This past weekend saw all of our coastal steelhead rivers turn some shade of green – some emerald and some olive. Condition-wise, it was probably the best we’ve had this season. But pristine conditions only last so long. And now as we go another week deeper into a disheartening dry spell, some rivers are getting too low to drift and too clear to be good. The Chetco, Elk, and Sixes would fall into those categories. The Smith and the South Fork Eel are both dropping and clearing as well. Green rivers with perfect flows, unfortunately, are only half of the equation that make up winter fishing success. The other is the “Grey Ghosts”, otherwise known as steelhead. And those seem to be lacking in numbers this year. Sure, plenty of fish were caught over the weekend, but not as many given the conditions. Boats working the South Fork Eel, which had the most pressure over the weekend, landed anywhere from zero to five. The average was likely one or two per boat. Myself, along with everyone else on the water, were sure expecting better scores. And those low scores always lead back to the same question – is this the year that we start feel the effects of the drought? And the answer is always the same, who really knows? If the fishing continues to be subpar, the answer may become more clear.
According to Scott Carroll of Eureka’s National Weather Service, there isn’t much of a change in store for the weather in the next week. “It looks like we’ll be completely dry through next week. And we’re looking at dryer than normal conditions for the next two weeks and possibly the rest of the month,” Carroll added.
Mad River Hatchery update
So far this season, 34 steelhead pairs have been spawned according to Philip Bairrington, Supervisor of the Anadromous Fisheries Resource Assessment and Monitoring Program. “The theoretical number of pairings to date should be 62 pairs,” said Bairrington. “The effective genetic population size for Mad River Hatchery spawning is 250 fish, half of which (125) would be Natural Origin steelhead. The river has been muddy for the past few weeks, so it has been difficult for our Mad River Steelhead Stewards Volunteer Program to collect Natural Origin steelhead. Last week we notified the volunteers that they may collect seven days a week. The goal is to produce 150,000 yearlings for release on a high flow event in March every year. We are hoping that we can build up the numbers this year in the coming weeks to make up for some of the lower numbers recorded so far in the first half of the spawning season.”
“With the river clearing and no rainfall in the forecast, we should have a number of additional Natural Origin brood stock to spawn.” Bairrington added. Bairrington also noted that these fluctuations are natural, some years are higher and some years are lower. “In the lower years, ultimately, we will produce less than 150,000 yearlings and it could be that case this year, but we are less than half way through the season. The number of adults surviving all sources of mortality, returning to the river from the ocean, should be between 2 percent and 5 percent of those 150,000 yearlings, or between 3,000 and 7,500 Hatchery Origin adult steelhead available for anglers to catch or harvest.”
Bill Curry of Brookings, Ore., holds a hatchery steelhead he caught Feb. 6 while fishing the Chetco River. The Chetco, like most of the other coastal rivers, is getting low and clear, making fishing conditions tough. Photo Courtesy of Andy Martin/Wild Rivers Fishing
“The Chetco is slowly dropping and will be low and clear soon,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “There was plenty of water for side-drifting over the weekend, but by the end of this week conditions will be tougher. There are steelhead spread throughout the river, with decent numbers of hatchery fish. Most boats are getting one to three fish a day. Plunking was good last week, but now most bank anglers are drift fishing.”
The Elk and Sixes are now low and clear according to Martin. “Both fished fairly well last week but are now tough to get a drift boat down. The lower Rogue had its best week of the season last week, with some boats closing in on double-digit catches, but has slowed this week.”
Similar to the Chetco, the Smith is low and clear and in need of rain. Flows were 8-feet on the Jed Smith gauge on Wednesday and dropping. It’s predicted to get down to 7-feet by early next week. Boat pressure has been light as most guides have moved elsewhere. Prior to the weekend, scores ranged from zero to three fish per boat.
Eel River (main stem)
The main stem has good color, but it’s just a little on the high side reports Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods. “Conditions will be great by the weekend. I’ve seen a few boats out, but haven’t heard if they’re catching fish. I saw quite a few rollers in the Rio Dell area last week,” Grundman added. Flows are predicted right around 3,500 cfs by Saturday.
Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork was in perfect shape over the weekend, and is still holding some color. Scores over the weekend were mostly one to two per boat, but some did better. Lots of zero’s in the mix as well. It will likely start to clear, with flows down to 650 cfs by the weekend.
The Van Duzen looks absolutely perfect according to Grundman, but reports have been hard to come by. “The water is green and flows are good, should be a good option for the weekend.”
According to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the Mad is just turning steelhead green, and there seems to be some fish around. “It’s still not red-hot, but there’s definitely some more fish around. Most of the fish are between the hatchery and the Blue Lake bridge, and just below the bridge. The fish are fairly spread out, and so are the anglers. Right now, there’s probably about a 50/50 mix of wild to hatchery fish. Conditions should be just about perfect this weekend with flows just above 7-feet,” Kelly said.
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