Fishing the North Coast: Coastal steelhead rivers primed for the weekend

Humboldt resident Jim Johnston caught and released this nice wild buck on a recent trip to the Van Duzen river. Johnston fooled the steelie with a jig and float. Conditions for most of the coastal steelhead rivers, including the Van Duzen, should be perfect by the weekend. Steelhead season closes on March 31, except for the Smith, which stays open through April.


Unlike last weekend when options were few, the weekend ahead is looking much different for late-season steelhead anglers. Having had a few days of dry weather, river levels on most of the North Coast rivers have receded and the water is in the process of turning green. With the end of steelhead season in sight — except on the Smith — this may well be the best opportunity you'll have to catch a steelhead prior to the March 31 river closures. As of Wednesday, the Smith was the only real option, but that's going to change over the next few days. The South Fork Eel will fish this weekend, and the main stem won't be far behind. The Mad is dropping a little slower than the other rivers, but should be green by the weekend. The Chetco will be down to a fishable height, but a couple slides could keep it off color for a few more days. There's plenty of options this weekend, get out and take advantage of the excellent river conditions while there's still time.

Weekend weather

A weak system is slated to move through the area on Friday, but don't expect to see much rainfall according to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka's National Weather Service. "The Smith basin may see a tenth, but that's about all. The weekend, as well as Monday, looks dry, with another weak system forecasted for Tuesday. Again, we won't see much rain in Humboldt, maybe a couple tenths. Del Norte could see up to a half-inch," Kennedy added.

2014 Recreational salmon season options/public hearings

Though the numbers aren't final, it's looking like we'll get a decent recreational salmon season along the North Coast in 2014. Humboldt Area Salt Water Anglers (HASA) members Jim Yarnall and Ben Doane have been at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings in Sacramento this week and report things are looking good for Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. According to Yarnall, there are three season options on the table for Humbug Mountain (OR) to Horse Mountain (which includes Humboldt County) Note: these were the options as of Wednesday, March 12. More changes could have taken place on Thursday.

Alternative 1) May 1 through Sept. 7, two Chinook per day, 24" minimum size limit

Alternative 2) May 17 through Sept. 7, two Chinook per day, 24" minimum size limit

Alternative 3) May 24 through Sept. 1, two Chinook per day, 20" size limit

All options would be for all salmon except Coho.

Final recommendations will be made at the next PFMC meeting on April 5-10 in Vancouver, WA. Also, there is a public hearing on Tuesday, March 25 at the Hilton-Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa where the Council will hear comments on the proposed ocean salmon fishery management alternatives adopted. More information is available at

Anglers Urged to Return Fish Tags in Timely Manner

In a press release issued March 6, North Coast steelhead and salmon anglers are reminded to return fish tags to the CDFW in a timely manner. Tag return information is a vital tool for biologists as they calculate harvest and estimate population size of Chinook, Coho and steelhead runs. Trinity River fish tags can be returned by mail or in person, to: CDFW, 5341 Ericson Way, Arcata, CA 95521. A tag return form can also be found online at

Perch'n on the Peninsula coming in April

The Samoa Peninsula Fire District will be hosting their 5thAnnual Perch'n on the Peninsula Surfperch Fishing Tournament and Fish Fry Fundraiser on April 12 at the Peninsula Elementary School (located across the street from the Samoa Cookhouse). This is a fun filled family-oriented fishing event that benefits the Samoa Peninsula Fire District Volunteer Organization. Fish Fry Fundraiser admission is only $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for juniors, children 6 and under get in free. Adult fishing tournament entry is $20.00 and junior fishing tournament entry (Under 16) is only $10.00. Fishing tournament entry includes admission to the fish fry fundraiser and one(1) door prize entry. For registration and door prize information, visit the Perch'n on the Peninsula's Facebook page or contact Charlie Holthaus at (707) 499-7088.

The Rivers:

Chetco River

As of Wednesday, the Chetco is still on the high side, but more importantly the river is off-color reports guide Val Early of Early Fishing Guide Service "There is muddy/silty type water coming from the South Fork and from some active slides around Ice Box. Hopefully it will get to a lower level during the weekend and show some improvement on color. The plunkers have been out for a few days, with few fish being caught as of yet. We would expect most of the fish to be downrunners or some of the smaller bluebacks that typically show up in March," Early added.

Smith River

The Smith was pushy on Wednesday, but still fished well reports guide Mike Coopman. "The river is still pretty big, but it's got close to six-feet of visibility. The height should be perfect by the weekend, but it will be clear. There's definitely some fish around, a solid mix of fresh fish and downers," Coopman said. The main stem Smith from the mouth to the forks will remain open to fishing through April 30.

Eel River (main stem)

The main stem is still really high and off-color, but dropping fast according to Fred Grundman of Rio Dell's Grundmans Sporting Goods. "It's dropping really quickly, but as of Wednesday, it's still a ways out. It hasn't started to turn yet. With the sunny weather and no snow melt, my guess is the top should fish by the weekend," said Grundman.

Eel River (South Fork)

The upper reaches of the South Fork turned green on Wednesday. It's still a little high and off-color in the Miranda area, but should be in great shape to the forks by the weekend.

Van Duzen

According to Grundman, the Van Duzen started to turn on Wednesday, and should be in great shape by the weekend. "It had a hint of green on Wednesday, should be completely fishable by the weekend," Grundman said.

Mad River

The Mad is dropping a little slower due to the water coming over the dam at Ruth Lake according to Justin Kelly of Eureka's Redwood Marine. "It's looking like it will be green by the weekend. There should be a ton of downers along with some fresh wild fish and some blue backs should start to show," Kelly added.

Upper Trinity

Steelhead fishing remains tough in the Douglas City area of the Trinity reports Steve Huber of Steve Huber's Guide Service. "The river came up and went down — and in some cases blew out — earlier this week. The last two days were tough with a few steelhead and some browns. I have not seen a new group of winter fish as of yet. All of the fish we're catching are either coming on plugs or side-drifting roe. Hatchery numbers have slowed down the last three weeks, but I expected to see more of the wild winter fish start to come up this far," Huber added.

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