Winter steelhead action is rolling along despite a week of unsettled weather that kept us on our toes. We never got hit hard but a series of weak systems dropped rainfall ranging from a quarter to six tenths of an inch causing river levels to jump slightly adding some color to the souther streams. None of the storms had enough punch to blow things out for very long but it did dirty the water for short periods.
I spent my week down on the Eel again and fishing ranged all across the board. One day I battled rising water and fickle fish on the Mainstem having to work late to coax a few reluctant bites, while other days we had the boat on the trailer by 3:00 pm with double digit scores under our belt. The later part of the week saw the biggest numbers. Thursday and Friday the South Fork was glowing green and it seemed like everywhere a bait landed there was a steelhead waiting to grab it. Scores ran as high as 16 fish a boat with a 50/50 mix of down-runners and bright fish. With the holiday weekend upon us I opted to slip down river again where there was a little more elbow room. While we didn't find quite as many as the day before we still ended up with 6 bright ones running 5 to 13 pounds. I've been switching off between plugs and bait with both accounting for plenty of fish.
While I haven't been on either the Smith or Chetco in a couple weeks I had boats up there working for me. Most of the rain that we've been seeing on the Eel has dodged the northern rivers leaving them low and clear. Despite the challenging conditions, fishing was steady on most days and if you found yourself in the right place at the right time there were some big pushes of fish that accounted for scores up as high as 10 per boat. The one positive aspect of the low water is the fact that the fishing pressure lightens way up allowing you to really work a pod of fish when you find them.
The last word on the Mad was that the lower river bite had dried up but there were still some nice fish being caught up around the hatchery. Bright fish got rarer and people were talking about having to weed through colored up ones to find a keeper. Most were being caught drifting roe but when the water temperature would creep up a couple degrees spinners and spoons were getting the nod.
The long term weather forecast isn't holding much in the way of rain at this point. Rivers should continue to drop and clear which isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as you adjust to conditions. Long, fluorocarbon leaders, small hooks and tiny baits are the ticket. The plus side to low water fishing is the fact that steelhead tend to slow down providing the opportunity to run into huge pods laid up waiting for rain. In short, don't let the lack of water deter you from getting out. We've still got a few good weeks of steelhead season and there's plenty of fish to be caught.
Green Water Fishing Adventures
The picture is of Jacob Katz who's all smiles while hoisting beauty he caught on with me this week plugging the Eel. Jacob just finished a Phd in Fisheries as UC Davis and is heavily involved anadromous salmonid restoration.