Lean Times Continue for CA Salmon Anglers

Petaluma resident John Burch landed this beautiful 19-pound king salmon while fishing out of Trinidad a few seasons back. The PFMC are currently working on setting salmon seasons for 2024.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Tony Sepulveda/Shellback Sport Fishing

by Kenny Priest

Following a year of a complete salmon shutdown across the board, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is again taking a precautionary approach in setting the 2024 ocean salmon seasons, even though ocean abundance forecasts have increased over the prior year for both the Sacramento River and Klamath River Fall Chinook.

When the PFMC released its first, and not final, ocean sport salmon season options Thursday, March 7, the news wasn’t good for salmon anglers statewide.

For the California KMZ, which runs from the Oregon-California border to latitude 40°10’ N and includes Humboldt County, the three preliminary alternatives currently on the table are:

Alternative 1: May 25-28; July 4-7; August 29-31, Sept. 1-Oct 15

Alternative 2: July 4-10

Alternative 3: Closed

This is just the first iteration, these will likely change a few more times between now and Monday when the meetings conclude.

From latitude 40°10’ N to Point Arena, which includes Shelter Cove and Fort Bragg, the three alternatives are the same as the CA KMZ.

Yet to be determined are the fishing seasons within the Central Valley and Klamath/Trinity Rivers. It’s widely believed both will be heavily restricted with regards to retention of fall Chinook. To view all salmon management alternatives, visit pcouncil.org/annual-salmon-management-process/.

Up next, the PFMC will hold a public hearing March 25 in Santa Rosa to receive public comment on the three proposed regulatory alternatives. The PFMC will then meet April 6 through April 11 in Seattle, WA to procedurally finalize the closures. Details on how to attend the public hearing and PFMC meeting, as well as instructions to provide public comment, can be found at pcouncil.org.

Northern Management Area 2024 rockfish season options
Also coming out of the PFMC meetings are the options for the 2024 recreational groundfish fishery as recommended by industry advisors. Currently on the table are four options for the Northern Management Area, which runs from the California/Oregon border to the 40°10′ N. latitude (near Cape Mendocino). The season will be closed from Jan. 1 through March. April will be open for an offshore fishery only, at depths greater than 50 fathoms (300 feet). From May through the end of September, the nearshore fishery will be open at depths of less than 20 fathoms (120 feet). In October and December, it will be back to an offshore fishery. In November, we’re back to a nearshore fishery, which will allow rockfish/crab combo trips. No retention of quillback and yelloweye, and expect sub-bag limits for copper and vermilion rockfish.
It is anticipated the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC) will take final action to adopt regulations for state waters on March 26, 2024. CDFW expects the changes will be consistent with and complementary to the in-season actions taken at the March 2024 Council meeting for the recreational groundfish fishery in federal waters. Modifications are expected to include changes to season dates and depths, including use of the 20-fathom boundary line.

Weekend weather
According to Jacob Boomsma of Eureka’s National Weather Service office, after a couple dry days Thursday and Friday, we’re headed back to a wetter pattern for the next few days. “The first, smaller system will arrive Saturday,” said Boomsma. “In the Smith basin, they could see 1 to 1.5 inches while Humboldt could see a 1/4 to 3/4 inches. A more robust storm will arrive Sunday, and the Smith basin could see up to 3 inches in the higher elevations. Here locally, we could see up to 2 inches. The next system will arrive on Monday and will spill into Tuesday. Another inch to 1.5 could fall in the Smith basin, while Humboldt will see a 1/2 to 1 inch.”

The rivers:
Wednesday’s storm pushed the Mad to 14.4 feet (10,600 cfs) and it’s back to big and muddy. With more rain and snowmelt predicted for the weekend, it won’t be green any time soon.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel reached 91,000 cfs Wednesday afternoon on the Scotia gauge. Needless to say, it will be blown out for the foreseeable future. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork is open to fishing all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork peaked at over 25,000 cfs at Miranda Wednesday and is also big and brown. It’s predicted to be down to 5,800 cfs by the weekend before it goes back on the rise following more rain on the weekend. It’s going need to stop raining soon or it may not be fishable prior to closing at the end of the month.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen peaked at over 10,000 cfs at Bridgeville Tuesday evening and is running high and muddy. It will be on the drop from Wednesday through Saturday afternoon, but more rain is in the forecast over the weekend which will put it back on the rise. Like the SF Eel, it will need a week of dry weather before it turns green.

The fast-clearing Smith went above 17 feet at the Jed Smith gauge Tuesday evening. It’s predicted to drop through Friday before it goes back on the rise Saturday. It will be fishable Thursday, but the water will likely be over 12 feet. Friday looks to be the best day with the height being under 11 feet and dropping throughout the day. There should be some fresh steelhead around and as well as some downers making their way to the ocean.

Southern Oregon rivers
After dropping back into shape for the weekend, with decent steelhead action, the Chetco blew out again Monday and is expected to be high and muddy all week reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “It could fish on Friday, but more rain is expected over the weekend,” said Martin. “High water is expected to continue into next week. The Elk and Sixes are also high and muddy, and the Rogue will be muddy with melting snow as inland temperatures warm a little this week.”

Brookings ocean report
According to Martin, rough weather has kept Brookings ocean anglers at the dock, but there is a nice window Thursday and Friday to get out of Brookings. “Lingcod have been biting on calmer weather days. Rockfish action has been very good. Sport crabbing has been poor.”

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.