Although there have certainly been salmon caught on both the Smith and Chetco rivers this year, an unseasonably dry fall has made fishing conditions difficult. There were some Chinook salmon caught late last week and over the weekend after the latest rain fall, but salmon fishing on both rivers has slowed considerably through the week.

With the salmon run on the decline, most river anglers are now awaiting the steelhead run to start picking up steam.

River fishing

There have been salmon on the Smith and Chetco rivers for over a month now, but without much rain the season has been a little bit slow on the Wild Rivers Coast.

“We didn’t have much of a salmon run this year, I think mainly due to weather,” said Mike Coopman, of Mike Coopman’s Fishing Guide Service. “I think we had quite a few fish, but with the weather the ones that we have have all left. We are just waiting for some steelhead now.”

Although salmon fishing has slowed considerably throughout the week, anglers are still hopeful that a rise in river levels will still provide good fishing with the winter steelhead run generally starting around this time of year.

Anglers have already reported seeing some steelhead, especially half pounders or juvenile steelhead, in both the Chetco and the Smith river this week.

“It looks like we have some rain coming into the weekend,” Coopman said. “It should induce whatever salmon are still coming, and also induce the front edge of the steelhead season. Hopefully we see some steelhead come with the rain.”

Coopman, who is also a board member at the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery, said the low flow conditions have also had some effect on the hatchery this year.

According to the hatchery’s fish count, a total of 44 adult male chinook have returned to the hatchery so far this year, along with 22 females. Last year at this time the hatchery had 30 males and 49 female Chinook returned.

Although the total number of adult salmon returners are comparable to last year, there are currently only 28,500 fertilized eggs, compared to 56,000 at this time in 2018.

Rowdy Creek Hatchery finished last year with a total of 85,028 fertilized eggs. Coopman said the hatchery hopes to at least 85 percent of those fish are able to survive the birthing process and be released later in the spring.

While total numbers of fertilized eggs is lagging a little this year, the number of jacks (juvenile salmon) that have returned to the hatchery is way up this year with 162 already seen so far this season. At this point last year only 34 jacks had returned, with a total of 39 jacks by the end of the run.

Although Coopman said the number of jacks seen is a stronger indicator on the Klamath River than it is on the Smith, it is still a pretty good sign for the next few years of salmon runs.

“Generally speaking, when you see a good jack year you would expect that the ocean conditions were good, a lot of the two year olds decided that they wanted to come and spawn, and we should have a lot of hold overs of three and four year olds,” Coopman said.

On the ocean

There has been some big swells on the ocean, particularly late in the week this week, that have made ocean fishing difficult.

Whenever sportfishermen have been able to get out, however, they are greeted by fairly easy limits of lingcod. Lingcod have reportedly started moving in close to shore near Brookings over the past couple weeks in preparation for their spawning season, which is just starting to get underway.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission held a meeting in Salmon on Friday, during which is was expected to adopt regulations for recreational and commercial groundfish for the 2019 season.

Although sportcrabbing is generally open this time of year for recreational anglers, the Dungeness crab recreational season has been delayed on both sides of the California-Oregon border due to elevated levels of domoic acid found in the viscera of the crab.

Additionally, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a press release stating that the commercial crabbing season is being delayed once again out of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. The commercial closure is due to results from initial quality testing indicating that there is still not enough meat in the crab to allow the harvest to start.

Fishing contacts: Mike Coopman’s Guide Service at 707-218-4501; Jim Mitchell of Gotcha Hooked Fish Trips at 464-8482; Chetco Outdoor Store at 541-469-9151; Englund Marine Supply Company at 464-3230.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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