As the rain continues to fall along the already saturated North Coast, the number of fishable rivers has dwindled to one. And if you're from here or spent any time here, it comes as no surprise it's the Smith. While all the other coastal rivers are raging and muddy, the Smith has remained emerald green since blowing out briefly last Saturday. For now, and in the immediate future, it will be the only option if you're looking for steelhead-green water. To date, the fishing has started out slow. Only a handful of adult winter steelhead have been caught this past week but look for that to change very soon.
The next major storm system is slated to begin Wednesday into Thursday with heavy rainfall, flooding and high winds. "The storm door is definitely wide open and we're in the midst of an active weather pattern," said Josh Wood of Eureka's National Weather Service office. "Starting Wednesday, the Smith basin will see up to two inches through Thursday, with lighter rain Friday. Higher totals are predicted for the mountains. Another stronger system is lining up for Saturday afternoon into Sunday. In the Humboldt area, we'll see somewhere around two to four inches between Wednesday and Friday with up to six inches in the higher elevations. A stronger system coming in Saturday afternoon has the potential to bring quite a bit of rain and increased river levels Sunday and into next week."
All North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith, main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing. The Department of Fish and Wildlife 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 rivers can be opened at any time. The low-flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit fishingthenorthcoast.com/2021/09/22/2021-2022-low-flow-information-for-north-coast-rivers/.
The Mad is still off color, but flows were down to 3,000 cubic feet per second (10.5 feet) Wednesday morning. Another big rise is predicted for Thursday with flows once again nearing monitor stage at 15 feet Sunday morning following heavy rain Saturday. With more rain coming next week, it won't be fishable any time soon.
Main stem Eel
The main Eel was down to 14,000 cfs Wednesday, but the few inches of rain coming Wednesday will push flows back to over 100,000 cfs at Scotia by Friday morning. Fernbridge is again forecast to surpass monitor stage (14 feet) by Thursday evening, topping out at 17 feet. Additional rain Saturday will push it above flood stage by Sunday afternoon.
South Fork Eel
Once the rain subsides for a few days, the South Fork would be one of the first coastal rivers to come into play. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case anytime soon. Following a good soaking Wednesday, flows are forecast to reach 17,500 cfs Thursday afternoon. Another wet system arrives Saturday that will likely push flows over 45,000 cfs. The Miranda area will start to fish once flows reach 2,000 cfs, which looks to be a way away.
After peaking at over 18,000 cfs Friday night, flows were down to 1,075 cfs Wednesday morning. Wednesday's rain is forecast to push flows back up to 18,000 cfs Thursday morning. After a brief reprieve Friday, flows will be back on the way up Saturday. It will need a solid week of dry weather before it's close to fishable.
Boats were back to drifting the Smith Monday following a pretty big rise late last week. Conditions were just about perfect Tuesday and Wednesday, but that will likely change. The next rise is forecast to begin Thursday morning, but only peaking at 13.6 feet at the Jed Smith gauge. There is another system predicted to hit the Smith area Saturday afternoon that has the potential to be a much stronger system. As for fishing, it's been a little slow. Just a handful of boats were out Monday and Tuesday and only a couple adults were landed.
The Chetco reached 27,000 cfs last week, and was down below 4,500 cfs late Monday, putting it in shape for drift boats reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "A few steelhead were caught over the weekend and on Monday by plunkers," said Martin. "Another rise is expected Thursday, but the river should remain fishable for anglers anchoring with plugs or casting Spin-N-Glos from shore. Side-drifting is best when flows are below 4,000 cfs."
According to Martin, a few steelhead were caught Monday on the Elk River, while the Sixes remained blown out. "More high water is expected this week. The best steelhead fishing usually takes places in February and early March on the Elk and Sixes."
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 fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.