentioned is the absence of large storms. Even with less than ideal conditions, there’s been steelhead caught on all of the rivers. Just not in big numbers. Right now, the Mad River is probably your best bet. The main stem Eel would be the next option while the rest of the rivers are either dirty, low, or short on steelhead. As has been the case this season, another couple weak storm systems are forecasted for Wednesday and Friday. We’ll likely see some small flow increases on all the rivers, but it won’t be the big one we’ve been waiting for. But who knows, it could be enough to bring in some fresh steelhead.

Weather ahead
A couple weak fronts will move through the area beginning on Wednesday according to Josh Whisnant of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “The Eel basin will see from a tenth to a quarter inch, with the heavier rain falling to the north,” said Whisnant. “The Smith basin could see a quarter to a half-inch. The next front will move in Friday night into Saturday morning. We’ll see a little more precipitation from this one, with up to a quarter falling in the Eel basin. Up in Del Norte, the Smith could see a half to an inch. Sunday is looking mostly dry, with the next chance of rain coming Tuesday afternoon.”

Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River opened to fishing on Wednesday, January 1, but was immediately closed due to low flows. Fishing is allowed from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek and from Stansberry Creek to confluence with Honeydew Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is regulated by low flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station. As of Thursday, flows were right around 260 cfs. Be sure and call the low flow hotline (707-822-3164) prior to fishing.

The Rivers:
Chetco/Elk
The Chetco is full of half-pounders and a few adult steelhead according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers and drift boaters are doing best on the lower end,” said Martin. “Big numbers of smolts are making it difficult to fish roe on the upper end. A few late kings also are being caught. Salmon were still being caught on the Elk River last week, but low flows made it difficult to drift this week. With more rain coming, it will be the best shot at late salmon.”

Smith
The Smith is low and clear, and fishing has been tough reports Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. “There’s very few steelhead around right now. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a couple chances on a full-day drift,” said Coopman.

The Smith is just under 7 feet on the Jed Smith gauge as of Tuesday. It’s predicted to bump up to 8 feet following Wednesday’s rain, followed by a bigger rise on Saturday to nearly 9 feet.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was on a slight rise Tuesday, but remained in fishable shape. Flows should be just about perfect through the weekend, and probably a good choice if you’re looking to catch a steelhead. Fishing pressure wasn’t too heavy over the weekend, and boats were getting up to two adults and a few half-pounders.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork peaked at just 700 cfs on Tuesday morning. Predicted to drop below 400 cfs on the Miranda gauge by the weekend. Haven’t heard of any steelhead being caught as of yet.

Van Duzen
Flowing at 450 cfs on Tuesday and predicted to hit 970 cfs by Saturday. The river was dirty on Tuesday following Sunday’s rain. Steelhead fishing has been slow so far.

Mad
The Mad is in perfect shape as of Tuesday according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. He said. “Up until Sunday, the fishing was really slow, but has since picked up. There hasn’t been one spot any better than anywhere else, you just have to look for groups of fish. I think there’s more fish in the river than we realize. We’re supposed to see a little bump in flows on Wednesday, but hopefully the river won’t get too muddy. A bigger one is forecasted for Saturday which has the river going to 8.5 feet. That will more than likely put some color in the river, but it looks like it will drop down pretty quickly. Most of the fish are coming on beads and worms, but roe is working as well.”

Mad River Steelhead Derby rules
The derby kicked-off on Jan. 1 and will run through Feb. 29. Below are the rules for those who signed up:

  • Payouts are 1st place: $500; 2nd place: $250; 3rd place: $150. One youth division winner will be awarded a $150 gift certificate to a local sporting goods store. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place payouts will be a written check from NCGASA. Winners will be determined by the fishing coordinator and a rep from NCGASA. Winners based on the longest, measured, hatchery steelhead photographed and entered correctly within the Derby event dates: Jan. 1 to Feb. 29. Upon an exact tie in length, the fishing coordinator and a rep from NCGASA will determine a new payout and prizes. Any and all disputes will be solved by NCGASA.
  • Any cheating on the derby deemed by NCGASA will be a forfeiture of all monies paid. All participants must have a valid California fishing license and steelhead report card and must follow all California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules.
  • The boundaries of the Derby are the Mad River mouth to Boundary Creek.
  • Fishing hours start on January 1, 2020 at 6 a.m. to February 29, 2020 at 6 p.m. Any entries submitted after 6 p.m. on Feb. 29 will not be included as deemed by the fishing coordinator.
  • All hatchery steelhead entered into the Derby must be measured from tip of the closed mouth to the fork of the tail with the tape on top of the fish. Photographs of this measurement showing both the tip of the mouth and the fork of the tail must be submitted with a secondary photo of you and your hatchery steelhead. Please list date, time, location of where the hatchery fish was caught or any other details when submitting. The information will be used to caption your photos on social media and on the website. All photos used will become property of NCGASA and the Derby for promotional use. You may harvest only hatchery steelhead. The adipose fin will be clipped on a hatchery steelhead. All hatchery steelhead must be caught in the mouth by rod and reel and landed legally by hand or net. Send your photos to [email protected] or contact the fishing coordinator (Tracy Mac) at (707) 496-2948 for other ways to submit.
  • All participants must follow all local, state and federal laws in order for your hatchery steelhead entry to be entered to win. All California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules are required and to be followed including low flow closures. Only fish caught while the river is open to fishing can be submitted. NCGASA reserves the right to disqualify any participate if the hatchery steelhead entry is suspected to be caught outside the 2020 Derby dates (Jan. 1 to Feb. 29, 2020). Participate agrees to these rules by entering this NCGASA members only hatchery steelhead derby
  • All entrants and people helping with the derby understand the risks involved with fishing on the Mad River and are required to follow all California Department of Boating and Waterways procedures and California Department of Fish and Wildlife rules.

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More Reports

Fishing the North Coast Reports
for Thursday, December 26th, 2019

: Steelhead Conditions Look Good For The Weekend
Chetco River: Chetco/Elk/Sixes Fishing Report
Smith River: The Smith Has Dropped Back Into Shape
Eel River: Main Stem Eel Fishing Report
Eel River - South Fork: South Fork Eel Conditions
Van Duzen River: Van Duzen Conditions
Mad River: Conditions Are Looking Good For The Weekend

Fishing the North Coast Reports
for Thursday, December 19th, 2019

: River Blowouts Predicted For The Weekend
Trinity River - Upper: The Rains Have Helped The Steelhead
Mad River: Mad River Fishing Report
Van Duzen River: Steelhead Reports Hard To Come By
Eel River - South Fork: South Fork Eel Fishing Report
Eel River: Nice Adult Steelhead Being Caught
Smith River: Smith River Fishing Report
Chetco River: Chetco/Elk/ Sixes Fishing Report