Coastal Rivers Brace for Another Wet Weekend

Coastal Rivers Brace for Another Wet Weekend
Santa Rosa resident Tony Cinquini holds a nice winter steelhead from a recent trip to the Smith River.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Alan’s Guide Service

by Kenny Priest

More of the same – I think that best sums up another week of rain and muddy rivers on the North Coast. And it doesn’t appear any changes are coming soon. Another potential gully washer is forecast for the weekend, dropping upwards of 3.5 inches of rain in the Smith River basin. That will likely curtail any hopes of drifting, or possibly plunking, through Sunday on the Smith. Looking at the river level projections, Monday and Tuesday are shaping up nicely, but another Atmospheric River is poised to hit land mid-week. That same scenario has played out since the beginning of January, providing just a handful of fishable days on the Smith. The other coastal rivers haven’t gotten a sniff of green water for weeks, and will have likely gone the entire month being unfishable.

Weather outlook
According to Matthew Kidwell of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, Thursday is looking dry, but more rain is on the way. “The next system arrives late Thursday evening or early Friday morning and will stick around through Saturday before it tapers off in the evening,” said Kidwell. “The largest rainfall totals will be in Del Norte, where between 2.5 to 4.5 inches are expected. In the Humboldt area, we could see 1 to 3 inches. Sunday is looking dry, and not much is forecast for Monday. The next system, however, will be a fairly wet one. The timing is a little uncertain as of now as some models have the system hitting land on Tuesday mid-day and others are showing Wednesday. While the confidence in the timing is unsure, we are confident that it will be a fairly wet rain event from Del Norte to Mendocino.”

CDFW looks for input on low-flow regulation change
In a press release issued in early Jan., CDFW is inviting anglers to provide input on the proposed fishing regulation change that would affect how CDFW distributes low-flow information. CDFW is seeking to simplify and streamline access to low-flow information by transitioning the three low-flow phone lines to a CDFW webpage. This regulation will not impact where or when low-flow closures occur. The questionnaire will take approximately 3 to 5 minutes to complete. Questionnaire results will be used to 1) evaluate support and opposition to the regulation change, and 2) identify potential resources that may benefit constituents. The questionnaire is available until February 18 at 11:59 p.m. The questionnaire can be found at

Eel River steelhead returns
Over the past week, January 15 – 21, 16 adult steelhead (female 8, male 6, unknown 2) and two (2) subadult steelhead were observed moving upstream through the VAFS fishway according to Andrew Anderson, an Aquatic Biologist with PG&E. The season total for adult steelhead now stands at 61 (female 30, male 19, unknown 12). The season total for subadult steelhead stands at 14.

No Chinook salmon were observed over the same period; the season total for upstream migrating Chinook salmon stands at 255 (female 73, male 72, unknown 21, jack 89). For more information, visit

The Rivers:
As of Thursday morning, all North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures were open to fishing. This includes the main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mad, Redwood Creek and Smith rivers. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as to whether any stream 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. More information can be found here.

The Mad was hovering around 11.5 feet on Thursday, and remains high and muddy. Rain forecasted for the weekend will keep the river off color and jumping between 11 and 12 feet. It’s predicted to drop Sunday through Tuesday, but more rain is in the forecast by mid-week. The river fishes best between 7 and 8 feet and it will take at least a week of dry weather to get there. For current river conditions, visit

Main stem Eel
The main stem was rising slightly Thursday, flowing at roughly 31,000 cfs at Scotia. It’s predicted for a small rise Sunday before it goes back on the drop. Projections have it down to 16,500 cfs by Tuesday morning, but next week’s rain will likely put it right back to square one. Will need a couple weeks of dry weather before it’s green. For current river conditions, visit

South Fork Eel
The South Fork is forecast to drop through Friday, but won’t get down to a fishable level prior to the rain coming this weekend. As of Thursday, it’s predicted to be down to 3,400 cfs at Miranda by Tuesday. If the rain comes as predicted mid-week, it will be back to high and muddy. For current river conditions, visit

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen will be above 2,000 cfs through the weekend, and is still high and off color. It’s predicted to drop to 1,400 cfs by Tuesday morning, but next week’s rain will likely put it back on the rise. For current river conditions, visit

Smith River
The Smith continues to teeter between driftable and plunkable flows, with the occasional blowout. Conditions were good last Friday and Saturday, and plenty of fish were caught by boats drifting from the forks to Ruby. It blew out again Sunday, but was back in decent shape by Tuesday, and the plunkers landed a few. Rain is back in the forecast for Friday, which is forecast to push flows over 15 feet (22,600 cfs) at the Jed Smith gauge by Saturday night. Conditions are looking good for Monday and Tuesday, but more rain is expected mid-week. When conditions have been right, the fishing has been pretty good. For current river conditions, visit

The Chetco has been high and muddy all week reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “A few steelhead are being caught by guides during brief windows of dropping flows on the Upper Chetco, while plunkers are picking away at steelhead in the lower river, especially Loeb Park and Social Security Bar,” said Martin. “Another steep rise is expected this weekend, as January ends how it began, with high, off-colored water.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, the ocean was calm enough for boats to get out of the Port of Brookings Tuesday, allowing Brookings Fishing Charters to run its first trip of the year. “Limits of lingcod and rockfish in shallow water, but the best fishing is north of Brookings, near House Rock, as muddy water from the Chetco has made fishing slow closer to the harbor. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round in the Oregon Coast. A few surfperch are now being caught at Lone Ranch and near Gold Beach.”

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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