Fishing the North Coast: Rain on the way - Smith, Chetco best bets for the weekend
After grinding through one of the driest Decembers ever recorded, it looks like our fishing fortunes are about to change. For the first time in well over three weeks, substantial rain is in the forecast. And even more importantly, the high pressure that's been anchored off the coast should give way and allow a more typical, rainy pattern to push in. But as some of my friends have been saying all week - before we start singing in the rain or dancing in the streets, let's see if the rivers actually start to rise.
The first in a series of storms is forecasted to hit Wednesday, with the majority of the rain falling closer to the Oregon border, raising the levels in both the Smith and Chetco well over 10 ft. The Smith was on the rise as of Wednesday morning and is predicted to remain that way until it peaks at 16.5 feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Friday afternoon. The Chetco is also rising, and predicted to peak at just under 16 feet on Friday afternoon. Here in the Eureka/Arcata area, the Mad is the only river forecasted for a significant rise. On Wednesday, it was just over five feet, but predicted to swell to over nine feet on Friday night. It appears the Eel and Van Duzen rivers will be getting the short end of the stick. Neither is forecasted for a substantial rise, though the Van Duzen is predicted to jump to 430 cfs on Friday, and then quickly fall back out. Remember, these are just predictions and will likely change. Let's just hope the experts underestimated the storm - and until we know for sure, no singing or dancing.
port crab update
Until earlier this week when he pulled his gear due to weather, crabbing for Captain Tim Klassen of Reel Steel Sport Fishing had remained excellent, with easy limits each trip. Klassen has been fishing mostly south of the whistle buoy in 100 feet of water, and plans to get back to it once the weather settles and he can get a few consecutive days in. John Corbett of Eureka's Pacific Outfitters reports the crabbing is still going strong in Trinidad. "We went out last weekend caught easy limits, and the crabs have really filled out nicely," Corbett added.
2012 Fishing license
If you plan on fishing this Sunday, don't forget to purchase your 2012 license, which is required for residents 16 years of age or older to take fish, mollusks, crustaceans, invertebrates, amphibians or reptile in inland or ocean waters. The cost of a new resident sport fishing license is $44.85. A North Coast salmon report card, which will run you $5.97, is required for all anglers taking salmon in the Smith River System or Klamath-Trinity River System, including persons who are not required to have a sport fishing license, such as persons who are under 16 years of age, and persons who are fishing on free fishing days. If you plan to fish for steelhead, you'll need to purchase a steelhead report card. This is required for persons who are not required to have a sport fishing license, such as persons who are under 16 years of age, and persons who are fishing on free fishing days. The cost is $6.74. Fishing licenses and reports cards are now available to purchase online. For more information, visit http://www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/
Mad River Hatchery update
The fish ladder at the Mad River hatchery, which is usually flooded with adult steelhead this time of year, will open sometime after the New Year. Low river flows have forced the steelhead to hold in the lower river, but with rain in the forecast late this week, the fish should be on the move. In 2010, 85 adult steelhead were counted on the first day of trapping and in 2011, a whopping 245 were counted. We should know soon how the 2012 season is shaping up.
Mattole River set to open Jan 1
The Mattole River is scheduled to open to fishing on January 1, 2012 from 200 yards upstream of its mouth to the confluence with Stansberry Creek. Only artificial lures may be used and barbless hooks are required. The Mattole is also regulated by low flow closures, with a minimum flow of 320 cfs at the Petrolia gauging station. As of Wednesday, it's flowing at roughly 190 cfs.
According to Guide Val Early of Early Fishing Guide Service, there have already been quite a few steelhead moving through the Chetco, even though the water was low and clear. "This rain, if it materializes like they're predicting, should bring in another shot of fish. If the rivers get to predicted levels, then plunkers should do well the first few days and the drifters will do well soon after. At any rate, it looks like we are in for change. There are still quite a few salmon spawning, so it is important for shore anglers to remember, in low flow especially, to be careful walking through gravel breaks. Plugs, Little Cleo's, yarn balls, bait and Spin-N-Glo's will all do well with some additional flow," added Early. As a reminder, motorized boats are allowed to operate below the Ice Box (2nd) Bridge. Motors can be on the boats above that point but cannot be used in the USFS areas. Permits are required for ALL water craft above the Ice Box Bridge as well with the drop box on the USFS road.
The Smith, Redwood Creek, Eel, Van Duzen, Mad, and Mattole Rivers are regulated by low flow closures. Call the DFG's low flow closure hotline at (707) 822-3164 to determine the condition of the rivers.
According to Crescent City guide Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman's Guide Service, if the forecast holds true, the Smith should be fishable by Saturday. "If the river gets to 25,000 cfs like they're predicting, the river probably won't fish on Thursday or Friday - not because it's going to be big, but due to all the debris that will be in the water. The banks are lined with leaves right now. The river will be big on Saturday, but it should fish well. Once the river starts to drop, steelhead season will be on. There's fish already in the system, but the rise will move those fish out and should bring in lots of new ones," Coopman added.
Eel River (main stem)
"According to Paul Grundman of Rio Dell's Grundmans Sporting Goods, the main stem is low and clear, but some nice steelhead are being caught. "With the river conditions the way they are, you almost need to spot and stalk the fish. The mouth of the Van Duzen down to 12th street has been the most productive stretch of water lately for anglers tossing bait and Cleos," said Grundman.
Eel River (South Fork)
Currently flowing at around 100 cfs on the Miranda gauge and closed to fishing. Not predicted to get enough rain in the next few days to warrant opening.
As of Wednesday, the Van Duzen was flowing at just under 40 cfs and remains closed to fishing. Predicted to jump to 430 cfs by Friday night, but forecasted to drop quickly.
Predicted to rise to nearly 3,500 cfs on Friday night, and according to Justin Kelly of Redwood Marine in Eureka, it should be "game on" early next week. "After the rise, it should start to green up in two or three days - we should be fishing by Tuesday. There should be fish just about everywhere, including above the hatchery. That should be one of the top spots once the river is fishable. Roe fished with a Spin-N-Glo has been a top producer as well as roe fished under a float," Kelly added.
Steve Huber of Steve Huber's Guide Service reports the steelhead action remains status quo in the Douglas City area. "There's some fish around, but you'll need to be real stealthy to catch them. We're down to 6lb leaders and really small pieces of roe. We're getting three to four fish per trip and they're averaging four to six pounds. Until we get some rain, not much is going to change here," Huber added.
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