Life + Outdoors » Fishing the North Coast

Rain and Steelhead Both on the Horizon



Winter steelhead season has yet to take off on the North Coast but that could soon change. A pretty sizeable storm is headed our way this weekend that should put all of the coastal rivers on the rise, and hopefully open them to fishing. And more rain is on the way next week according to the National Weather Service. Steady rain and pulse flows are just what we need to entice some steelhead from the salt. If the rains come as predicted, the Smith and Chetco should be in prime shape sometime next week.

The Eel, South Fork Eel, Van Duzen and Mad will all see flows begin to rise over the weekend. The Mad could open early next week, and the southern rivers should be right behind it. Once all of the rivers crest and begin to recede to fishable levels, we should see the first wave of winter steelhead. After another tough late-fall salmon season, seeing the rivers loaded with bright steelhead sure would be a welcome sight.

Weather ahead

The seven-day forecast is looking good for steelhead anglers. An atmospheric river is predicted for the weekend, which will put all of the coastal rivers on the rise. "Lighter rain is possible on Thursday and Friday, with the heavier rainfall totals coming over the weekend," said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka's National Weather Service. "Sunday and into Monday should produce light rain, with a potential small break on Tuesday. The next chance of wet weather is next Wednesday through Friday. The seven-day forecast ending next Tuesday is calling for 3 to 5 inches in the Smith Basin. Here locally, the Mad and lower Eel could see 1 to 2 inches. Further up the South Fork Eel, a half to an inch of rain is possible. From Dec.13 to Dec. 21, the probability of above normal precipitation is predicted."

Mad River Steelhead Derby to start Jan. 1

The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen's Association (NCGASA) is hosting its second annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Jan. 1 through March 31. Anglers must be signed up prior to Jan. 1 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. A youth division winner (16 and under) wins a $150 tackle gift card. In addition, anglers who submit a winning video of their catch in action get a $100 gift card to Bucksport Sporting Goods. Anglers can sign up online at or in person at RMI Outdoors and Bucksport. 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

Brookings update

Big swells have kept anglers at the docks in Brookings and likely will through the weekend reports Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. He said, “Last week, sport crabbers did well in shallow water, with large crabs that were full of meat. Rough weather has made bottom fishing tough. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will adopt the 2021 bottom fishing regulations on Friday.”

The Rivers

Other than the Smith, all North Coast rivers subjected to low flow
fishing closures, including the main and South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek,
and Van Duzen were closed to fishing as of Wednesday. Sections of rivers that
are open include the main stem Eel River from the paved junction of Fulmor Road
to its mouth. The Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream is closed
until Jan. 1, 2021. Be sure and call the low-flow closure hotline, 822-3164, to
determine if the river is open prior to fishing. CDFW will make information
public by a telephone recorded message each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any river will be open or closed to fishing. Rivers will not
automatically open to fishing once the minimum flows are reached.


The Smith opened back up to fishing Sunday morning and remained open as of Wednesday. Another closure is possible before the weekend as flows drop. A big storm is expected by Saturday, however. Flows are predicted to peak at 8,800 cubic feet per second on Sunday night on the Jed Smith gauge. Boat pressure has been light but some kings were caught on the lower river last week. Riffles between the Outhouse and the Outfitters were holding quite a few half-pounders along with an occasional adult steelhead. The storm coming this weekend should push the rest of the kings upriver and bring in the first big wave of steelhead.


The Mad is forecasted to reach 1,400 cfs early Monday morning. Could open to fishing on Saturday. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 200 cfs. For flow predictions, visit

Main stem Eel

The main Eel is predicted to rise starting Saturday, and could open to fishing on Monday. Will likely be muddy for some time. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 350 cfs on the Scotia gauge. For flow predictions, visit

South Fork Eel

The South Fork is predicted to rise beginning early Saturday morning and will probably be dirty through the weekend. If flow predictions are correct, could open to fishing on Monday. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 340 cfs. For flow predictions, visit

Van Duzen

The Van Duzen is forecasted to rise starting Saturday and predicted to peak at roughly 800 cfs early Monday morning. The river will likely be muddy through the weekend. Minimum flows to open the river to fishing are 150 cfs. For flow predictions, visit

Steelhead are showing up in good early season numbers on the Chetco, with adult fish now spread throughout the system, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The best fishing has been at Social Security Bar, where at least half a dozen adult steelhead were caught on Sunday, but steelhead can be seen below spawning salmon all the way to the upper river,” said Martin. “A few bright kings are still around, with lots of salmon still spawning. Drift boaters are seeing steelhead in the tailouts from Ice Box to the head of tide. The river likely will blow out this weekend but should be in great shape next week.”

According to Martin, shore anglers have been catching salmon near the Sixes Grange, while drift boaters were back on the Sixes after the weekend rains. “The big storm this weekend should lead to a big rise on both the Elk and Sixes, bringing in another batch of fall kings and the first winter steelhead of the year,” added Martin. 

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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