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California's North Coast

A big steelhead from the North Coast
Guided Spey-Only Trips
$650 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 16, 2023
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

After what has been the wettest start to any winter steelhead season in recent memory Northern California is finally getting a reprieve. As of this writing we have one more storm lined up for mid week which will impact Humboldt and Del Norte county. After that, the coast looks clear! It's going to take a while for many of the coastal rivers in Humboldt county to clear, some will need more time than others. Up north, that won't be the case. As we go into next weekend we will see our first decent window for finally being able to wade in and throw a line in hopes of feeling that big pull. I still have a few dates available for January for anyone out there who's been eagerly waiting for the chance to swing up a coastal winter steelhead. In the meantime get that tip wallet organized and put those scandi heads away, it's game time. 

North Coast Fishing Image
February 21, 2022
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

 Steelhead fishing in Northern California remains a game of hit or miss. During a recent trip on a coastal river with friends Gary and John it was a hit with a nice fish to hand in the third run of the day. More recently, with new comers to Spey Derek and Tim we fished hard all day with only the satisfaction of mastering a few new casts to show for our efforts. Swinging flies for Winter Steelhead is at its best an opportunity to encounter a single fish, anything beyond that is exceptional. After a prolonged spell of no meaningful precipitiation since around the first of the new year the weather outlook seems to be shifting towards increased chances of rainfall for Northern California. Hopefully this will see a few of our coastal rivers bump up enough to usher in some fresh waves of winter steelhead. As of right now low and clear conditions persist on all coastal steelhead rivers in Northern California and beyond, but that picture is sure to change with increased chances of precipitation. A few rivers have closed due to the newly extended low flow fishing regulations and others are getting close to the deadline. With March fast approaching and the weather outlook shifting towards more favorable conditions we should see an uptick in fishing opportunities heading into the final act of the season here in Northern California. Stay tuned!

North Coast Fishing Image
January 29, 2022
North Coast Report by Drew Griffith

After what seemed like a solid month of wet weather in December, a generous window of clear weather has graced California's North Coast. This prolonged dry spell has given us steelhead anglers the opportunity we've been waiting for. Over the past few weeks of January all coastal systems have been in play, with some fishing better than others. After having spent the better half of the month on the water I can say that the most consistent fishing we've had has come in just the past few days. Now, as we head into February we will need another shot of rain to keep some of the smaller and quick clearing coastal rivers in contention. We are lucky, however, to have a host of rivers that are still in prime shape for anyone looking to come find one of these elusive critters on the swing. If you have an itch to scratch I have lots of availibily starting around the second week of February for right now. On another note, an important regulation change has gone into effect on the North Coast steelhead rivers. Now the low flow fishing closure will be enforced through the end of April opposed to ending on January 31. This means that now most of the coastal rivers can be closed to fishing through the entirety of the winter steelhead season if they drop below the CFS threshold. It is important to call the hotline at (707) 822-3164 and follow the automated prompts to check on the status of the river you might want to fish. Considering that we currently have no rain forecasted going into this next month I think it is safe to assume that some of these rivers will potentially be closed to fishing.  

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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