Rivers on the rise leave few options for catching steelhead in the waning season, but more windows of opportunity could crack open this weekend.
Jed Fiebelkorn, left, host of the TV show “Trout Unlimited, On the Rise” and fishing guide Rich Zellman fish the Smith River last weekend. The local episode will air this summer or fall. Photo courtesy of Justin Karnopp/Barret Productions
The Smith River peaked at 12.4 feet at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Jed Smith gauge in Hiouchi then started dropping, reaching 10.72 feet around 3 p.m. Wednesday. It was predicted to vault up all day today, peaking at 24.7 feet at 11 p.m. on the Jed gauge — a 13-foot increase in 24 hours, if predictions hold.
Once the Smith starts dropping, it’s time to drop some lines. The river is predicted to be too high for drift-boating this weekend, so bank fishing is the ticket.
“It’ll be fishing real good for bank anglers and plunkers,” said guide Kevin Brock, but it’s a little late for very productive plunking, he added.
Plunking (fishing with heavy weight and a floating lure to keep the rig stationary, a few feet from the bottom) is more effective when large pods of fish are migrating upriver earlier in the season, but you could get lucky. Whether you choose to plunk or drift yarn and roe from the bank, wait until the river starts dropping.
“It's hard to catch fish on a rising river,” said guide David Castellanos. He recommended plunking in 3- to 4-foot deep water in the natural funnels or narrow riffles in the river. There are plenty of spots to plunk on the Smith system, but Castellanos could only share the time-tested spots: the water tower off of South Bank Road, Ruby Van Deventer County Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
If there’s still lots of debris floating through the river, check your bait every 20 minutes to make sure something is not caught up in the rig.
The Chetco River will be blown out at least today and Friday. It was predicted to shoot up 8 feet in less than 24 hours today, but it could be fishable by the weekend, Castellanos said. Western Outdoor News reported that more down- runners (post-spawning fish) were caught than fresh fish, but anglers were still landing some fresh fish in the lower river.
Brock said the rain might take away a few days of fishing, but it’s worth it for next season’s fishing.
With high water, down-runners can get out and “they don’t get beat up by the seals as much on the way out, which makes for bigger fish next year,” Brock said. “Whenever we have high water in mid-to late-March, the next year we would always have more 20-pounders caught.”
Brock said if the river gets too high (25 feet) late in the season, however, it could wash out the eggs, which looks like a possibility.
Before the Eel River blew out earlier this week, fishing guide Tony Sepulveda was landing eight to 12 fish a day, by side drifting with roe and a fish pill. The DIDSON’s estimates of the amount of adult fish migrating upstream on the Smith shows that more fresh fish are still coming into the system than the amount of fish that have spawned and are going back to the ocean.
One fish, Two fish...
From Feb. 22 to Feb. 29, 435 adult fish swam upstream on the Smith, and 76 went downstream, according to the DIDSON sonar fish counter at the Fred Haight Boat Launch. From March 1 to March 8, 517 went upstream and 139 swam downstream.
“We’re starting to see more fish move downstream,” said Zack Larson, who runs the DIDSON.
But there’s still plenty coming in, he said.
Fishing tip of the week
Rub some “smelly jelly” or any scented gel on the wings of your “spin n glo” for more effective plunking, Brock said. “They seem to grab onto it a little harder that way.”
Fishing guide contacts: Fish Kevin Brock at 800-995-5543; Dave Castellanos of Cast Guide Service at 541-698-7029; Tony Sepulveda, of Green Water Guides at 707-845-9588.