The Current Magazine Winter 2016/17 - Page 37

There are fish returning to the South Fork Eel but no one really knows how many for any given year. There are no data collection sites on the SF Eel that count fish. Fish reports are based on local’s experience and some occasional fish spawning surveys in the upper watershed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Only one flow gage exists on the SF Eel so it’s very difficult to get a read on flows remotely. There are 60-70 miles of river below that gage and LOTS of tributaries that can significantly contribute to flows and clarity. And if that’s not enough to shy you away, the first trib below the fishable line has a propensity to blow out from mudslides and turn the clear green water of the upper watershed to chocolate milk on any significant rain event.

With all that being said, the SF Eel can offer some great fishing for the keen catch and release fly-fisherman if you catch conditions right. Don’t expect to have banger days like the hay day on the Trinity where people were catching 10 to 20 steelhead a day. If you get one fish, or even a grab on any given day of working hard, it’s a good day. If a fly angler lands two fish on the SF Eel in

one day, well, that’s a really darn good day! Fishing conditions on the SF are

super variable. In some years, like 2012 and 2013, stars can align and you will have decent runs of steelhead in the river and good water conditions to fish them. Otherwise, it’s usually one or the other.

Last year, for instance, the SF Eel was only fishable for about a week or two the entire winter season. Heavy rains had the river blown out most of the season and there were only a couple windows where the water was fishable with flies. To top it off, there were not many fish around—most had already entered the system, spawned and left. On the opposite end of the spectrum were years like 2014 and 2015. In the midst of drought, water levels were low and fishable most of the winter, but there were low returns of fish.

This winter is looking like it may be similar to last season. We’ll be lucky to see a couple fishable weeks on the SF Eel. And with an atmospheric river hitting the coast right now with up to a foot of rain predicted, it could be a while until it’s back in shape.