Rain Should Provide Last Shot at Late-Fall Kings

Rain Should Provide Last Shot at Late-Fall Kings
Former Blue Lake resident Justin Winkle landed this monster hatchery king salmon back in early November on the Smith River. With rain in the forecast, all North Coast rivers should open back up to fishing this week.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of David Wilson

by Kenny Priest

The rains that fell in early November were a godsend for our late-fall salmon runs. The increased flows allowed some of the salmon milling in the estuaries and lower sections of the rivers to get to their spawning grounds. But just as quickly as the rain fell, it stopped. Now, nearly a month later, additional rain is finally filling our rivers. The timing of these November and December rains can be a double-edged sword. While it could allow salmon to reach the protected upper tributary spawning areas, it can also cause considerable harm. In the month or so between storms, many salmon have had no other options than to spawn in the mainstem of the rivers or the lower reaches of the tributaries. A large flow increase could scour the streambeds and wash away the redds. The best we can hope for is just enough water to get the salmon to where they need to go, while leaving the already-deposited salmon redd intact. But we’ll take whatever we can get.

As for fishing, the incoming storms should provide one last shot at some late-fall kings. And we’ll likely see the first sign of the impending winter steelhead run. Per usual, the quick-clearing Smith and Chetco will provide the best opportunity. As of Thursday morning, the Smith has peaked at 5,530 cubic feet per second, making for prime weekend conditions. Flows on the Chetco reached just above 3,000 cfs on Thursday morning. Keep in mind river level projections for all North Coast rivers are changing every hour.

The main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Mad will all see flows begin to rise either late Wednesday or Thursday morning. Once all the rivers crest and begin to recede to fishable levels, we should see the first wave of winter steelhead. After a tough late-fall salmon season, seeing the rivers with bright steelhead sure would be a welcome sight.

The Rivers:
As of Thursday morning, all North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith. main stem Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing. Only the South Fork Eel remained closed, but should open by Friday. As a reminder, the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream, the main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River are all closed until Jan. 1, 2023. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened at any time. The low-flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit fishingthenorthcoast.com/2021/09/22/2021-2022-low-flow-information-for-north-coast-rivers/.

Forecast to reach 1,668 cfs by Thursday afternoon. Will likely be off color over the weekend.

Main stem Eel
Flows are predicted to hit 1,930 cfs Friday evening, followed by another larger rise Monday. When flows drop to a fishable level, we should start to see some steelhead as well as a few late-arriving kings.

South Fork Eel
Like the main stem, the South Fork will start to rise Thursday, reaching 940 cfs Friday morning. Another smaller rise is predicted for Monday. Will likely be muddy over the weekend, depending on how the East Branch looks.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen opened Thursday morning as flows are forecast to reach 630 cfs by the afternoon. The water could be muddy depending on rainfall totals.

Big changes are coming by Thursday as the Smith is forecast to rise following some decent rain projections Wednesday. The Smith will likely be the hot spot Friday and over the weekend as it will be the first river to fish. Expect to see some late kings as well as the first wave of winter steelhead.

“Heavy rain the middle of this week could set up good flows for late-season salmon on the Chetco, Elk and Sixes rivers,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “All of the rivers should be in play by Saturday, and depending how much rain falls, prime conditions are possible through the weekend. If too much rain falls, the Elk and Smith would be the best options, as the Chetco and Sixes could blow out. Big numbers of kings remain in all of the rivers, but low flows have limited opportunities for drift boaters. Expect a new batch of kings, and the first winter steelhead of the season after the rain. The Chetco is expected to pass 3,000 cfs and could get muddy on Saturday. Flows on Monday were only 200 cfs.”

Kenny Priest operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

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