One of the most popular fisheries on the North Coast almost didn't happen. It was a tense few days waiting to hear if the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife would delay the sport Dungeness crab opener due to presence of humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles, and the potential for entanglement from trap gear. Turns out, we're whale and turtle free — for now. The CDFW sent word Monday that our season will open as scheduled Saturday. Other ports weren't so lucky. Fishing Zones 3 and 4, (from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line south to Lopez Point) will be temporarily restricted when the season opens Nov. 6 due to the presence of humpback whales and turtles.
The season's first traps can legally be deployed at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning. Anglers, weather permitting, will get their first peek into the health and weight of this season's crop as the pre-season quality tests have not taken place or the results have yet to be made public. One thing we do know is the domoic acid levels shouldn't be an issue. Tests conducted in Eureka, Trinidad and Crescent City all came back clean.
The season runs from Saturday, Nov. 6 through July 30, 2022. The minimum size is 5 ¾ inches measured by the shortest distance through the body from edge of shell to edge of shell directly in front of and excluding the points (lateral spines). The limit is 10 and a valid California sport fishing license is required along with the new annual crab trap validation ($2.42).
Recreational crab regulation changes for 2021
The California Fish and Game Commission adopted new regulations for the recreational crab fishery in 2021. The revised regulations include the following new requirements when fishing with crab traps:
All crab traps must be marked with specific sized buoys. The main buoy must be at least 5 inches in diameter and 11 inches in length with an additional red marker buoy that is 3 inches in diameter and 5 inches in length, attached to main buoy with 3 feet of line or less.
Crab traps must be raised, cleaned and emptied (serviced) at intervals not to exceed nine days. Gear must be removed when you no longer intend to fish or you are unable to service at least every nine days.
Individuals who use a crab trap are required to purchase an annual $2.42 trap validation this season. This fee does not apply to other methods of take.
Every individual may use up to 10 traps and service 10 additional traps with written permission from the operator of the trap.
For more information on the new regulations, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Whale-Safe-Fisheries
Recreational take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is not affected by the temporary trap restriction and is allowed statewide beginning Nov. 6.
Weekend Marine Forecast
Ocean conditions don't look good for Saturday's crab opener. As of Tuesday, elevated seas are in the weekend forecast. Saturday's forecast is calling for southwest winds 5 to 15 knots with west waves 16 feet at 13 seconds. Winds will ease slightly Sunday, coming out of the south 5 to 10 knots with west waves 11 feet at 12 seconds. These conditions can and will change by the weekend. For an up-to-date weather forecast, visit www.weather.gov/eureka/ or www.windy.com. To monitor the latest Humboldt bar conditions, visit www.wrh.noaa.gov/eka/swan. You can also call the National Weather Service at 443-7062 or the office on Woodley Island at 443-6484.
Weekend Tides – Humboldt Bay
• Sat., Nov. 6: high: 1:53 a.m. and 1:10 p.m.; low: 7:09 a.m. and 8:05 p.m.
Standard time begins at 2:00 a.m. Sunday
• Sun., Nov. 7: high: 1:48 a.m. and 12:54 p.m.; low: 6:56 a.m. and 7:55 p.m.
Top crabbing locations
If you're planning on heading offshore out of Eureka and leaving pots overnight, your best bet is to start setting gear in 100 to 150 feet of water. Historically, crabs tend to be in deeper water at the beginning of the season and move in toward the beach later in the year. If you're soaking for just a few hours and don't have the equipment to go deep, dropping pots just outside the entrance in 50 feet is a good option.
If you don't have means to head offshore, you can still find plenty of crab. One of the top spots to soak a few rings is Crab Park, located at the end of Cannibal Island Road in Loleta. There's access to launch a kayak or canoe in the estuary of the Eel River. You can also launch your boat at Pedrazzini Park at the end of Cock Robin Island Road and make your way up the estuary towards the mouth of the Eel.
Humboldt Bay also has a few good locations to catch some crab. Out in front of the PG&E plant is a good spot as well as the flat off of the South Jetty parking lot. Another top location is either side of the channel leading into the South Bay. Up north, inside Trinidad Harbor is another popular spot among the locals. You can launch your small boat, kayak or canoe right off the beach and head out to Prisoner Rock, where the bottom is sandy and 40 to 50 feet deep. Launching here requires a relatively calm ocean, which doesn't look to be the case for the weekend.
Calm seas on Sunday allowed boats to head offshore in search of Halibut. Tim Klassen of Reel Steel Sport Fishing was one of the few boats out and reports the fishing was pretty good. "The Halibut were still in the same general area," he said. "We caught our fish in roughly 250 feet of water around the 51-line."
Jake Mitchell of Sea Hawk Sport Fishing was able to get on the water a few days last week in between storms. He said, "The few days we made it out we fished rockfish and salmon. We had limits of rockfish and lingcod each day around the Old Man and averaged a fish per rod on the salmon in about a half-day's effort." Salmon season is closed as of Nov. 1.
North Coast all-depth recreational fishing began Nov. 1
The North Coast all-depth recreational fishery began Nov. 1. The all-depth fishery will take place only in November and December, and only north of Point Arena. The newly open areas will allow anglers to target groundfish species in the midwater column, such as widow and yellowtail rockfish, as well as species found on the bottom. There are no special gear requirements, though unless otherwise specified, regulations require anglers to use not more than two hooks and one line to target groundfish. All other season dates, bag limits, size limits and other special area closures still apply. For more information regarding groundfish regulations, management and fish identification tools, please visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Groundfish-Summary
As of Wednesday, all North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures, including the Smith, Eel, South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen are open to angling. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline at 822-3164 to determine if the river is open prior to fishing. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will announce whether rivers will be open by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The Mad was off color all week and will likely remain that way through the weekend. Predicted to go from 700 cfs to nearly 3,400 cfs by Thursday afternoon.
Predicted to peak at nearly 8,700 cfs Friday afternoon and will be on the drop through the weekend. Barring any rain next week, could be fishable by late next week.
Forecast to reach 3,250 cfs on Thursday afternoon. A smaller rise is predicted for Saturday, which will likely keep it off color until early next week.
South Fork Eel
Predicted to hit 3,130 cfs on the Miranda gauge on Thursday evening. Should be down to a fishable level by the weekend.
Over the weekend, we were seeing between four to eight hookups per day, reports guide Mike Coopman. "Fishing was tougher on Tuesday," he said. "The rain Monday and the subsequent rise overnight may have pushed a lot of the fish upriver. We have another good rise coming later in the week and hopefully that will bring in some fresh fish. There's currently a mix of darker and fresh salmon in the river. There isn't a lot of bigger fish so far, we're seeing quite a few in the 12-pound range with the occasional bigger one."
The Chetco was full of salmon after it dropped back into shape last week, with good fishing Friday and Saturday, and fair fishing on Sunday and Monday, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "A lot of the salmon that contributed to the hot action late in the week had moved upriver above Nook Bar by Sunday," he said. "Fresh fish arrived in the tidewater on Saturday and produced wide-open action for a couple of guides who discovered the schools downstream of the takeout. Rain blew the river out Monday afternoon and although it will be fishable Wednesday, more high water is expected by Thursday." According to Martin, action has been fair at best on the Elk and Sixes, which generally are their best fishing in mid-November. "This week's rain should bring in plenty of fresh kings," added Martin. "The Rogue Bay is finished for the year, while steelhead won't arrive until December."
Kenny Priest (he/him) 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 email@example.com.