Life + Outdoors » Fishing the North Coast

Smith, Chetco Best Bets for Green Water



If your weekend plans involve the pursuit of winter steelhead, you'll need to point your vehicle north. The quick-clearing Smith and Chetco rivers are currently the only real options for the green water steelheaders crave. All Humboldt rivers are currently high and muddy, and that will likely continue through the weekend. There is a chance the upper reaches of the Van Duzen and South Fork Eel could come around by late in the weekend, but that will depend on snowmelt. If those rivers do come in, it will be short-lived, as the next storm is forecast to arrive Sunday and will put the rivers back on the rise.

Weather Ahead

The forecast for the remainder of the work week is looking dry. The next round of storms is predicted to arrive sometime late Sunday and looks to be a prolonged rainfall event. Over the course of three to four days, we could see 3-plus inches of rain at sea level and higher amounts in the mountains.

Perigean Spring Tides Coming this weekend

Some of the highest tides of the year are expected this weekend due to the perigean spring tide. Perigean tides, the results of either a new or full moon, will be in effect beginning Dec. 30 through Jan 4. The north spit tide gauge prediction is for a high tide of 8.68 feet at 9:39 a.m. Saturday morning and 8.81 feet at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Significant coastal flooding is possible. For more information on the perigean spring tide visit:

2022 Fishing License

A reminder that it's the time of the year to purchase your 2022 sport fishing license, which is required for residents 16 years of age or older to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians or reptiles in inland or ocean waters. The cost of a new resident sport fishing license is $54. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $7.56, is required for all anglers taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System. If you plan to fish for steelhead, you'll need to purchase a steelhead report card, which will cost $8.38 this year. The Department of Fish and Wildlife does not accept cash for fishing licenses. For more info, visit

Reduced-fee Sport Fishing Licenses Available

Reduced-cost fishing licenses are available in 2021 for $8.24 at CDFW offices (instead of $54) for disabled military veterans and recovering service members. For those 65 or older on reduced income, licenses are available for $8.24. For more information on all CA fishing licenses, visit

New Sport Rockfish Regulations Coming in 2022

In a press release issued Dec. 17, the CDFW announced multiple changes to the sport rockfish regulations starting in Jan. 1. Changes that pertain to the Northern Management area, which runs from the California-Oregon border south to Cape Mendocino include:

• Reducing the vermillion rockfish bag limit within the daily 10-fish RCG bag and possession limit from five to four.

• Adding a new sub-bag limit for quillback rockfish of one fish within the daily 10-fish RCG bag and possession limit.

• Adding a new sub-bag limit for copper rockfish of one fish within the daily 10-fish RCG bag and possession limit.

For the complete list of regulation changes, visit

Rockfish Season to Close Dec. 31

The 2021 rockfish season in the Northern Management area, which runs from 0°10' N. latitude (near Cape Mendocino) to the OR/CA border, will close for boat-based anglers on Friday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit

The Rivers:

All North Coast rivers subjected to low flow fishing closures, including the Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek, Smith and Van Duzen are open. 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 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 will open Jan. 1, 2022.


The Mad is high and muddy as of Wednesday. With more rain in the forecast next week, it won't be green any time soon. Forecast to be 8.7 feet early Monday morning.

Main Stem Eel

The main Eel remains big and brown and won't be fishable any time soon. Predicted to drop to 9,500 cubic feet per second Monday morning, but next week's rain will put it back on the rise.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork could be fishable on Sunday and Monday as its forecast to drop to 2,100 cfs on the Miranda gauge. Snowmelt could slow the rivers decent.

Van Duzen

Like the South Fork, it could be fishable by Sunday and Monday depending on snowmelt. Forecast to be 600 cfs by Sunday morning.


The Smith dropped into fishable shape Sunday and conditions are now ideal. On Tuesday evening, it bumped up to 10 feet on the Jed Smith gauge but it's back on the drop. The snowmelt should keep the color pristine all week. The fishing has been decent, with a handful of steelhead being caught daily. The fishing pressure has been light, but that will change after the weekend.


The Chetco is expected to come into shape this week after being blown out for nearly a week, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, "Plunkers did well over the weekend and on Monday, while drift boaters struggled to catch fish in high water. That will change as flows drop. The river crested at 11,000 cfs late last week but will be in the prime range of 2,500 cfs by the end of this week. Plunkers have been getting a nice mix of wild and hatchery steelhead."


According to Martin, salmon fishing has slowed on the Elk and Sixes as the attention turns to steelhead. "The Elk is in good shape, while the Sixes is still high. Winter steelhead also are being caught on the lower Rogue River, primarily by plunkers using Spin-N-Glos at Lobster Creek and Huntley Park."

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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