Chetco Gives up Big Numbers of Kings

Austin, left, along with his father Jerry Han of Kennewick, Wash., hold a king salmon caught last week on the Chetco River while fishing with guide Sam Stover of Wild Rivers Fishing.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

by Kenny Priest

If you didn’t get in on the Chetco fall salmon action last week, you missed some epic fishing. Following a season that saw the estuary plugged with kings, there was little doubt that if, and when, conditions lined up, the bite upriver would go completely off. And that’s exactly what happened last week. Double-digit hookups were not uncommon. And there some big fish landed, plenty in the 40-pounge range and some approaching 50 pounds. “Prime water conditions last week yielded peak-season catch rates on the Chetco, with most guides getting a couple of fish per rod,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The river dropped into shape Tuesday, and was prime Wednesday and Thursday. With rivers closed to the south, there was plenty of company, but good catch rates overall. Looking ahead, the river is expected to remain around 1,500 cfs for the next week – somewhat low, but still plenty of water for back-bouncing, and getting downriver without hitting bottom. Many of the fish upriver are darker, with fresh wild and hatchery kings on the lower end.”

Weather ahead
According to the US National Weather Service Eureka, a low pressure system continues to stall off the coast of California. “By late Friday morning, it is forecast to start to weaken and finally move east through Central California. For Northwest California, showers and gusty south winds are expected Friday and set to continue overnight into Saturday with showers lingering into early Sunday morning.

Rainfall totals from early morning Friday to early morning Sunday are anticipated to be mostly below 2 inches for Northwest California. The higher amounts are expected for higher terrain areas of Lake and eastern Mendocino counties. Lesser amounts of around 1 inch to 1.5 inches are expected for the King Range in Humboldt County and the higher terrain areas of Del Norte County. Between 0.1 inches of rain to 0.5 inches of rain are expected for lower elevation areas of Mendocino, Trinity, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties.”

Weekend Marine Forecast
The ocean looks to be fishable this weekend for the sport crabbers. Saturday’s forecast is calling for west winds 5 to 15 knots with south waves five feet at 10 seconds and northwest three feet at 11 seconds. Sunday is looking a little worse, with winds out of the north five to 10 knots and northwest waves 10 feet at 13 seconds. These conditions can and will change by the weekend. For an up-to-date weather forecast, visit or To monitor the latest Humboldt bar conditions, visit You can also call the National Weather Service at 443-7062 or the office on Woodley Island at 443-6484.

Crab traps prohibited starting Nov. 27
The CDFW is expanding the temporary recreational crab trap restriction to the California/Oregon state line to Cape Mendocino (Fishing Zone 1) due to presence of humpback whales and the potential for entanglement from trap gear. The recreational trap restriction for Fishing Zone 1 will go into effect on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, at 6 p.m. and continue in Zones 1, 3 and 4 until at least the next risk assessment. This means recreational crabbers must remove all traps in Zone 1 by the time the restriction goes into effect. CDFW reminds recreational crabbers that take of Dungeness crab by other methods, including hoop nets and crab snares, is allowed during a temporary trap restriction. The use of recreational crab traps in Fishing Zones 2 and 5 is still allowed.

Sport crab fishing update
Crabbing has been good when the boats can get offshore out of Eureka. Both sides of the entrance have been fishing well and averaging roughly 10 keepers per pot. The crabs are reportedly in really good shape, with a mix of smaller ones and jumbos. Ocean conditions look good for Friday and Saturday before the seas come up on Sunday. Crabbing inside Humboldt Bay has been spotty, with lots of undersized crabs being caught.

Shelter Cove update
“Rock fishing and crabbing has been great, with easy limits of both,” said Jake Mitchell of Sea Hawk Sport Fishing. “The lingcod fishing has been tough, but we’re getting a few per trip. There were a few bluefin caught over the weekend, but overall, it has slowed down. Most of the crabbing is right below the bell buoy, just about a mile from harbor.”

