Winter Steelhead Remain Elusive

Winter Steelhead Remain Elusive
Justin Richardson of Fortuna landed a nice steelhead on the Van Duzen River over the weekend. The Van Duzen is currently off color but should be fishable later in the week.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Zack Richardson

by Kenny Priest

Another week gone by and another week of very poor steelhead catching. As we approach mid-February, I’m no longer certain the fish are just running late. I’m starting to think they aren’t coming. At least in big numbers. We’ve had some excellent water conditions on our coastal rivers this season and that still didn’t do the trick. But green rivers with perfect flows, unfortunately, are only half of the equation that make up winter fishing success. The other is the “gray ghost” otherwise known as steelhead. It’s entirely possible after a few drought-ridden years, we’re seeing the aftermath. But, I, for one, will hold out hope the season will turn around. But they better make it quick, we’re starting to run out of days.

Weather outlook
According to Jeff Tonkin of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, the next reasonable chance of rain will come Friday morning into Saturday. “We’re looking at about a third of an inch of rain for both the Smith and Eel basins,” said Tonkin. “After that, it looks like we’ll go back into a wetter pattern next Tuesday through Saturday. These will be colder systems and most of the precipitation will fall as snow so we don’t expect to see large river rises.”

CDFW seeks input on 2023 sport Pacific Halibut fishery
California anglers who are interested in the recreational Pacific halibut fishery are invited to participate in an online survey to help inform the CDFW about angler preferences for open fishing dates during the upcoming 2023 season and offers an opportunity for input on development of the 2024 Catch Sharing Plan that is used to allocate quota to several West Coast fisheries. Results of the survey, which is open until Feb. 12, will be used to develop recommended season dates that will be provided to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The Pacific halibut fishery takes place off Northern California. In 2022, the fishery was open May 1 through Aug. 7, with a one fish daily bag limit. The fishery closed Aug. 7 due to projected attainment of the quota. The 2023 California recreational Pacific halibut quota will be 39,520 net pounds, approximately the same as all prior years since 2019.The online survey can be found at For more information on the Pacific halibut fishery in California, visit

The Rivers:
The Mad was just starting to drop into fishable shape right before the rain fell on Saturday. After reaching nearly 3,000 cfs Sunday, flows were back down to 1,000 cubic feet per second as of Thursday and it remains off color. A small push of fish made their way back to the hatchery Monday night, so hopefully we’ll start to see some better numbers. To date, the fishing has been very slow. River conditions through the weekend don’t look good.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was fishable over the weekend, but flows were still really high. A few boats ventured out Friday, but it was the same story — not many fish around. The river blew out Sunday with flows peaking at 21,000 cfs Monday morning. It’s now back on the drop but will need at least another week before it’s in fishable shape.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was the most popular river on the coast judging by the number of boats. Conditions were excellent up until Sunday, but scores still remained low. Boats were getting a chance at one to three fish per trip, but there were a lot of zeros. The river is dropping quickly this week and it should be back in fishable shape by later in the week. As of Thursday, flows were 2,160 cfs at Miranda.

Van Duzen
Like the rest of the coastal rivers, the Van Duzen blew out Sunday. As of Thursday, flows were back under 750 cfs and it could be fishable by later in the week. Prior to the blowout, fishing was decent with bank anglers catching a few fresh steelhead.

Smith River
The Smith received a much-needed bump in flows Sunday, going from 1,825 to 4,200 cfs (8.9 feet) on the Jed Smith gauge. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for the fishing. Fishing this week has been reportedly very slow. The river is dropping quickly and will be back to low and clear conditions soon. Another slight increase in flows is forecast for Friday night.

Chetco/Southern Oregon
“Steelhead fishing improved over the weekend on the Chetco, as rains increased flows and brought in fresh fish,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Guides have enjoyed the best catch rates so far this season the last few days, with the best action in the lower river. Larger numbers of hatchery fish have arrived. Fishing has been slow on the Rogue, Elk and Sixes, but improved on the Coquille and Umpqua.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, rough weather has kept bottom fish anglers at the docks in Brookings. “Big swells are expected through the weekend.”

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 For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email

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