Storms breathe new life into steelhead rivers
by Kenny Priest
Following a dry and unseasonably warm first half of February, there is finally some good news to report – widespread rain and heavy mountain snowfall are imminent across nearly all of California. For the North Coast, weather models are indicating above normal precipitation in the coming weeks, which could turn March into a heck of a month for steelhead fishing. Up until these last storms that hit on Sunday and Monday, the majority of the coastal rivers were running on fumes. Other than the main stem Eel, everything was low and clear, and steelhead were few and far between. The few fish that were being caught were low in the river systems, which could indicate there’s plenty of fish just waiting for the rivers to rise. Could we be in for another “Miracle March” ? I sure hope so.
The weather ahead
“We should see some decent rainfall totals over the next week, and we’ll continue to see low elevation snow”, said Ryan Aylward of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “We’ll see mostly rain on Wednesday, with two-thirds to an inch falling at the coast and one to one and a half in the mountains. Beginning Thursday, snow levels will drop to around 1,500 to 2,500 feet. We could see another two-thirds of an inch of rain, with snow falling above 2,500 feet. Friday’s forecast is calling for roughly the same. Rain will taper off on Saturday with only three-tenths falling in the mountains and maybe a half in Del Norte. Between Wednesday and Saturday, we’ll see about two inches of rain in Humboldt and up to three inches in Crescent City. Southern Humboldt could see three to four inches. Six to seven inches is forecasted for the hills, but most of that will fall as snow. Sunday and Monday are looking mostly dry, but there is another storm sitting off the coast that will hit sometime on Tuesday. The timing of this one is uncertain right now. It is looking like we’ll be in a wet pattern all next week, but the rainfall amounts are uncertain. It does look like we’ll see above average precipitation for the next few weeks.”
Klamath/Trinity springers could be added to protected list
Following a 90-day review, the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) on Tuesday published a notice in the Federal Register stating that the petition filed by the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council to add Klamath Spring Chinook to the Endangered Species List provides “substantial information” and that “listing may be warranted” according to a press release.
The federal fisheries’ move comes after a UC Davis study showed the spring Chinook are more of an evolutionary rarity than realized when compared to Fall Chinook salmon that return later in the year. Before the age of dams, industrial mining, and clear-cut logging, spring Chinook salmon were the most abundant run of salmon in the Klamath and many other Pacific Northwest Rivers. Today these fish are nearly extinct throughout much of their historic range.
The report led the Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council to petition NMFS to add Klamath-Trinity spring Chinook the Endangered Species List.
Spring Chinook enter rivers in the spring when snow melt swells rivers allowing the fish to travel into the upper reaches of a watershed. Then they must reside in cold water areas all summer until they spawn and die in the fall. Fall Chinook migrate into rivers in the fall where they spawn and die relatively soon after entering fresh water.
Tuesday’s notice initiates a 60-day public comment period to solicit information on Chinook salmon in the Upper Klamath/Trinity Basin. To read the notice or comment, visit www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/27/2018-03906/endangered-and-threatened
“The Chetco was back in shape on Tuesday, and just about everybody was catching fish,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Drift boats caught a mix of fresh hatchery and wild steelhead, and some downers, from the South Fork clear down to the water tower. The heavy rain in the forecast could blow the river out for the weekend, especially if the snow along the upper river melts. Should be good fishing again next week. The Elk fished well Monday, but was slower Tuesday. A few boats went to the Sixes on Tuesday but reported limited success. The Elk fishes best in high water, and should be in decent shape this weekend.”
The Smith was low and clear over the weekend and fishing was tough. A total of 17 fish were caught during the two-day derby by a total of 80 anglers. The rains finally came on Sunday, and the river went up a couple feet by Monday. Unfortunately, the fishing didn’t improve much. Boats drifting from the top to the bottom reported very few fish caught. Another good rise is forecasted for Wednesday into Thursday, with flows hitting 12,000 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge by Thursday night. Hopefully we’ll see a new batch of fish enter the river, and we should see some more spawned out fish making their way down.
Eel River (main stem)
The rain over the weekend added some color, but the main stem never blew out reports Fred Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. “The river didn’t rise all that much, mostly because of the freezing in the mountains held the water back. We’ve had a real good stretch of fishable water this month, and the fishing has been pretty productive. There’s quite a few boats around, and they’re here for a reason. With the storms coming later this week, it looks like the main stem will blow out early Thursday morning,” Grundman added. The Eel is predicted to jump from 1,300 cfs to nearly 20,000 by Friday night.
Eel River (South Fork)
Not much to report for the last couple weeks, but the storms on the way should get the ball rolling again. Flows were right around 350 cfs on Wednesday afternoon and forecasted to hit 7,400 cfs by Friday morning. It will be blown out for the weekend, but could come back into play sometime next week, depending on the next round of storms. When the water turns green, there should be plenty of fish around – both fresh and downers.
According to Grundman, the Van Duzen was muddy on Tuesday. If the forecast holds, flows are predicted to jump from 315 to 2,750 cfs by Thursday morning.
The Mad has been pretty quiet this week reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors in Eureka. “There’s not a lot of hatchery fish in the river right now, which is likely why the pressures been light. The fish, which have been mostly wild, are still scattered. You can catch them from top to bottom. We’ve got a pretty good rise coming on Thursday, that will hopefully trigger some more fish to come in,” Kelly added.
According to Philip Bairrington, Anadromous Fisheries Resource Assessment and Monitoring Program for CDFW, 52 pairs of Mad River steelhead have been spawned as of Tuesday. He said, “On a normal year we would have spawned 104 by now. It is turning out to be a lower run amplitude year. I predict we’ll spawn another 10 to 20 pairs by the end of the hatchery’s spawning season. We’ll be okay, thanks to the Mad River Steelhead Stewards Volunteer Program.”
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