California's crown jewel and the states last undammed river, the Smith is home to some of the biggest salmon and steelhead on the coast and considered by many to be one the most gorgeous. A short system, comprised of three main forks, the North, Middle and South, she gathers her water from the Siskiyou Mountains and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, converging at The Forks and forming the main stem. Flowing through rugged, granite canyons with old growth redwoods lining her banks, she's the fastest clearing system on the coast and always the first river to fish after a big rain. Within 36 hours of the heaviest storms the Smith glows emerald green beckoning anglers to ply her waters while all the other rivers in the area run chocolate brown.
Summer flows bring the Smith River down to a trickle. The only fish life being juveniles and a few wily resident cutthroat trout that can be seen swimming 30 feet down in the gin clear water of the deepest holes. By September king salmon begin nosing in and out of tidewater and milling in the estuary waiting for rising flows to bring them home to their spawning beds. The first big winter storm system of the season ushers a legendary flood of these giant fish pushing upriver chomping at lures and bait as they go. October and November are the prime months for Smith River Salmon with new fish arriving all the way into December. As the water first begins to clear K-15 kwickfish wrapped with a sardine fillet produce arm wrenching strikes and in lower water, back-bouncing cured roe in the deep holes is the ticket. Every fall, countless salmon over 40 pounds are caught with 50, 60 and even 70 pound fish a possibility. No river in the state offers a better chance at a giant king salmon.
By early December the first Smith River steelhead get caught. These are normally incidentals while salmon fishing with big numbers starting to arrive by the middle of the month. The run peaks in January and February with good fishing a possibility all the way through March. As the salmon come to an end, heavy gear is traded in for light spinning rods and the thin line required to fool big winter steelies. Side drifting with roe and a fish pill becomes the go to method with fish grabbing baits as they float through the riffles and runs. The battles can be spectacular and chasing hooked fish through the rapids is common as they burn out of the pools cartwheeling into the air. While every Smith River steelhead is an accomplishment worthy of bragging rights, true giants are a very real possibility. Fish over 20 pounds are caught each winter and the river still lays claim to the California state record of 27 pounds 4 ounces.
While the Smith River doesn't give up her treasures easily, she's one of the most spectacular rivers on the planet with some of the most impressive salmon and steelhead. An opportunity to fish this gem under prime conditions offers the chance for legends to be born and indelible fishing memories to be formed. Between the giant redwoods that shroud her banks, the huge fish that run her waters and the angling history that decorates her past, the Smith is truly a special place.