The Current Magazine Winter 2016/17 - Page 35

Spot Check


South Fork Eel – the good, the bad and the ugly

Some people are going to be mad I even wrote about it but here’s the deal, The South Fork Eel isn’t really that great of a steelhead fishery. It’s big, flashy, dirty, remote, inconsistent and sometimes even sketchy. Most of the time it’s just going to kick your….. BUT, on the right day, in the right place, it can produce some nice wild fish. The South Fork Eel is also no secret. It’s right along Highway 101 for close to 70 miles. There are no hatcheries on the SF so it’s predominantly all wild fish. There are also no dams controlling flows on the SF Eel so it’s very subjected to high flow events in winter and very low summer flows. It’s a wild system full of wild fish, not like your more consistent tail water and hatchery fisheries for steelhead like the Trinity or Rouge.

The South Fork Eel is in a state of recovery. It’s had a legacy of abuse. Many factors from logging, road building, fires, agricultural diversions, gravel mining, invasive species, toxic algae and, most recently, illegal diversions for Cannabis farming have led to a decline in fish numbers from it’s historic abundance. The result is that Coho salmon are now listed as endangered, steelhead trout are listed as threatened and Chinook populations also plummeted in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. But it has been on an upswing this past decade. Today, it’s only open to fishing from Rattlesnake Creek near Leggett down to its confluence with the main stem of the Eel. The SF, for the most part, is only open to catch and release fishing. You are allowed to keep two hatchery trout or steelhead, but since it is not stocked it’s primarily only wild fish anyway. Very seldom does it receive a stray hatchery fish from the Mad or other stocked fishery further down the coast. While only barbless hooks are allowed, there is still a short and controversial season during mid-winter when bait is permitted.