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Spring Rains a Bonus for North Coast Rivers 

click to enlarge Marty Woods holds a Smith River steelhead caught in early April prior to the rise in flows. The spring rains hitting the coast now will have a positive impact on the health of salmon and steelhead runs, as well as the rivers themselves.

Photo courtesy of Mick Thomas.

Marty Woods holds a Smith River steelhead caught in early April prior to the rise in flows. The spring rains hitting the coast now will have a positive impact on the health of salmon and steelhead runs, as well as the rivers themselves.

With very little rain falling throughout our region from January to March, most of us were already preparing for summer. However, the April showers hitting the coast are providing a second winter. These rains will definitely impact the health of future salmon and steelhead runs, which will likely be stronger a few years down the road because of it.

First off, the late winter and spring rains will benefit the next run of adult fish moving upriver, mainly spring salmon and summer steelhead. It may also increase the survival rates for recently spawned adult steelhead, or kelts, as well as salmon and steelhead fry and smolts that are all making their way downstream to the estuaries and ocean. The high, muddy water allows the fish to make their way downriver with less risk of predation. The lack of fishing pressure will also help the kelts make their way back downriver successfully. Heavy spring rains should, in many cases, also result in higher flows and improved water quality later in the summer.

In most cases, the high flows also contribute to the health and complexity of the river's estuary. A nutrient-rich estuary offers the young fish ample sources of food, allowing them to grow to an optimal size before entering the ocean. This greatly increases their chances of survival. A healthy estuary is also beneficial for the kelts, weak from their spawning journey, offering a safe haven for them prior to making their way back to the ocean.

With nature, it seems for every plus there's also a minus. In the event of extremely high late-winter and spring flows, problems can also occur for fish. Without adequate freshwater and estuarine slack water habitat, the young fish can get washed downstream before they're ready, putting them in harm's way. Extremely high late-winter and early spring flows can also have a negative impact on late-spawning fish. Spawning areas known as "redds" can be scoured or the gravels within redds can be buried in fine sediment, preventing the young from emerging. After a few months of unseasonably dry weather, it's a blessing to see the rivers running high and dirty. Hopefully our "second winter" will pay dividends in the future.

Marine forecast

Ocean conditions are looking good for the weekend, but starting out a little rough Friday. Friday is calling for north winds 5 to 10 knots and west waves 12 feet at 15 seconds. Saturday is calling for winds out of the north 5 to 15 knots with 7-foot west swells at 13 seconds. Sunday is looking a little better with winds out of the north 5 to 10 knots with 3-foot swells at 5 seconds out of the northwest and west 8 feet at 18 seconds. These conditions can and will change. For an up-to-date weather forecast, visit www.weather.gov/eureka/ or www.windy.com.

Pacific halibut season set

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced recently that the 2022 Pacific halibut season will run from May 1 to Nov. 15, or until the quota is reached, whichever is earlier. The 2022 quota for the California sport fishery is 38,740 pounds — approximately the same as the 2021 quota. CDFW will monitor catches of Pacific halibut during the season and provide catch projection updates on the CDFW Pacific halibut webpage, www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/marine/pacific-halibut#31670772-in-season-tracking. The limit remains at one, with no size restrictions. No more than one line with two hooks attached can be used.

Brookings ocean update

"The ocean out of Brookings was wide open for lingcod and rockfish over the weekend," said Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters. "Limits of lingcod for most charter boats from Twin rocks to Mack Arch. Stormy weather sidelined boats again Monday, with rough conditions expected all week. Ocean coho season opens June 18, with kings allowed beginning June 25. Pacific halibut opens May 1.

Ruth Lake Bass tourney coming April 30

The Southern Trinity Volunteer Fire Department is hosting its 14th annual Ruth Lake Bass Tournament on Saturday, April 30. Blast off begins at 6 a.m. Entry fees are due April 29. Entries are $150 per team (includes Big Fish). First Place is $1,500 and second place is $1,000. Big Fish will win $100. One in five payback based on full slate of 40 boats. This is a catch and release tournament; live wells and life jackets are required. Check in is Friday at the marina at 5 to 7 p.m. or Saturday at 4:45 a.m. at the Marina parking lot. Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is requiring that all boats be inspected for Quagga and Zebra mussels before launching. For more information, call RLCSD at (707) 574-6332. For more info on the tournament, contact Doug Dinsmore at (707) 499-8485.

The Rivers:

Reminder: The South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Mattole, Mad, Redwood Creek and the Chetco rivers are all closed to fishing.

Eel (main stem)

After peaking at nearly 20,000 cubic feet per second Sunday, the main is big and brown. With more rain on the way, it's forecast for another big rise to 23,000 by Friday morning. Needless to say, it will be blown out for some time. The main stem Eel to the South Fork is open all year. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used through Sept. 30.

Smith River

With more rain in the forecast this week, another big rise is predicted for Thursday morning that could top 13 feet at Jed Smith. Flows will then drop and conditions are shaping up nicely for the weekend. This will likely flush the last of the spawned-out steelhead downriver and could bring in a few fresh ones. 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.

Lower Rogue

The best spring salmon fishing so far this season took place at the end of last week and over the weekend on the lower Rogue, reports Andy Martin of Wild River Fishing. "Guides were getting two to four springers a day, about half wild and half hatchery," said Martin. "The river was still fishable after Monday's rain but was still rising. Last week's rain brought in big schools of spring kings."

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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