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California's North Coast

A big steelhead from the North Coast
Guided Spey-Only Trips
$600 for 1-2 Anglers
  • December through March
  • Raft Float Trip or Drive-In - all fishing is done while wading

Many of us dream of chasing bright chrome steelhead fresh from the salt. The rivers of California's rugged North Coast offer some of the best options for swinging up that fish of a lifetime. Nestled amongst towering stands of ancient coastal redwoods, the vaunted waters of California's North Coast are where the story of fly fishing for steelhead began.

The Smith: Often referred to as the crown jewel of California's wild and scenic rivers, the Smith drains one of the most rugged and biologically diverse regions in the Pacific Northwest. This river is famous for producing trophy fish with steelhead in the 20lb class range landed each winter season. The drainage is steep with a hard packed bottom, allowing for massive rises and quick drops during winter rain events. The rugged terrain and fast flowing water of the Smith adds an extra degree of difficulty for the winter steelhead fisherman, yet for a few the ultimate challenge yields the ultimate reward.

The prime time for winter steelhead on the Smith kicks off with the first good winter storms in mid-late December and can fish well though March and even April during some years.

The Eel: You can't tell the story of fly fishing for steelhead on the west coast without talking about the Eel river. There are accounts of anglers making their way via steamship by way of San Francisco to cast a line on the lower Eel River from as early as the 1880's. The third largest drainage within California, the Eel offers some of the best and most abundant spey water on the west coast bar none. Its low gradient and heavy sedimentary composition make for a river that can muddy up quickly during winter rain events, but hold color for an extended period of time. With old growth redwoods looming overhead cloaked in mist and turquoise pools glowing in the dim light of a winter morning, a day on the Eel is truly an unforgettable experience.

Winter steelhead on the Eel can show up as early as late November with a good rain storm. Prime time is typically from late December through the end of March.

Drew Griffith represents Confluence Outfitters on these intriguing fisheries. Drew guides spey techniques exclusively and does both walk/wade and raft-based trips. Many days are a combination of walk-in and float fishing.

Recent North Coast Fishing Reports

North Coast Fishing Image
January 26, 2021
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

If every winter steelhead season was a play of three acts then this next storm is the final scene of the first act. The past 10 days saw every system fall into shape after a big push of rain brought all of our rivers up to their highest peaks of the season so far. As the rivers dropped and turned green many of us who wait in eager anticipation for the chance to shake hands with a winter fish found ourselves traveling north to the rivers of the coast. My first handful of guide days were spent in the upper reaches of the river, hoping to find a fish or two up high. Angling pressure was high, as is to be expected early on in the season and especially during the first stages of a dropping and clearing river. The first four days on the water proved to be tough fishing. That is almost always true for us folks swinging flies, but I got the feeling from talking with other boats that fishing was just as tough for them as it had been for us. Simply put, there just were'nt that many fish around. It wasn't until the lower end dropped into shape that we saw our fortunes shift. I fished with husband and wife duo Jim and Vivian midweek on an abnormally pleasant and sunny day for January on the coast. Just before 9am Jim hooked into a good fish in the first run of the day. We landed her by the skin of our teeth and were all three of us excited to see what turned out to be a truely impressive specimen. Swinging flies for a winter fish is a game of long odds, mostly you end up with nothing to show for your efforts, but sometimes you shake hands with something that will stay with you for a lifetime. The fishing continued to be productive heading into the end of the week. I was lucky enough to have a few more considerably good days on the water with one time Confluence guide Tyler and his longtime friend Steve. On the last day we fished together they tied each other with each a fish landed and each a fish lost. All said and done, it was a whirlwind of days spent searching for something that is exceedingly hard to find, but once found is always worth the effort. Thanks to everyone who came out to fish with me. It was a pleasure being on the water with you all. Looking ahead into the month of Febuary we are set to see another massive rise for all of our local rivers. Right now as I type away the coast is being lashed with heavy winds as another big storm moves off of the Pacific. If last season is an indicator for what is instore for the second act then we should see a major improvement in fishing as we head into this next month. Lets all keep our fingers crossed for good river conditions after this next round of storms has passed. Stay tuned for more. 

North Coast Fishing Image
January 12, 2021
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

I just had next Wednesday, 1/20, open up next week for anyone looking to venture North for a day of hucking wiggly bugs for winter steelhead. River conditions should be in top form after the big rise currently taking place on all of our North Coast rivers. Coupled with some of the highest tides of the winter steelhead season taking place over the last few days I'd say stars are aligning to usher in a fresh batch of dime bright metal heads into all of our local systems here in Northern California. If you've been jonzing for the pull next week is looking like a good one.  I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there. Here's to bent rods and screaming reels coming soon to a river near you!   

North Coast Fishing Image
December 13, 2020
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

This morning I awoke to the most pleasant sound a steelhead fisherman can ever hope to hear: the hard patter of rain beating steadily against the gutters. Finally, after a dismal Fall of very little precipitation for our Northern California steelhead rivers, we have rain. Being well into the month of December, accompanied by a generous forecast of rain with a  prediction to see all of our coastal systems on a steep rise towards the end of this coming week I feel like it's safe to say that winter steelhead season has come again at last. Time to dust off your skagit heads and organize your tip wallets for another season of swinging flies for saltwater rainbows. Put away the 5 and 6 weights for next time and bring out the big guns. For everyone out there who spends a majority of their year dreaming of green water and hard fighting silver fish this push of rain marks the official kickoff. Let the games begin. Keep checking in for more condition reports and local info. Stay safe and healthy friends. 

North Coast Spey Gallery

The Smith runs big and clear
An angler spey casting on a coastal river
Flies for winter steelhead can be colorful
An angler works a run on the South Fork Eel River
Guide Drew Griffith bombs a cast on the Smith
Guide Andrew Harris with a nice Smith River steelhead.
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