Life + Outdoors » Fishing the North Coast

Steelhead Season Comes to a Quiet Close



Winter steelhead anglers just can't catch a break. Thursday, March 31, will mark the end of another abnormal steelhead season here on the coast. While the fishing was excellent, the real story was the lack of rain. But if you've been fishing the North Coast rivers the last few years, you know there's very little normal to our steelhead seasons anymore. Going back a few years, the 2019 season ended on a very wet note, which could have spurned this year's solid return. During the peak of the 2020 steelhead season, we were at the height of a pandemic and were told to keep our distance from other anglers. And last year the steelhead didn't bother to show up. This year, the fish arrived in good numbers but the water spigot went dry after mid-January. Honestly, I'm a little scared to see what next year's season brings.

Now, as the calendar nears April, it's time to switch gears and look toward the next angling opportunities. The rockfish and Pacific halibut openers are a month away, and there's a good possibility ocean salmon will begin on May 1 as well. It's also time to start thinking about spring salmon on the Klamath and the lower Rogue rivers. There are redtails to be had from all the local beaches and the lagoons are full of trout.

The Beach/Jetties

When the ocean's been calm, the redtail perch action has been decent along the beaches. There are some spots that are typically better than others but you can catch them just about anywhere this time of the year. Conditions don't look fishable for the weekend, with big swells and heavy winds in the forecast. Anglers are catching black rockfish and the occasional lingcod on the North Jetty. Fishing has been slower on the south side. Five to 6-inch Gulp jerk shads are a popular bait as well as smaller swimbaits. Egg sinkers or banana weights rigged with a herring also work well.

HASA Picnic coming April 9

The public is invited to the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers' Picnic and Gear Swap/Sell. The fundraising barbecue will be held April 9 at Pierson Park in McKinleyville from 2 to 6 p.m. The cost is $10 per person or $20 for a family up to four. HASA will provide burgers, hot dogs and non-alcoholic drinks, and it will be pot luck on side dishes. Lunch will start at 3:30 p.m. HASA will provide tables but please bring your own chairs. There will be a few silent auction items and a door prize, and attendees are welcome to bring a table of spare fishing gear to sell or swap. Please RSVP to [email protected] by April 2 so organizers can determine food quantity. Please include your contact information so you can be notified of any changes.

The Rivers:

As a reminder, the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek, and the Chetco will all close to fishing after March 31.

Eel River (main stem)

The Eel at Scotia went up to 1,400 cubic feet per second last Friday but has been steadily dropping since. As of Wednesday, it was down to 1,110 cfs. There are a few fish around, the majority of which will likely be downers. Fishing pressure is light, but anglers are getting a couple chances per day. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.

The Smith

The Smith was flowing just above 1,000 cfs as of Wednesday. The water is extremely clear and low. Not much in the way of fishing pressure, but a few fish are being caught. The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle Fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick's Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craig's Creek to Jones Creek.


"Steelhead season has come to an end on the Chetco River," said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "Fishing closes March 31, and reopens in late May. Overall, steelhead fishing was above-average this year, with plenty of fish, despite low water for much of the season. The large number of downrunners in recent weeks is a good indication of how successful this season's spawner escapement was. The Elk and Sixes also close March 31." Spring salmon fishing is still slow on the Rogue according to Martin. "A major rain is needed to jumpstart the action. During low-flow years, which this is turning out to be, springer fishing often is best in June, with early trolling action in the bay."

Brookings ocean report

According to Martin, fishing for lingcod and rockfish has been good out of Brookings, with limits of rockfish and limits or near limits of lingcod. "Calm weather over the weekend resulted in some of the best catch rates so far this year. Nearly every reef has fish on it right now. After windy weather much of this week, calmer conditions are expected for the weekend. Sport crabbing has been slow to fair."

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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