CA Salmon Anglers Bracing for Another Bad Year

Josh Carmel of Redding landed a nice Chinook salmon while fishing out of Eureka a few seasons back. The PFMC released its three season alternatives this week with the final decision coming in April.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Gary Blasi/Full Throttle Sport Fishing

by Kenny Priest

After a sometimes tense-filled week of meetings in Fresno, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) released its ocean and inland salmon season options Monday. The PFMC took a precautionary approach in setting the season alternatives, though some would argue they didn’t error on the side of caution enough. While more Chinook salmon returned from the ocean to spawn last year than in 2022, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to the fact the harvest models CDFW has used to measure salmon ocean abundance numbers are outdated. So, when the final options appeared in print for the first time Sunday, some in the industry were alarmed that we could be setting ourselves up for another year of overfishing if the abundance numbers turn out to be less than predicted. Though still heavily restricted or banned in some zones, there is opportunity up and down the coast for both recreation, commercial, and inland harvest.

New in 2024, CDFW has put in place in-season management and harvest limits, which are new concepts in management of commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries off California. Given the low abundance forecasts and spawner returns in recent years, it is crucial that any limited salmon fishing ultimately authorized be managed to ensure most of the fish return to the river this fall. Use of these strategies in 2024 ocean fisheries is expected to keep catches within pre-season projections.

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

Alternative 1: June 5-9; July 3-7; August 1-6, September 1-3, 27-29; October 18-20.

Alternative 2: July 4-7; August 1-4, 29-31

Alternative 3: Closed

In-season action may be taken to close open days when total harvest is approaching a statewide harvest guideline of 10,000 Chinook during June through August, and 5,000 Chinook during September through October.

Open seven days per week. All salmon except coho, two salmon per day. Chinook minimum size limit of 20 inches total length. Size limit of 24 inches in alternative 3.

These three alternatives are identical for the entire state of California.

To view all of the salmon management alternatives, visit

Up next
Next in line is the public hearing in Santa Rosa, CA March 25. The purpose of this public hearing is to receive comments on the proposed management alternatives in preparation for adopting final salmon management recommendations at the April 2024 Council meeting. A summary of verbal comments heard at the hearings will be provided to the Pacific Council at its April meeting. This public hearing will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriot in the Sonoma Room, 175 Railroad Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401.

Details on how to attend the public hearing and PFMC meeting, as well as instructions to provide public comment, can be found at

NOAA provides opportunity for public comment
On March 12, NOAA Fisheries announced an opportunity to comment on the development of the 2024 ocean salmon management measures for commercial, tribal, and recreational salmon fisheries off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. “These comments will be used by the Pacific Fishery Management Council to make final recommendations for the 2024 management measures. The Council will develop alternatives for 2024 ocean salmon fishery management at the March 2024 Council meeting before selecting the recommended 2024 ocean salmon fishery management measures at their April 2024 meeting.”
Written comments may be submitted via the Federal register notice and must be received electronically or in hard copy by April 5, 2024, prior to the April 2024 Council meeting.
NOAA Fisheries will publish a final rule in May 2024 to implement these management measures.

Klamath/Trinity fall salmon allocations
The recreational allocations, or quotas, as proposed by the PFMC will range from 3,135 to 6,059 adult fall Chinook in 2024 across the three alternatives. These represent the highest quotas since the 2019 season.

Englund Marine saltwater seminar coming March 30
On Saturday March 30, Eureka’s Englund Marine and HASA will host a saltwater seminar from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Englund Marine store located at 590 W. Waterfront Dr. Guest speakers include Charles Loos, who will speak on bar crossing basics. Travis Chambers of Time and Tide Marine will speak on engine maintenance. Tim Klassen will talk about anchor fishing for Pacific halibut in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Del Stephens is back in Humboldt and will explain deepwater lingcod, Albacore and Bluefin tuna techniques. Raffles will be held in between speakers. For more information, visit

The Rivers:
As of Thursday, the Mad was down to 10.6 feet (4,500 cfs) and dropping slowly. It’s still off color, but it should start to turn green after the weekend, and conditions should be good next week. It will likely be bigger than normal, but the color should be much improved.

Main stem Eel
The main Eel was running at 23,500 cfs as of Thursday afternoon, and has a long way to go before it’s down to a fishable height. The main stem Eel is open year around, from April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.

South Fork Eel
The South Fork was down to 4,500 cfs Thursday, and is on the drop. The color is starting to come into shape, and it was turning green. It will be fishable by the weekend, but it will be big. Conditions should be much improved by later next week.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was under 2,000 cfs as of Thursday and dropping slowly due to snowmelt. Once it gets below 1,000 cfs it should start to turn green and will be fishable, but still very big. Conditions could be good late next week if the rain holds off.

The Smith is still a little big, sitting at 11.5 feet (10,000 cfs) as of Thursday. Water conditions will be about perfect for at least the next week. The fishing hasn’t been great for the past few weeks and reports have been tough to come by as the fishing pressure has remained very light.

Southern Oregon rivers
“High water continues to make what little is left of this year’s steelhead season tough,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The Chetco blew out again over the weekend and likely won’t fish until this weekend. With a dry spell now in the forecast, expect good flows for steelhead as the season winds down. A few late fish could still arrive, along with downrunners headed back to the ocean. 

The Rogue was high and off-color to begin the week. A few spring salmon have been caught, and fishing usually improves in late March. April and May are prime time. Only hatchery springers can be kept. A few late steelhead also are arriving.”

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