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Reel Deal: Eel, Klamath open up

Low river levels make for rare winter fish spots

This steelhead was caught Wednesday on the Eel River by Wes Schrek of McKinleyville with Tony Sepulveda of Green Water Guides. Submitted by Tony Sepulveda of Green Water Guides
This steelhead was caught Wednesday on the Eel River by Wes Schrek of McKinleyville with Tony Sepulveda of Green Water Guides. Submitted by Tony Sepulveda of Green Water Guides
Klamath casting is producing catches.

Low levels from little rainfall call for fishing finesse on the Chetco and Smith, but open up the Eel and even rare winter fishing on the Klamath.

Many local guides are gearing up for Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery’s 30th annual Chopper Derby on the Smith and Chetco this weekend, although the low rivers make for finicky fish that are tough to catch.

The Chopper Derby and the Hank “Raider” Derby (March 8–10) are the only fundraisers for Rowdy Creek, the only independent salmon and steelhead hatchery in California. Currently, only hatchery steelhead can be kept in the Smith River, where Rowdy Creek yearlings are released.

Mick Thomas, owner and guide of Lunker Fish Trips, said he was “excited” for the derby and anticipated a good weekend.

“It’s a good cause and helps out the community and supports the rivers and the fisheries,” Thomas said.

Fishing guides Ken Cunningham and Gary Whittaker said the word is out that steelhead are being caught on the lower Klamath. Low water levels have made the Klamath fishable right now in February, when the river is usually too high and muddy. Anglers are catching half-pounders and nice adult steelhead on the Klamath, Cunningham said. Whittaker recommended throwing spinners, spoons and flies.

Father and son Tom Oakes and Jonathan Oakes of Marysville had a “great time” catching these 10 and 12 pound steelies on the Chetco with guide David Castellanos. Submitted by David Castellanos of Cast Guide Service
Father and son Tom Oakes and Jonathan Oakes of Marysville had a “great time” catching these 10 and 12 pound steelies on the Chetco with guide David Castellanos. Submitted by David Castellanos of Cast Guide Service
Tony Sepulveda has been fishing the Eel River, posting double-digit numbers of steelhead some days, switching between bait and plugs. He was starting to see a few down-runners, but most fish are still coming into the system.

As the water drops on the Eel and all rivers, guides recommended sizing down hooks and the weight of line on your leader.

“They’re getting fussier and it takes a little presentation finesse but they’re coming through,” Sepulveda said.

On the Smith, fishing for steelies upriver is a bit more productive as the fish have been “really spooky and real soft biters,” said guide Don Vecchetti, who recommended No. 4 hooks with a little bit of yarn.

“Shrimp-pink still seems to be the hot color on that river,” Vecchetti said, adding that anglers should use longer leaders and cast from far away to not spook fish in clear water.

This is the best run of steelies guides have seen in years, so go wet a line.

“Your odds increase dramatically when you have a line the water,” said guide Ron MacMaster.

Tip of the week

“A longer leader is harder to cast but it catches more fish in clear water,” said guide David Castellanos.

Latest Smith fish count

From Feb. 14 to 21, 757 adult fish swam upriver, according to preliminary counts from the DIDSON sonar fish counter at Fred Haight Boat Launch.

That brings the total fish count from October through Tuesday to 30,948 adult fish upstream.

Reach guides Dave Castellanos of Cast Guide Service at 541-698-7029; Ken Cunningham Fishing Guide Service at 707-391-7144; Tony Sepulveda, of Green Water Guides at 707-845-9588; Mick Thomas of Lunker Fish Trips Bait & Tackle at 707-458-4704; Don Vecchetti of Don’s Reel Time Guide Service at 707-487-2309.

Reach Adam Spencer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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