Excellent Conditions on the Horizon for the Smith

Excellent Conditions on the Horizon for the Smith
Brian Krause of Windsor, California holds a beautiful steelhead that he caught and released Jan. 27 on the Smith River near Redwood National Park. He was fishing with Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing.

by Kenny Priest

Another atmospheric river has come and gone along the North Coast, sending a few rivers back to nearly monitor stage. To put it bluntly, for rivers other than the Smith, we’re back to swollen, muddy rivers – or square one. For the time being, the Smith will remain the only option if you’re looking for green water. If the forecast holds, boats should be back to drifting by Saturday, with conditions looking good through at least mid-next week. That’s shaping up to be the longest fishable stretch this season. The other local rivers won’t fair nearly as well. The next round of rain is slated for Sunday into Monday, with the heaviest amounts of precipitation falling in Humboldt and into Mendo and Lake counties. So, any hopes of fishing the main Eel, SF Eel, or Van Duzen will be on hold once again.

These extremely wet winters may not bring much joy to steelhead anglers, but they’re a blessing for the fish. The extra water will go a long way in helping the steelhead reach their spawning grounds and also provide a helping hand for the juvenile salmonids as they begin their journey down to the saltwater.

Weather ahead
Following quite a bit of rain on Wednesday, that put all the coastal rivers back on the rise, we’ll start to see the rivers begin to recede some time Thursday. According to James White of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, a little more rain is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, but it will be spotty. “We’re looking at a half-inch at the most, and the rivers should continue to drop,” said White. “The next system arrives Sunday and will stick around through Monday. The heaviest amounts of rain will be to our south in Lake and Mendocino counties, but the Eel could see from 1 to 1.5 inches in the 48-hour period. This will be a colder system too; we’re expecting snow down to 2,500 feet. As of now, Tuesday and Wednesday are looking mostly dry, but there’s a chance for another system late next week.”

CDFW looks for input on distribution of low-flow information
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 https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Inland/Low-flow-Restrictions

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 peaked at 14 feet (9,845 cfs) early Thursday morning, and is high and muddy. It’s predicted to drop through the weekend, with the next small rise forecast for Sunday night where it will go back up to over 11 feet. The river fishes best between 7 and 8 feet and it will take at least a week of dry weather to get there.

Main stem Eel
The main stem was flowing at roughly 74,00,000 cfs at Scotia Thursday and was just starting to peak around noon. It’s predicted to drop through Sunday, before the next, smaller rise hits Monday. Will need a couple weeks of dry weather before it’s green. It will start to fish once it gets below 5,000 cfs.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was oh so close to being fishable in the Garberville area before the storm hit on Wednesday. Flows were down to 2,400 cfs at Miranda and the color was coming around. All that is history now as flows went up and over 19,000 cfs early Thursday morning. With more rain in the forecast for early next week, it will likely be high and off color all week.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen peaked at nearly 11,000 cfs Wednesday evening and is back on the drop. Flows are predicted to get down to 2,000 cfs by the end of the weekend, but it will be headed back up with the rain starting Sunday. It will need at least a week of dry weather before it’s fishable.

Smith River
The Smith continues to be the lone bright spot, as well as fishable river, on the North Coast. The flows have been up and down all season, never giving boats more than a couple days in a row of drifting. That looks like it will change this weekend. The river will be on the drop starting Saturday, and it looks like conditions are lining up for a few decent days of drifting, at least through mid-week. This is good news as when the conditions have been right, the fishing has been excellent. Boats making the drift from the forks down did really well Tuesday, with most landing a few fresh steelhead each.

After a dismal start to the steelhead season on the Chetco – with high, unfishable water for most of January, flows are expected to drop to low enough levels for side-drifting according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Plunkers have been catching steelhead, but drift boaters have had very few days with decent flows,” said Martin. “Anything below 4,000 cfs is generally fishable for side-drifters on the Chetco. Another round of flows topping 15,000 cfs are expected this week before a quick drop through the weekend. The Elk, Sixes and Rogue also have been high and off-colored. A few drift boats hit the Elk on Tuesday, but fishing was slow, in part because of a heavy surf at the mouth. The rivers are expected to fish by the end of the weekend.”

Brookings ocean report
According to Martin, rough weather has kept ocean anglers at the docks the past week out of Brookings. “Big surf will also make surfperch fishing tough 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 www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.

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