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Late-Season Steelhead Anglers Have Plenty of Weekend Options 

click to enlarge Haley Richards, of Salem, Oregon, holds a steelhead she caught and released March 13 while fishing the Smith River with guide Rye Phillips      of Wild Rivers Fishing.

Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

Haley Richards, of Salem, Oregon, holds a steelhead she caught and released March 13 while fishing the Smith River with guide Rye Phillips of Wild Rivers Fishing.

If you're looking to get that one last steelhead trip in, this could be the weekend to do it. All the rivers are green and have plenty of water. The main stem Eel and Chetco have good color and ample water, and that's probably where you'll find the majority of the boats. The Smith is low and clear, but still producing for the few anglers still trying. The Mad is turning green and is another good option for the weekend. Reports from all rivers are the same: The fishing isn't great. If you get a chance at a couple fish, consider that a good day. But now with hungry downers on their way back to the salt, the opportunities to hook a few should improve. With sunshine predicted through the weekend, this is a golden opportunity to get in on some late-season steelhead action.

Upcoming steelhead river closures

After next Wednesday, March 31, the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek and Chetco will all be closed to fishing. A few others however, will remain open. The main stem Eel, from its mouth to the South Fork, is open to fishing all year. From the mouth to Fulmor Road, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used from April 1 through May 21. Only barbless hooks may be used from May 22 through Mar. 31, 2022. From Fulmor Road to the South Fork, it's open all year. From April 1 through Sept. 30, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Only barbless hooks may be used from Oct. 1 through March 31, 2022.

The main stem of the Smith will remain open through the end of April from its mouth to the confluence with the Middle and South Forks. The Middle Fork will also remain open through April from its mouth to Patrick's Creek. The South Fork is open through April as well, from its mouth upstream approximately 1,000 feet to the County Road (George Tryon) bridge and Craig's Creek to Jones Creek. Only barbless hooks may be used from Sept. 1 through April 30. The bag limit remains the same at two hatchery steelhead per day.

Sections of the Klamath and Trinity rivers are open to fishing, but are subject to in-season changes. For more information, visit www.nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=190456&inline.

The weather ahead

Sunny and breezy conditions are expected through the weekend. There is a slight chance of rain Wednesday night but not enough to impact river levels. Wind gusts could be as high 23 miles per hour through Thursday.

Recreational Red Abalone fishery to remain closed until 2026

In a press release issued March 19, the CDFW announced the extended closure of the recreational red abalone fishery until April 1, 2026. Red abalone stocks continue to be impacted by large-scale die offs in Northern California due to the collapse of the bull kelp forest, which is their primary food. The Commission closed the fishery in 2017 because of the mortality of red abalone populations due to environmental stressors. Recovery of bull kelp forests and the diverse ecosystem they support will take time. Thus, the extension of the abalone fishery closure is needed to allow for recovery and protection of surviving abalone. When reopening of the fishery is considered, it will be guided by the Red Abalone Fishery Management Plan, which is currently under development. To learn more about the plan, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/Red-Abalone-FMP. For more information on the closure, visit www.cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2021/03/19/the-recreational-red-abalone-fishery-to-remain-closed-until-2026/.

The Rivers:

Smith River

The Smith is low and clear, running just above 8 feet on the Jed Smith gauge as of Wednesday. A few boats are still trying but fishing remains very tough. The few that are being caught are fresh. Light leaders and a stealthy presentation are required.

Chetco/Lower Rogue

Steelhead season ends March 31 on the Chetco. "Just a few guides are still fishing but catch rates are still decent with two to four steelhead per boat," said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "A few bright steelhead are still being caught but the majority of the fish are downrunners. Conditions are prime for the final week of the season. Spring salmon fishing remains slow in the Rogue. Just a couple of hatchery springers have been caught so far. Steelhead fishing is still fair to good, with fresh hatchery fish still arriving."

Eel River (main stem)

The main stem is green but still on the big side. It dipped below 5,000 cubic feet per second as of Wednesday. Should be in great shape by the weekend.

Eel River (South Fork)

The South Fork is clearing, running under 900 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday. A few boats were out over the weekend and had some success on downers. The lower end should have better fishing this weekend as the upper reaches are getting low and clear.

Van Duzen

Flowing at 600 cfs Wednesday, the Van Duzen is dropping into shape. Conditions for the weekend should be prime for bank anglers.

Mad River

The Mad is green but still running a little high as of Wednesday. Flows are predicted to be right around 1,000 cfs by Saturday, which is about perfect. According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors, the fishing has slowed. He said, "The number of fish has tapered off significantly but there are some downers around as well as a few fresh ones. Conditions should be excellent for the weekend."

Kenny Priest (he/him) 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

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