Green Water Awaits Weekend Steelhead Anglers

Sisters, Oregon, resident Taylor Robertson landed this beautiful winter steelhead Jan. 21 on the Smith River.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Josh Smith Guide Service

by Kenny Priest

If you’re in search of your first winter steelhead of the season, you’ll want to be on a river this weekend. The lack of rainfall for the past two weeks, both a blessing and a curse, has allowed most rivers to drop and turn the shade of green that keeps steelhead anglers awake at night. Another reason to make this weekend count is these ideal conditions could be short-lived. Rain is predicted to return early next week and signs are pointing toward above normal rainfall for the next eight to 14 days.

As for the weekend options, most of the rivers from the Chetco to the South Fork Eel will be in some type of fishable shape. The Chetco and Smith are starting to clear and will need a shot of rain. Here in Humboldt, the Mad should be rounding into shape by the weekend for bank anglers and possibly boats. The main stem Eel is still too high, but it has started to turn. It will need another week of dry weather before it’s fishable. The South Fork Eel and Van Duzen rivers will be in pristine shape by the weekend and will likely draw a crowd. If it’s steelhead you’re after, you’ll want to take advantage of the river conditions this weekend.

Weather outlook
According to Scott Carroll of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, we’ll remain dry through the weekend but could start to see some changes next week. “There is some rain in the forecast for Del Norte County and northern Humboldt for early next week,” said Carroll. “At this point, it looks fairly light. This should be the beginning of a pattern change that will bring cooler temperatures and a potential wet pattern. Both the six-to-10 and eight-to-14-day outlook are calling for better chances of above normal precipitation.”

The Rivers:
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. 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

The Mad is still a little pushy and off color as of Thursday, but it’s predicted to be down to 800 cfs by the weekend and should be starting to turn green. Despite the color, some fish are being caught.

Main stem Eel
The main stem is still big, but starting to turn green as of Thursday, flowing at 10,200 cfs and dropping quickly. With rain potentially in the forecast next week, it probably won’t drop into fishable shape. Flows are predicted to be around 6,800 cfs by Monday morning.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork is green, but still a little pushy. Flows on Thursday at Miranda were 2,400 cfs, which is a little high. It will start to fish best once it dips below 2,000 cfs.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was near 700 cfs as of last Thursday and fishable. It should be in great shape by the weekend. Flows are predicted to be just above 425 cfs by Monday morning.

Smith River
The Smith gave up some nice fish late last week and weekend as conditions were excellent. It’s now getting low and clearing, sitting at just below 8 feet at the Jed Smith gauge as of Thursday. There are fish to be had, but you’ll need to be stealthy with these conditions. Predicted to be 7.6 feet by Saturday morning.

Despite near-perfect water conditions, steelhead fishing was slow over the weekend on the Chetco, with just a one-fish average for most boats, reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Catch rates improved Monday as dropping flows and fresh fish arriving on the tides have boosted the action,” said Martin. “A mix of wild and hatchery fish are being caught. No rain in the forecast should keep flows near ideal for the next week, but low, clear water could challenge anglers by the weekend.”

A few steelhead are being caught in the Lower Rogue and the Elk rivers, according to Martin. “Action is fair at best. The Sixes and Coquille will come into play this week.”

Brookings ocean update
According to Martin, fairly calm ocean conditions are expected this weekend as wind and swells subside. “Oregon waters are open year-round to lingcod and rockfish. Sport crabbing has reopened out of Brookings.”

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