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Coastal Rivers Primed for Steelhead



After a very wet weekend that saw all our coastal rivers receive a good soaking, fishable rivers should begin to come into play this week — at least a few of them. Both the Smith and Chetco rivers were high and off-color Tuesday, but that will soon change. They should come down to high-but-fishable levels in the next few days. In the Humboldt area, the South Fork Eel is probably the best bet for green water. After a bump in flows behind Wednesday's rain, it's forecast to be at a fishable height by the weekend. Water color could be an issue, however. Same holds true for the Van Duzen. The Mad River is currently high and muddy, and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. A few steelhead have already been caught on the Mad, which is encouraging. The SF Eel and Van Duzen haven't seen many boats or anglers yet, but you can bet there are steelhead around. If you're looking to get out of the house this weekend, you should be able to find a fishable river.

Weather ahead

The next storm system is slated to begin Wednesday and will stick around through the day Thursday. "Light showers are predicted for early Wednesday, with the bulk of the rain falling overnight," said Josh Wood of Eureka's National Weather Service office. "The rain will be widespread, with 1 to 2 inches possible from the Smith to the Eel basins. The next storm will arrive on Friday, with showers arriving in the Smith basin in the afternoon. Locally, most of the rain from this system will fall Saturday. The Smith basin could see ¾ to an inch in the higher elevations. In Humboldt, we're likely to see a quarter to a half. More rain, with the potential for another inch, is forecast for Sunday into Monday.

Mad River Steelhead Derby Starts Dec. 18

The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen's Association (NCGASA) is hosting its third annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Dec. 18 through Feb. 28, 2022. Anglers must be signed up prior to Dec. 18 to be eligible to win cash and prizes. Only hatchery steelhead can be entered. The largest steelhead wins $500, second place $300 and third place $150. First place in the youth division (16 and under) will win a $175 RMI Outdoors gift card; second and third place finishers will win prizes to be announced. Anglers can sign up online at or in person at RMI Outdoors. Part of the proceeds benefit the Mad River Steelhead Stewards volunteer angler's broodstock collection program that works in concert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, visit

The Rivers:

As of Wednesday, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, Smith and Van Duzen are open. The Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream is closed until Jan. 1, 2022. The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River will be closed until January 1, 2022. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be closed to fishing. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. NOTE: Rivers will not automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached. The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam, the Mattole River and the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream are closed until Jan. 1, 2022.


The Mad is big and brown and sitting at 8 feet and rising as of Wednesday. Predicted to hit 10.5 feet Thursday morning. With a couple more storm systems predicted for this week, it will be off color for the near future. It will need at least five to seven days of dry weather for it to turn green.

Main stem Eel

The main stem was sitting at 12,500 cubic feet per second Wednesday and beginning to rise. Predicted to peak at just over 25,000 cfs Thursday but will be on the drop through the weekend. Will need a solid week of dry weather to drop into fishable shape.

South Fork Eel

Was back on the rise Wednesday afternoon and predicted to reach 9,500 cfs on Thursday. It's predicted to be down to a fishable height by Saturday, but the East Branch at Benbow could keep it off color. Conditions look to be much improved by Sunday.

Van Duzen

Flows were down to 850 cfs Wednesday, but steady rain had it back on the rise. Forecast to reach 1,800 cfs on Thursday morning and then drop through mid-day Sunday. Will be at fishable flows by the weekend, but the water could off color.

Smith River

The Smith was under 10 feet on the Jed Smith gauge by mid-day Wednesday, A few boats were on the water battling windy conditions. The next rise is predicted for Thursday with the river on the drop Friday and Saturday. There should be some steelhead around as well as some late kings who will quickly make their way upriver.


The Chetco River rose 8 feet between Saturday night and Sunday morning, giving a boost in flows that steelhead anglers have been waiting for. Flows jumped from 600 cubic feet per second to just under 10,000 cfs. As they drop this week, the river should be in prime shape for steelhead fishing. "Anything under 5,000 cfs is fishable for side-drifting, and 3,500 to 2,500 cfs are ideal," said guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "If the early forecast is correct, we should have good fishing sometime this week. Steelhead were already in the river before the storm but low, clear water made fishing tough. It was difficult to get a good drift without spooking the steelhead holding in the shallow tailouts," Martin said.


The Elk River is expected to drop into fishable shape the middle of this week, while the Sixes is still high and muddy reports Martin. "After being too low to drift for more than three weeks, the Elk hit 5.7 feet on Sunday and was 5.2 feet Monday morning. Strong winds kept most anglers away on Monday, but the Elk will fish at 5 feet and is prime at 4 feet. Expect late fall kings on both river from now through Christmas."

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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