They may not taste good, but they’re jumping
Many local anglers are used to the days of fishing for food, and the post-spawn steelhead that you catch this time of year don’t make for good eating.
James Forkner, 11, of Oakdale, caught his first steelhead — actually first four steelhead — while fishing with his father, Robert Forkner, and guide Mike Coopman on Tuesday. Courtesy of Mike Coopman's Guide Service
That means many local fishermen stay home in the spring, leaving the Smith River wide-open for fishing.
Nowadays, most steelhead fishing on Smith River is catch-and-release anyway (you can only keep hatchery fish), so there’s no reason to avoid bending your rod in the spring.
Fishing guide Mike Coopman took a group out Tuesday for the first time in weeks, after storms had kept him off the river. Unsure if the high water flushed out all the fish, he didn’t know what to expect. He was pleasantly surprised.
“We were the only boat out there, and the fishing was good — really good,” Coopman said.
Coopman’s fishermen for the day, father and son, Robert and James Forkner of Oakdale, landed six of the 10 steelhead they hooked, which sounds more like a peak season report.
It was a first for steelhead fishing for 11-year-old James, and he landed four fish.
All were “down-runners” or post-spawn fish, but that didn’t affect the joy of catching them.
“I don’t see anyone unhappy with a bent rod whether that fish has spawned or not,” Coopman said.
The Smith hovered just below 10 feet at the Jed Smith river gauge for Coopman’s drift.
“The river's just in perfect shape, ideal shape,” Coopman said. “It's how we wanted it all winter when we didn't have any rain.”
The river’s forecast shows the Smith climbing today, reaching 11.8 feet on the Jed Smith gauge by late tonight. Then it will start to drop Friday afternoon to around 10 feet by Sunday — perfect heights for a drift boat.
Coopman’s group also hauled in a few cutthroat trout, which can be caught through the summer, but right now is the only time you can use bait to catch them. After the fourth Saturday in May, only artificial baits can be used in the Smith River watershed through Aug. 31.
Fishing tip of the week
“Later in the year like this when you’re fishing for down-runner fish, fish the edge of the slower water,” Coopman said. “The down-runner will lay outside of the main current” to rest on their way out of the system.
Mike Coopman’s Guide Service can be reached at 707-465-1367.