So far the 2019 season has been a mark above what was ultimately a lack luster 2018 winter steelhead season. The Eel River saw some absolutely amazing fishing in the week following the new year. It seemed like everyone who was willing to put in their time was rewarded with either an opportunity or an encounter with the ever elusive ghost of the coast; winter steelhead.
I often think of the Smith and Eel rivers as the yin and yang of a common steelhead universe. For everything that the one river is, the other is not. For the Smith, a slew of marginal storms and minimal rises did not pack enough of a punch to see many fish make an appearance. Things seemed a little off kilter until this past week. While not being wide open, a fresh pulse of fish made an appearance and for those willing to grind it out and put in the long hours and endure some punishing weather, there were moments amongst the ancient cobble and towering old growth that made it all worth it. The Smith constitutes one of the most challenging and demanding steelhead rivers on the North Coast, for any fisherman. If you have the temerity to exclusively swing flies to the fish that haunt the big brawny runs of the Smith then you have your work cut out for you. But in the end to make the connection with one of these fish is something special. One fish can be all the redemption needed to justify the countless days that came before. A little faith and determination can take you a long way.
Currently we have the time to take pause and reflect on the beginnings of what has already proven to be an exceptional season of swinging flies to these amazing wild fish on the Redwood Coast. All rivers are on a hard rise, the largest of the season by a long shot and one that we desperately needed after a series of weak storms and mediocre rises. The smaller systems of the North Coast have needed a biblical rain event for some time, with good holding water silting in and runs disappearing, hopefully this gully washer will send enough water down river to scour out runs and redefine channels. Once everything is on the drop and turning from slate to green it should be game on for some incredible fishing on the coast. In the meantime it’s time to get busy behind the vice and whip out some swimmy bugs.
With an already stellar season in the making the stage has been set for a February that could be legendary. I’ve already had more encounters with these elusive animals in the past few weeks of fishing than in all of 2018. With this giant spike in flows we should see a huge pulse of fresh sea run fish making an appearance in a river near you. It’s time to get out there and swing em up. I’ll see you on the water.