Nov. 24 and 25 free fish days in Oregon
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is waiving all fishing licensing requirements on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage people to experience fishing with friends and family during the long holiday weekend. All fishing, crabbing and clamming in Oregon will be free for both Oregon residents and non-residents. No licenses, tags or endorsements are needed on those days, but all other fishing regulations apply. Visit for more info.

Mad River Steelhead Reward Program
For the Mad River steelhead fishery in the upcoming 2023-24 season, the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) plans to attach reward tags to a small subset of hatchery-origin (i.e., adipose-clipped) adult steelhead upon their return to freshwater. This is in effort to estimate the steelhead harvest on the Mad River. According to John Deibner-Hanson, a Northern Region Environmental Scientist for CDFW, a number of fish will be captured in the lower river using tangle nets and affixed with spaghetti tags worth $20, $50 or $100 rewards. Once the tags are applied on their backs behind the dorsal fin, the fish will be released. Upon capturing a reward tag, anglers will need to follow one of the methods outlined below to answer a series of questions about how the tag was acquired (e.g., caught on fish, found on dead fish, found on bank). Anglers will have until April 15, 2024 to report tags and claim rewards, after which reward tags from this season will expire. To attain accurate harvest estimates, we must assume 100% tag return rates on harvested steelhead, so getting the word out for our tagging program will be vital to its success.

There are three ways an angler may report their tag for reward:

  1. Scan the QR code posted on message boards and signage around the river or carried by CDFW creelers
  2. Visit:
  3. Return the tag to CDFW at: 50 Ericson Ct., Arcata, CA

Using options 1 and 2 above, anglers will not submit the physical tag, only needing to provide the unique tag number and answering the accompanying questions online. For this reason, anglers are strongly urged to retain the tag after submittal until all rewards have been claimed, as only one reward will be paid for each uniquely numbered tag. For questions, please email

Mad River Steelhead Derby dates announced
The annual NCGASA Mad River Hatchery Steelhead Derby will take place Jan. 15 (6am)-Feb. 29 (6pm) 2024. The 3 largest measured fish in both the Adult and Youth categories will win Awards ceremony to be held at Mad River Brewing Co., Tasting Room in Blue Lake on Sunday, March 3 at 2pm. For more information, visit

The Rivers:
As of Friday, only the main stem Eel and Smith River were open to fishing. All other North Coast rivers subjected to low-flow fishing closures, including the South Fork Eel, Mad, Redwood Creek and Van Duzen are closed to angling The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at any time. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is 707-822-3164. NOTE: The main stem Eel from the South Fork to Cape Horn Dam, the Mad River from the mouth to 200 yards upstream and the Mattole River will be closed until January 1, 2024.

Mad River
Predicted to peak at 1,340 cfs Sunday morning. Should open to fishing early next week. Minimum flows are 200 cfs to lift angling restrictions.

Main Eel
Forecasted to reach 1,300 cfs Monday morning. Should remain open to fishing throughout the week. There should be some early steelhead starting to show. The Eel River is closed to salmon fishing except catch and release by federally recognized tribes. Minimum flows are 350 cfs to lift angling restrictions.

Van Duzen
Predicted to reach 425 cfs Sunday morning and could open to fishing if predictions are correct. Minimum flows are 150 cfs to lift angling restrictions.

South Fork Eel
Flows are predicted to peak at 530 cfs Sunday afternoon.Minimum flows for 340 cfs to lift angling restrictions.

Smith River
The Smith was running at 1,300 cfs Friday and will be dropping through Saturday. Saturday’s rain looks like it will have an impact on flows, raising it to 5,100 cfs by Sunday morning. The Smith is closed to all salmon fishing except for 1 Chinook Salmon and no more than 5 wild Chinook Salmon over 22 inches per year by federally recognized tribes while fishing under existing inland sport fishing regulations. Minimum flow: 600 cfs at the Jedediah Smith State Park gauging station.

According to Martin the Elk and Sixes also fished well last week, but are approaching low, clear levels and will be tougher to fish this week. “Any rain will help, especially on the Sixes. Both rivers fish well through mid-December, or later.”

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