Steelhead Season Ending Like It Began, Wet

Steelhead Season Ending Like It Began, Wet
Nick Polito landed a nice winter steelhead back in February on the Eel River. Other than on the main stem Eel and Smith rivers, steelhead season will close after March 31.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Kenny Priest/Fishing the North Coast Guide Service

by Kenny Priest

It’s looking like this year’s winter is refusing to end, but unfortunately, the winter steelhead season will. Enough rain has fallen over the past few days to keep the majority of the coastal rivers high and off-color, essentially washing away the last week of steelhead season.

As of Wednesday, all of the coastal rivers, already swollen from an extremely wet March, were back on the rise. The quick-clearing Smith and Chetco were also feeling the effects of the current storm, but they may come around and fish later in the week. It looks like those are the only two rivers that will fish prior to the season closing after Sunday. Humboldt rivers, including the Mad, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Redwood Creek, are all toast as far as green water goes. As we look back on the season, what a stark contrast to 2022. Last year we started off great with early-season rains bringing in good numbers of steelhead. And then, it quit raining. Quite the opposite this year. The rain never stopped for long, and the steelhead didn’t bother to show up in good numbers.

But as one season comes to a close, more will soon open. As the calendar nears April, it’s time to change gears and look toward the next angling opportunity. The rockfish and Pacific halibut openers are right around the corner and the California halibut will hopefully show up in Humboldt Bay. It’s also time to think about all the spring salmon on the Klamath (hopefully) and the lower Rogue River. There’s redtails to be had from all the local beaches, and the lagoons are full of trout. It’s been a wet and wild steelhead season but I for one am ready for the next adventure. And a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt either.

Steelhead rivers openings/closures
After Friday, March 31, the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek, Mattole and Chetco rivers will all be closed to fishing. Rivers that will remain open to fishing include:

Eel River
The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork, is open to fishing all year.

From the mouth to Fulmor Road, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from April 1 through the Friday, May 26. Only barbless hooks may be used from May 27 through Mar. 31, 2024.

From Fulmor Road to the South Fork, it’s open all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Only barbless hooks may be used from Oct. 1 through Mar. 31, 2024.

Smith River
The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South forks.

The Middle Fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick’s Creek.

The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craig’s Creek to Jones Creek. Only barbless hooks may be used from Sept. 1 through Apr. 30. The bag limit remains the same at two hatchery steelhead per day.

Sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers are open to fishing but are subject to in-season changes. For more information, visit

Eel River steelhead returns
Over the past two weeks, March 13 – 26, 2023, a total of 16 adult steelhead (female 7, male 7, unknown 2) were observed migrating upstream through the VAFS fishway according to Andrew Anderson, an Aquatic Biologist with PG&E. Two adult steelhead (female, 1, male 1) were observed during the week of March 13 – 19, and another 14 (female 6, male 6, unknown 2) during the week of March 20-16. This brings the season total for adult upstream migrating adult steelhead to 118 (female 46, male 56, unknown 16). For more information, visit

The Rivers:
Mad, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Redwood Creek
All are on the rise and won’t drop back into fishable prior to the season closing after Friday, March 31.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel is high and dirty and back on the rise. It’s predicted to reach 30,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday. It will take at least a couple weeks of dry weather to drop it back into fishable shape. It starts to fish once it drops to right around 5,000 cfs.

The Smith will be blown out for a couple days but should be back into fishable shape Thursday and Friday. Flows should be right around 6,900 cfs (10.3 feet) at the Jed Smith gauge Thursday morning. Additional rain forecast for Saturday will put the river back on the rise over the weekend.

Southern Oregon rivers
According to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing, steelhead anglers will get one final chance to catch fish before the season closes Friday evening on the Chetco. “Rain will blow the river out for a few days before it drops back into shape Thursday and Friday,” said Martin. “The few anglers fishing over the weekend reported big numbers of fish, mainly downrunners with a few bright steelhead. Most of the fish are up high. Springer fishing is fair on the lower Rogue River. Rain has brought early spring salmon and late-season winter steelhead into the Rogue, with shore anglers catching a few fish plunking 4.0 MagLips and boaters anchoring with anchovies and spinner blades.”

Brookings ocean report
According to Martin, rough ocean conditions will keep ocean anglers at the dock most of the week in Brookings, although Thursday’s forecast looks great. “Lingcod fishing has been good. Another storm arrives this weekend. Surfperch fishing has improved at Crissy Field and Lone Ranch

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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