Life + Outdoors » Fishing the North Coast

Coastal Rivers Full, Smith Best Bet for Salmon



Trying to decipher last week's rain and river level predictions was not for the faint of heart. But when it was all said and done, all of the North Coast rivers got the flushing they desperately needed. Some rivers, especially to our south, went far beyond what was forecast and eventually hit flood stage. Coastal rivers from the Smith to the South Fork Eel mostly fell short of predictions, but are plum-full of water, nonetheless. Considering it's still October, the future is looking bright.

As for fishing, the Smith was the only green river on the coast. The river opened to fishing Thursday but was on a steep rise for most of the day and night. Boats were on the water Friday but conditions weren't great. By Saturday, the river had dropped and the fishing was much improved, with just about all the boats landing fish.

Looking toward the weekend, the Smith peaked Tuesday afternoon at 11.25 feet on the Jed Smith gauge. It's predicted to be on a slow drop through the weekend, and should have some fresh kings moving through. The Chetco will likely draw a crowd this weekend as the flows settle into the range of 3,000 cubic feet per second. For current Smith River conditions, visit For the Chetco, visit

Weather ahead

According to Jonathan Garner of Eureka's National Weather Service office, after the storms clear out Wednesday, the next chance at rain will be Friday. "There is a chance of rain Friday and Saturday, but the amounts are uncertain," he said. "It will be more hit and miss and we probably won't see widespread rainfall. We'll definitely be heading into more of a drier pattern at least for the next seven days."

Ocean update

As of Oct. 19, the The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has projected 30,494 net pounds of Pacific halibut has been harvested. The Pacific halibut allocation for California is 39,260 pounds. The 2021 recreational Pacific halibut fishery reopened on Friday September 3 at 12:00 a.m. and will remain open until November 15, or until the quota is reached, whichever is earlier. To view the latest catch projection information, visit

The 2021 recreational Dungeness crab season is scheduled to open on Saturday November 6, 2021. To read about new crab trap regulations that go into effect on November 1, 2021, visit,

The North Coast all-depth recreational fishery will begin 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

The Rivers:

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.

Mad River

On a small rise as of Wednesday morning. Predicted to peak at 1,650 cfs Wednesday evening. Should be at a fishable level by early next week. Current river conditions:

Main Eel

Dropping quickly and forecasted to reach 4,400 cfs by Saturday. Should be turning green by the weekend or early next week.

Van Duzen

Rising slightly on Wednesday and forecast to hit 1,870 cfs by the afternoon. Will be on a slow drop through the weekend and should hit fishable flows by next week.

South Fork Eel

Probably the best opportunity for green water this weekend. Flowing at 1,900 cfs at Sylvandale Wednesday; could be in good shape by the weekend. Water color will depend on the East Branch.

Smith River

The Smith fished well Saturday, with most boats getting limits of bright kings. Fishing was a little tougher Sunday, as the river was on the rise for most of the day. There are bright as well as dark salmon spread from the forks to the outfitters, but not in big numbers. Most of the fish are being caught on plugs but back-bouncing the deeper slots with roe has also produced. Conditions look good through the weekend.

Chetco River

High water has made salmon fishing tough on the Chetco, but flows will be close to ideal as the weekend approaches, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, "Salmon are spread throughout the system. Bobbers must still be used until Nov. 5, as ODFW said it is sticking with the published low-flow regulations. Last week's brood stock seining for the Chetco hatchery program produced nearly 75 kings over two days. Some of the salmon were close to 40 pounds. Flows reached 8,000 cfs. Less than 4,000 is considered good, and anything between 1,500 and 2,500 cfs is prime. Catches during high water have been nearly a 50-50 split between hatchery and wild fish."

Upper Trinity closed to the take of adult kings

In a press issued Oct. 20, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife projected the Upper Trinity River quota will have been met as of 11:59 p.m. Oct. 24. This triggers the closure of the adult fall-run Chinook salmon fishery on the Trinity River from the Old Lewiston Bridge to the State Route 299 West Bridge at Cedar Flat.

The Lower Trinity River quota will be met as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31. This triggers the closure of the adult fall-run Chinook salmon fishery on the Trinity River from the Denny Road Bridge at Hawkins Bar to the confluence with the Klamath River. Both sectors will remain open for fishing and the harvest of jack Chinook salmon less than or equal to 23 inches. For more information, visit

Willow Creek weir counts

The week ending Oct. 21, a total of 224 adult kings were counted at the Willow Creek weir. The jack count for the week was 46. For the season to date, 3,367 (adults and jacks) have been counted, including both hatchery and wild. The totals are the highest dating back to 2004.

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 For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email [email protected].

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