Ocean and River Salmon Closures Likely in 2023

Nine-year-old Ryder Gregory is all smiles after catching his limit of king salmon with Heidi Musick out of Trinidad a few years back. Low abundance of salmon in the ocean has put this year’s ocean and river salmon seasons in jeopardy.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Curt Wilson/Wind Rose Charters

by Kenny Priest

If the forecasts from last Wednesday’s salmon information meeting are accurate, Chinook salmon are going to be few and far between this year. It will also likely result in a complete ocean closure to Chinook fishing state-wide in an effort to protect stocks. Currently, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is meeting in Seattle to decide the fate of our ocean and in-river seasons. While still not finalized, an early version of the three alternatives for our ocean fisheries was released Monday, and all three included the words “closed.” This is far from unexpected as most fishing groups and anglers are urging the PFMC to curtail any Chinook salmon fishing in 2023 in California.

The fate of both the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers will be decided in the coming days but will likely be closed to fishing for fall kings. The last such closure was in 2017, when the Klamath was closed to salmon fishing beginning Aug. 15. That same year our ocean season was also closed within the Klamath Management Zone (California/Oregon border to Horse Mtn.). This year is shaping up to be a whole lot worse, with ocean fall Chinook fishing potentially closed from Southern Oregon to Mexico.

The culprit is the extremely low number of both Sacramento and Klamath fish swimming in the ocean. The forecast estimates Sacramento River fall Chinook, the predominant stock harvested in California fisheries, at 169,767 adults, one of the lowest forecasts since the current assessment method came into play in 2008.

Klamath River Chinook is forecast to be 103,793 adults, the second-lowest forecast since that body of water’s assessment method started in 1997. Please see the ocean salmon webpage at wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason for a complete calendar of events and contact information regarding the Salmon Preseason Process, including other opportunities for public engagement in the season-setting process. For information on the PFMC meetings, visit pcouncil.org/managed_fishery/salmon/.

The weather ahead
The next round of precipitation will arrive Thursday afternoon according to Matthew Kidwell of Eureka’s National Weather Service office. “We’re looking at 1.5 to 2 inches before the rain starts to taper off on Friday afternoon,” said Kidwell. “The next round of showers is forecast for Saturday where we’ll see off and on rain, but it won’t add up to much. A more noteworthy system will arrive on Sunday and stick around through Tuesday. This will be a fairly warm and wet system. We could see 3 to 5 inches over the course of the three days, with higher totals in the mountains. We may see some flooding in the low-lying areas, but the rivers should remain intact.”

The rivers:
The Mad reportedly saw a good push of fish come in late last week. River conditions are still far from ideal, and they’re about to get worse. As of Wednesday, flows were right around 2,500 cubic feet per second (9.8 feet). The rain coming Thursday night will push flows up to 7,700 cfs by Friday afternoon. It’s unlikely we’ll see the river green prior to closing at the end of the month.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel has been high and off color since late last week and won’t be fishable anytime soon. It’s predicted to peak at over 80,000 cfs at Scotia early Saturday morning.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork blew out last weekend and it hasn’t been close to fishable since. Another big rise is slated for Friday when flows could reach over 15,000 cfs at Miranda. Will need at least a week of dry weather before the upper reaches drop into fishable shape.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen hasn’t been fishable all week and more rain is on the way. Flows were right around 950 cfs Wednesday, but it’s forecast to peak at 6,800 cfs Friday. With more rain coming next week, it won’t be fishable anytime soon.

The Smith is clear in spots, but some of the creeks are adding some much-needed color. As of Wednesday, flows at Jed Smith had risen to 3,650 cfs. It will be receding slowly until Friday when it’s predicted to rise quickly to over 12,00 cfs. It’s predicted to drop Saturday and should be in fishable shape before rising again Sunday. Despite the conditions, some steelhead are being caught. Boat pressure has been light. The rise in flows should bring in some fresh fish and could bring some spawners downriver.

Southern Oregon rivers
Late-arriving steelhead boosted catch rates on the Chetco over the weekend, even with cold, stormy weather reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The Chetco has been hovering at 1,600 cfs, but a major rain, and snow melt, is expected to jump flows to over 10,000 cfs by the end of the week,” said Martin. “Steelhead fishing also has been decent on the Elk and Sixes. Rogue River anglers expect the first spring chinook of the season to move into the river after this weekend’s storm. The first big rise of March usually kicks off springer season, although April and May are the peak months.”

Brookings ocean report
Rough ocean conditions have kept Brookings anglers at the dock according to Martin. “A brief break in the weather may allow boats to get out on Wednesday, before another round of winter storms arrive Thursday. Lingcod and rockfish are open year-round 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 www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com.