Extensions Coming for Low-flow River Closures
by Kenny Priest
At its December meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission acted on several issues affecting California’s natural resources. One of the items of interest was to extend the locations and expand low-flow closure periods for rivers along the north and central coast. The changes will prohibit fishing in specific rivers due to drought conditions, to protect native fish populations through April 30, when flows fall below a certain level. Currently low-flow inland sport fishing regulations require the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine whether flows at any of the designated gauging stations are lower than the minimum flows specified for particular stream reaches; if CDFW determines the flows are below the minimum specifications, the regulation closes the stream reach to fishing for a specified period. Items unanimously approved and slated to go into effect Jan. 31, 2022, are:
- Extending the low-flow closure period to eight months for a different stretch of the Eel River as well as the Mad, Mattole, Redwood Creek, Smith and Van Duzen (currently Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, four months) to Sept. 1 through April 30.
- Adding a low-flow gear restriction from the mouth of the Eel River to Fulmor Road at its paved junction with the south bank of the Eel River. When a low-flow closure occurs in this section of the Eel, it will be closed to hook-and-line fishing; other legal fishing methods are allowed during this timeframe.
- Implementing a low-flow angling restriction on the section of the Eel River from the mouth to Fulmor Road at its paved junction with the south bank of the Eel River, Sept. 1 through April 30. The stream flow will be monitored as follows: Minimum Flow is 350 cubic feet per second at the gauging station near Scotia.
- Extending the low-flow closure period to eight months (currently Oct. 1 through March 31, six months) for the Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties coastal streams to Sept. 1 through April 30.
The major benefit under the proposed emergency action is additional protection for fish species (particularly steelhead and salmon) if drought conditions persist. CDFW also determined that low river flows will concentrate adult wild salmon and steelhead into shrinking pools of cold water making them easy prey for poachers, illegal angling methods such as snagging, increased hooking mortality due to legal catch and release angling targeting hatchery steelhead, as well as other human-related disturbances within their spawning streams
The low-flow restrictions give the department an option during drought conditions to close waters to angling to reduce the loss of adult fish. For more information, visit www.bit.ly/3EvoEQx.
Following Tuesday’s showers, the next round of storms is forecast for Wednesday afternoon through most of the day Thursday. According to Alex Dodd of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, rainfall totals in the Smith basin will be 1 to 2 inches. In the Eel basin, we could see ¾ to 1.25 inches. “The next system will arrive on Friday and stick around through the day,” he said. “Snow levels will be much lower, and we’re looking at another 1 to 1.5 inches of rain near the Smith and a ½ to ¾ locally. Saturday through Monday will bring periods of heavy rain. The Smith will likely see 2 to 4 inches over the three-day period and the Eel will see 1.5 to 2 inches.”
Razor Clam fishery closes in Del Norte
In a press release issued on Dec. 16, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has closed the recreational razor clam fishery in Del Norte County following a recommendation from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which, in consultation with the California Department of Public Health, determined that the consumption of razor clams taken from Del Norte County poses a significant threat for domoic acid exposure. The fishery in this area reopened on April 29, 2021 following a five-year closure. Early December sampling of razor clams from Crescent Beach in Crescent City found clams exceeding the current federal action level for domoic acid of greater than or equal to 20 parts per million. Health agencies will continue to monitor domoic acid in razor clams in Del Norte County. The closure will remain in place until I am notified by the public health agencies named above, that a health hazard regarding razor clams no longer exists.
Mattole River opens to fishing Jan. 1
The Mattole River will open to fishing Saturday, Jan. 1 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stanberry Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is also regulated by low-flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station.
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 are closed until Jan. 1, 2022.
Tuesday’s rain showers put the Mad back on the rise and off color. It was fishable prior and a few steelhead were caught. Predicted to reach 11.3 feet on Thursday morning. Will likely remain dirty through the weekend.
Main stem Eel
Prior to Wednesday, the main stem was still big but the color was starting to turn somewhat green. It’s now back on the rise and forecast to reach 35,000 cfs early Friday.
South Fork Eel
The South Fork was fishable through Tuesday but it didn’t sound like many, if any, fish were caught. It’s still early for steelhead in numbers to be that high in the system. Predicted to blowout again on Thursday and won’t be in fishable shape through the weekend if the rain predictions come through.
Like the South Fork, was in fishable shape through Tuesday but reports were hard to come by. Will be back on the rise Wednesday evening and forecast to reach 9,000 cfs on Thursday. If the rain comes as predicted, will be high and dirty through the weekend.
There are a few adult steelhead around right now, reports guide Mike Coopman. “There were quite a few half-pounders around last week but now we’re seeing mostly adults,” he said. “The river is supposed see a pretty significant rise later this week, so hopefully that will bring in some more fish.”
Steelhead anglers should finally have good flows for drift boat fishing on the Chetco a couple days after Christmas, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “With recent high water, plunkers have been catching adult steelhead from Social Security Bar to Loeb Park,” he said. “A few steelhead also have been caught by drift boaters anchoring and running plugs. Flows reached 10,000 cfs last week and will approach 16,000 cfs the middle of this week but could be down to 4,000 cfs by Monday.
Elk/Sixes/Rogue According to Martin, salmon were caught over the weekend on the Elk and Sixes rivers. “The Sixes is blown out again, but the Elk could be in play by the weekend. Expect fresh kings through the end of the month. Plunkers using large Spin-N-Glos also have been catching some early adult winter steelhead on the lower Rogue.
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