Storms and Steelhead in the Forecast

Amber Bray of Brookings, Oregon, landed an early-arriving hatchery steelhead while fishing the Chetco River Monday.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Michael Poly

by Kenny Priest

With the late-fall king season all but wrapped up on the coast, it’s time to turn our attention to winter steelhead, the crown jewel of the North Coast. With plenty of water in the rivers and more on the way, the excitement for the impending run-start is palpable. There’s been a smattering of steelhead caught on most coastal rivers but the incoming storms should really get the party started.

A couple decent storms are headed our way later in the week and should put all of the coastal rivers on the rise, with most seeing peak flows Saturday evening. According to the National Weather Service, more rain is in store next week, which should really open the door. Steady rain and pulse flows are just what we need to entice some steelhead from the salt. If the rains come as predicted, the Smith and Chetco should be in prime shape early next week.

Weather ahead
Following a couple dry and cold days, rain is back in the forecast starting Thursday. According to James White of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, rain is forecast to begin early Thursday and we could see anywhere from three-quarters to one inch of rain. “The next system is predicted to begin Friday afternoon, and we may not see much dry weather in between the two systems,” said White. “Friday’s storm will stick around through Saturday and could bring an additional one to one and a half inches of rain to the area. There’s lots of uncertainty about next week, but the models are starting to agree that we could be in for another wet one.”

Commercial Dungeness crab season delayed again
The ocean commercial Dungeness crab season remains closed as round two of pre-season testing shows crabs remain too low in meat yield in some areas. Elevated domoic acid is still detected in some crab viscera (guts). Round three of crab meat yield and biotoxin testing will occur in the coming weeks. Results help determine if the season opens Dec. 31 or is further delayed or split into areas with different opening dates.

Targeted to open Dec. 1, the ocean commercial Dungeness crab season can be delayed so consumers get a high-quality product and crabs are not wasted. Oregon, California and Washington coordinate Dungeness crab quality testing and the commercial season opening dates. Oregon and Washington also are delaying their commercial seasons until at least Dec. 31. Coastwide test results can be found here,

Mad River Steelhead Derby Starts Jan. 1
The Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA) is hosting its fourth annual Mad River Steelhead Derby from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28. Anglers must be signed up prior to the start date to be eligible to win cash and prizes. Only hatchery steelhead can be entered. The largest steelhead in the adult division will win $500 for first place, $300 for second place and $150 for third place. The three largest fish entered into the youth division (16 and under) will win gift cards to local tackle stores. Plus, the three best steelhead fishing videos will win product packages from our sponsors. Anglers can sign up online or in person at RMI Outdoors. 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:
As of Wednesday, all North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures including the Mad, Smith, main stem Eel, South Fork Eel, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen were open to fishing. As a reminder, the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream, the main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam and the Mattole River are all closed until Jan. 1, 2023. The Department of Fish and Wildlife 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 rivers can be opened at any time. The low-flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164. For more information, visit

Forecast to peak at 8,360 cubic feet per second Saturday evening. Will likely be off color most of, if not all, of next week. A few steelhead were caught last weekend.

Main stem Eel
Flows were right around 2,000 and dropping Thursday morning. Big changes are forecast for the weekend with flows predicted to reach 28,120 cfs Sunday morning. It will be off color all week if the predictions pan out. There have been a few adult steelhead caught.

South Fork Eel
Finally opened to fishing Monday and flows were 286 cfs and dropping Thursday morning. Predicted for a big rise beginning Thursday afternoon and peaking Saturday night at 7,400 cfs. Don’t expect green water until it comes down under 2,000 cfs, which could be early next week.

Van Duzen
Flows were hovering right around 280 cfs Thursday afternoon. Rain beginning late Thursday will put it back on the rise through Saturday where it’s predicted to peak above 4,950 cfs. It will likely by off color next week, depending on how much rain we get.

The Smith is low and clear, but that is about to change. With rain in the forecast beginning Thursday, the Smith will see a couple flow increases. The first will be Friday morning, with flows predicted to reach 3,800 cfs. The second, bigger rise is forecast for Saturday evening. If the rain falls as planned, flows could hit 17,000 cfs. Conditions could be about perfect the beginning of next week. As of Thursday morning, flows were 1,200 cfs on the Jed Smith gauge.

Drift boat anglers got another shot at fall kings on the Chetco, Elk and Sixes late last week, with attention now turning to steelhead reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing.  He said, “Adult steelhead have been confirmed in the catches on all three rivers, along with late kings. The Elk was wide open for salmon on Thursday and Friday, with big numbers for the few guides on the river. The Sixes fished well Friday and Saturday. Salmon fishing also was good on the Chetco, but a handful of early steelhead to 12 pounds grabbed most of the attention. High flows are expected over the weekend and early next week, and as the rivers drop, expect decent catches of steelhead. Early spawning surveys also revealed above-average salmon runs in the Chetco, with big numbers of kings still spawning in the tail outs.”

Kenny Priest 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