It’s Salmon Season On California’s Smith River

By: Mick Thomas

There’s a lot of fish in the Smith River, but half of them have already come through the main stem. We’ve had some huge pushes of fish in the past few weeks. That first storm brought a massive number of fish in the system and then the second and third storm brought some more too. The river was stuffed.

If we don’t get any more rain the river should fish well this week and through the weekend. It’s hard to say how long the run will extend due to the amount of rain we’ve already had. Hopefully, it’s a large run and continues through November like it should. It’s impossible to tell because so many fish have already come through the system.


However, all indications are telling us we’ll be fishing for salmon for several more weeks. In fact, guys are catching fresh fish in the lower river today. All our fish are fresh fish now. We’ve been catching chromers for a few weeks. It’s been a heck of a run this year already. Meanwhile, because of the higher water pressure has been moderate to light.

While there’s been some large salmon there’s been about a 20-25 pound average. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a lot of three-year-old salmon, which are those in the 30-40 pound range. Normally, we see a few bigger than 50, but haven’t yet. I’m guessing we’ll see them soon. A 50-pound plus salmon isn’t uncommon for us.


We’ve had so much rain that our river is still high, but dropping daily. It will be fishable Wednesday and was fishable today, even though it was high. The salmon are moving quickly now. In this high water they move fast. Once the river falls a few more feet the salmon will slow their migration and be easier to catch.


Even with high water I’m running bait and plugs. We’re back-bouncing roe and running Fire Brine sardine wrapped plugs. For my roe I’m running about a dollar size piece of Red Fire Cure roe. For the sardine wraps I’m running mostly Green & Blue Fire Brine sardine wraps.


With the current water conditions I’m using 30-pound Maxima Ultragreen as my main and leader line. The fish are large this year, so even when the water drops and clears I’m going to stick with the 30-pound test. If you go lighter you might get a few more bites, but there’s a chance of losing those fish, too.


In the higher water the plunkers do well on the Smith. Some of the better areas for them to gain bank access is Ruby County Park, Jed Smith State Park and Peacock Bar. From the bank if you are plunking I’d recommend at least 30-pound test teamed up with Fire Cure roe and a Spin-N-Glo. Others will side drift from the bank.


Editor’s Note: Known as “Smith River Mick” Mick Thomas operates Lunker Fish Trips. For more info on his Smith River salmon trips please visit or call 707-954-0352.