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Steelhead Anglers Dealing with Tough Conditions



From high water to low water, North Coast rivers are all feeling the effects of the yo-yo syndrome. We've had some good storms roll through the area, bringing with them some decent river rises. Unfortunately, dropping flows have been as abrupt as the rises. This recipe does not make for quality steelhead angling. Having storms closer together keeping water levels a little more consistent, along with some snow in the hills, would be ideal. But this is 2020 and Mother Nature is going down swinging. And it looks like more of the same on the horizon. Storms later this week will bring the river levels up but they'll descend just as quickly, making for a narrow window of opportunity.

The weather ahead

"We have two batches of rain headed our way," said Scott Carroll of Eureka's National Weather Service. "The first system is forecast to arrive Wednesday afternoon and stick around into Thursday. A more significant storm is set to arrive Friday night and will linger through the weekend, with the majority of the rain falling on Sunday. The Smith basin could see an inch on Sunday, and we'll see slightly less here locally. Rainfall totals for both of these systems combined is roughly 3 inches in the Smith basin, and up to 2 inches in Humboldt."

New sport rockfish regulations coming in 2021

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the CDFW announced multiple changes to the sport rockfish regulations starting in 2021. Changes that pertain to the Northern Management area, which runs from the CA-OR border south to Cape Mendocino include:

• Elimination of sub-bag limits for black rockfish, canary rockfish and cabezon within the 10-fish Rockfish, Cabezon, Greenling (RCG) complex daily bag limit.

• A new sub-bag limit of five vermilion rockfish within the 10-fish RCG complex daily bag limit.

• The 'All Depth' fishery in the Northern and Mendocino Management Areas will continue each November and December, unless modified by an in-season action.

For the complete list of regulation changes, visit

The 2020 rockfish season in the Northern Management area will close for boat-based anglers on Thursday, Dec. 31. Rockfish is open year-round for divers and shore-based anglers. For more information about recreational groundfish regulations, visit

Mad River Steelhead Derby to start Jan. 1

The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen's Association's (NCGASA) second annual Mad River Steelhead Derby starts Jan. 1 and runs 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

The Rivers:


The Smith dropped back into shape on Sunday. Boat pressure was very light, and only a couple adult steelhead were landed. There continues to be no shortage of half-pounders. Should remain in fishable shape through the next two small storms.


The Chetco blew out over the weekend, reaching 9,000 cubic feet per second Saturday, but was down to 5,100 cfs on Sunday night, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "It will be in prime shape this week before another big storm arrives to start the new year," said Martin. "Plunkers caught a few steelhead Sunday in the high water. Catch rates tend to accelerate in early January on the Chetco, and often remain good through February."

According to Martin, the Elk and Sixes are kicking out a few late salmon. He said, "Guides reported catching salmon and steelhead on Sunday on the Elk while the Sixes was still blown out. Salmon season ends Dec. 31 on the Sixes, but continues into January on the Elk, where fish will trickle in all winter."

Main stem Eel

The main stem was fishable as of Wednesday and dropping quickly. Predicted to be at 1,300 cfs on the Scotia gauge by Thursday, but will begin to rise in the afternoon. Should remain fishable on Friday, but could be muddy on the weekend.

South Fork Eel

The South Fork was below 300 cfs Wednesday, but is forecasted to rise Thursday. It should be fishable through Friday, but might be off color for the weekend. A few bright steelhead have been caught.

Van Duzen

Flowing at just below 200 cfs as of Wednesday. Wednesday night's rain has the flows reaching 950 cfs on Thursday morning. Muddy conditions are likely through the weekend. Reports have been hard to come by so far, but there should be some steelhead around once it clears.


The Mad has been the place to be for winter steelhead. The river isn't plugged with fish, but there are some being caught each day. Following rain on Wednesday night, the river is predicted to blowout on Thursday. Will likely be off color through the weekend. Muddy conditions haven't slowed the angling pressure.

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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