Smith River Steelhead Bite To Last Into April

By Mick Thomas | 03/03/2014

While crowds have thinned steelhead fishing is not over on the Smith River. We are seeing chrome bright fish arrive everyday. In fact, the downer Scott Feist caught on my boat last week was the first I’ve seen this season. I think we have a lot of great steelhead fishing ahead of us.

In March I predict we are going to see fresh fish coming daily, just like last year. With the late rains and low flows we’ve had I think our runs are off the normal time frame. If last year is any indication of what’s to happen the run is going to last longer in the season than it has historically.


When you can go fishing in March and get a half-dozen winter steelhead, and they are fresh fish, it tells me one of two things. Either we have extremely healthy runs and the fish are still coming or our runs have shifted to later in the season.

Let’s backtrack to what’s gone on this season. Here on the North Coast we had a

dry December and January. The river was closed in January for the first time ever due to low water. (The low flow closure extended from Dec 27th to January 6.)


Consider this is the first time in the history of me guiding that the river was closed due to low water in January. And, I’ve been guiding since the early 80s.

Even though the river was closed to low flow the fish were trickling in daily. Monitoring the river under low flow conditions I saw several schools of steelhead on the tailouts, and I’m talking 50-plus fish. I really think we have another strong run this year. Last year it was a very poor January and a phenomenal February and March. I’m guessing that’s going to be the same this year.


I would say we are still going to see some big fish, but generally speaking, the later run fish are a tad smaller. I’m guessing the really big fish took advantage of the high water we had a few weeks ago. They are smart. They blast through when the water is big and then they are untouched by us.

It’s hard to predict what’s coming though. We have big water again coming on Tuesday (tomorrow) and we might see monster fish again. We can only speculate. I have no doubt we are going to catch plenty of fish up to 14 pounds through April. However, what I do know is last year March was way better than January and I would suspect this year will be the same with the late water we’ve had.

I think we really are going to get them through April. There’s no traffic up here, which is nice for us true locals. The reason why the other guides have gone is that they’ve left for stripers in the Sacramento Valley and to target other fisheries that have now opened. There’s still plenty of fish here. That’s the beauty of being a local. The crowds have left and we have the river to ourselves.

For the rest of the season I’ll be using a Puff Ball and Natural BorX O Fire cured bait fished on a Gamataksu No. 2 octopus hook. I use 10-pound Maxima Ultragreen and due to the clear water we have dime size, and smaller, pieces of roe. Many guys still use red and pink cures, which do work, but I’ve found more success with natural.

The BorX O Fire is the greatest steelhead bait ever made.


You can use it to cure your eggs wet and dry. If I cure two skeins of eggs tonight it they will juice out in the bag or jar and I can fish those eggs wet and productively the following morning. The eggs are tacky enough to stay on your hook and juice like no tomorrow. Sometimes if you are using moist eggs it becomes even more natural because they are soft and milk out well. Other times I choose to dry the eggs egg and get them gummy. Normally, I have two of three kinds of eggs on the boat.


Here on the Coast, because there’s so much moisture in the air, you eggs will take longer to dry because they’ll retain moisture from the air. The moisture causes them to dry slower. If you choose to dry them longer you can get the eggs to the point when they are gummy, spongy and firm and you can’t throw them off the hook. I use them wet and dry, but have been sticking to the natural all season.

Editor’s Note: Mick Thomas operates Lunker Fish Trips. For more info on his Smith River steelhead adventures please visit