February 2012

by greenwater on February 25, 2012

With little change in the weather and only weak storm systems brushing over the North Coast, we’re wrapping up another week of fishable conditions on all our rivers. As waters clear, I’m starting to hear people talk about needing rain but the fish are in and with the right approach there are plenty of big, bright steelhead to be caught. Despite the fact that we’re getting to the back half of the run, fresh fish have still been outnumbering downers and they don’t seem to be showing any signs of letting up.

For a third straight week I spent my days down on the Eel and enjoyed great fishing combined with clear skies and sunshine. The last sprinkle of rain put some color to the river and I started the week out on the South Fork where perfect conditions were giving up as many as a dozen hookups per day. Most of my fish were caught drifting the standard roe and Fish Pill offering but I was working some plugs as well and rods were slamming down. As the water continued to drop throughout the relatively dry week, I worked my way down river into the Mainstem hooking 8 to a 14 fish a day. Action finally slowed at the end of the week as high winds made it difficult to present a bait. Thursday was the worst of it with gusts up to 35 mph ripping up the valley making some of the long stretches of flat water look like the Bearing Sea. Despite the fact it was some of the most difficult conditions I’ve ever fished, we still managed to put a few nice ones in the net. The last of the day smacked a plug right in the teeth of a gale so stiff I couldn’t turn my boat broadside without taking water over the side. Not ideal by any means but we made the most of it. My big fish of the week was a 16 pounder landed on the Main Eel that put on one of the most impressive aerial displays I’ve ever witnessed. The big hen (pictured above) cleared the water at least dozen times.

Up towards the Oregon boarder, the Smith was a bit of grind last week on most days with guides having to work hard to put fish in net. I had a boat up there early in the week and while they caught fish each day, they weren’t coming easy. The one saving grace is that fishing pressure was light prior to the derby that started on Friday and so when you found a pod they tended to be receptive to a well presented bait.

The Chetco on the other hand fished great early in the week despite the low water. Fresh fish were hitting the river and with flows under 1000 cfs, there weren’t many places for them to hide. By the end of the week action had begun to slow. I just talked to buddy and guide Kenny Armstrong who’s on the river for this weekends derby and it sounds like a grind. He’s seeing fish role in all the usual spots but they’re reluctant to bite. His feeling was that a lot of what was showing were dark fish that have been put off by the barrage of baits coming at them. Once the derby wraps up the pressure should lighten and a lot of them should become more willing to cooperate.

I dropped by Mad River Tackle in Arcata Friday evening and got the first hand report from Rick Wetzel. Between hearing the stories from everyone coming through the shop and spending his off time on the river, Rick had a pretty solid feeling for what was happening on the Mad. While it wasn’t wide open, there were fish scattered up and down the river and if you were lucky enough to end up in the right place at the right time, there was potential to have a big day. Most of the fish were dark hatchery or new arriving wild but there were a few nice keepers turning up.

As of right now the weather man is calling for a solid shot of rain on Wednesday that would be enough to bring all our rivers up and give them some color. The rest of the week is forecasted to be dry and with the ground as parched as it is, I’d expect a lot the moisture to get absorbed allowing rivers to bounce back in a hurry. While we’re clearly on the back half of this great winter steelhead season, it’s far from over.

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by greenwater on February 19, 2012

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.

Tony Sepulveda
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.

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by greenwater on February 12, 2012

It’s been another solid week of steelhead fishing here on the North Coast. Several weak weather systems have brought light rainfall and kept river levels bouncing around. While none of these storm have packed enough punch to blow things out, we’ve had to deal with a couple small rises which can make for a tough bite. Once rivers have gone back on the fall the fish start to snap again.

We saw great numbers for the early part of the week on the Eel with scores running up into the double digits on the best days. The Main Stem was fishable it’s entire length and the South Fork was holding just enough color to keep the fish from getting wary. A half inch of rain Tuesday night put the river on a slow rise but by Thursday it had settled back in and was fishing great. Friday every boat on the river hooked into good numbers of chrome bright steelhead fishing under a steady drizzle and by Saturday she was again on the rise and a little dingy. Despite less than ideal conditions we manage to put a few in the net by running plugs on the inside edges.

The Mad River has been putting up some great numbers for guys drifting roe and a fish pill around the hatchery and down towards the Blue Lake bridge. Like the Eel, this river has been bouncing up and down a little but the moisture has been so minimal the color has been coming back within a few hours of the flows cresting.

The Smith and Chetco Rivers missed the rainfall early in the week but despite low flows were giving up decent numbers. Scores were running up as high as 6 per boat. With the lack of pressure on both of these rivers the steelhead have been willing to cooperate when you can find them. Most of this success has been for guided fisherman on the lower river but the bankies are getting in on the action fishing up above the forks.

The long term forecast is looking great and I think we’ll have some good days ahead. We’re starting to see a few downers in the mix but the vast majority of the fish we’re catching are in beautiful shape and full of fight. I didn’t see any huge ones this week but the grade has been solid with the most of the fish running 6 to 12 pounds.

The picture is of TJ Parker from Davis. This 13 pounder was his second ever steelhead. He landed it plug fishing with me on the South Fork Eel. Before the day was over he bagged two more, one on the same lure and one on bait running his life tally up to 4

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by greenwater on February 9, 2012

With only about a half inch of rain in the last few days we’ve still got good conditions on all our southern rivers. The Eel came up a bit from last nights showers but not enough to blow it out. The river picked up a little color this morning and came up a few inches but still looked great. I’ve been spending most of my time moving around between Garberville and Rio Dell finding good batches of fish throughout the whole area. I got over to the Mad one day last week and it seemed to be a little lull the action. Despite lots of bank fisherman I heard of very few fish being caught. We managed to put 4 in the net backtrolling plugs but I felt a little lucky to end up as well as we did. The picture is of a beautiful wild hen that was one of the four that day.

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by greenwater on February 4, 2012

After a couple weeks of wet weather we’ve begun to dry out and all our rivers are dropping into prime shape. After a month of great fishing up north on the Smith and Chetco the bite started to get a little tough so I headed south looking for greener pastures. There’s really a ton of good options at this point with everything running steelhead green and full of fish. I spent the past few days on the South Fork Eel River and ran into some big pods of fish. With perfect weather, beautiful scenery and great fishing it’s hard to ask for anything more. We’ve been sidedrifting roe and a fish pill for lots of shots each day at 6 to 12 pound adults and good numbers of "halfpounders" thrown in as a bonus. It looks like the rain’s going to hold off for a while and the bite should continue to be good.

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