Introduction: When winter rolls around
the warm water fishing often dies down but species like Steelhead on the West
Coast just begin heating up. We travel North to the free flowing emerald green
waters of the Smith River in search of early season steelhead that are just
beginning to enter the system behind the Fall run Salmon.
About the Smith River:
The Smith River is located on the Pacific coast of northern California near the
Oregon border. It was named for the explorer Jedediah Smith and is sometimes
referred to as the Smiths River.
Cal and Gary get things started by
pushing the drift boat into the Smith before sunrise
The Smith is a relatively
short river at only 20 miles long and drains a rugged area of the Pacific Coast
Ranges west of the Siskiyou Mountains just north of the watershed of the Klamath
River. The Smith River may only be 20 miles long but it is still the largest
river system in California that flows freely along its entire course.
Gary prepares the bait in the dark
The Smith is formed by the
confluence of its Middle and North forks in Del Norte County, in the extreme
northwest corner of California, near the community of Gasquet. The Middle Fork
(20 mi/32 km) rises in Del Norte County, approximately 60 miles northeast of
Crescent City, and flows south. The North Fork Smith River rises in Oregon on
the northeast slope of Chetco Peak. The South Fork Smith River enters the Smith
River near the community of Berteleda. The South Fork (25 mi/40 km) rises on the
eastern edge of the Smith River National Recreation Area, approximately 30 mi
(48 km) east-northeast of Crescent City, flowing southwest and then northwest.
From the confluence with the South Fork, the Smith River flows generally
northwest, entering the Pacific Ocean near the community of Smith River,
approximately 10 miles (16 km) north of Crescent City.
Facing both wind and rain Gary
rows us onto our first drift
Most non local anglers will
stay in Crescent City where there are plenty of motels and hotels that are able
to accommodate anglers. The drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Crescent
City took us just over seven hours and we stayed at the Hampton Inn right on the
Coast which offers clean rooms and free internet access.
The Smith is lined with groves of
Time to go fishing:
For this trip we hooked up once again with our friend and guide Gary Hix. We
met Gary at Hiouchi, a small community in Del Norte County just ten miles away
from Crescent City and adjacent to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Almost all
of the park land is water shed for the Smith River, and the rocky banks within
the park served as our put in for the trip. The park itself is filled with dense
redwood groves and the air felt cold, clean and moist. Annual rainfall in the
area can be up to 100 inches during November through May but the Smith has a
reputation for being able to clear extremely quickly, this is because the river
has a rocky base with very little soil to muddy the river when flows increase.
A view from the redwood groves and
anglers can see the emerald green water of the Smith
The Smith is known for some
of the biggest salmon and steelhead to be found in the Northwest, and is also
home to a decent population of cutthroat trout. Salmon on the Smith have a very
short Fall season, and on this particular trip we just missed the main run. The
first big rains in the Fall drive the fish into the river so anglers need to be
there as it happens or soon thereafter to pick the fish up by side drifting,
back-bouncing or pulling plugs. The best time to fish for Steelhead at the Smith
is during the Winter season from December to March.
There are sections of the Smith
that are as smooth as glass