North Coast California Steelhead Rivers

The Eel River in Northern California runs emerald in color during winter.

The Eel River represents California's third largest watershed. The mainstem flows more than two hundred air miles and travels over 800 river miles from the headwaters above Lake Pillsbury in Lake County to the ocean. The Eel River's three forks flow through unique geologic and ecosystems, originating in high mountain pine forests, then flowing through steep canyons and coastal redwood forests, and finally emptying into the Pacific in a gently sloping valley with virgin redwood stands.

A Classic steelhead river the Eel River has a strong winter run.

The Eel River supports wild runs of steelhead, chinook, coho and sea-run cutthroat trout. Chinook salmon begin arriving in August and remain until rains allow them upstream. The run continues through December, with the peak in late October. Dos Rios, located at the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Eel River and the mainstem, is the put-in for a popular four-day trip through the Eel River Canyon to Alderpoint.

A California steelhead being released back to its coastal river home.

With better water management and habitat recovery, the Eel River's wild winter steelhead (and Chinook salmon) could once again thrive. The Eel River supported historic returns of 1,000,000 wild steelhead and salmon, today a return of 25,000 is considered huge. The Eel Rriver provides outstanding habitat and has been saved from hatchery supplements which can threaten wild fish genetics.

The Smith River runs completely wild to the ocean from the California Oregon border.

The Smith River was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System back in 1981. More than 300 miles of the Smith River Watershed are in the Wild and Scenic System, making it one of the most complete river systems in the National System. The emerald-green Smith River flows freely and naturally, without a single dam for its entire length. It is the only major system in California to do so.

Coastal Redwood Trees in old growth forests can be found along California's Smith River.

Just past the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork, the Smith River flows through the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park with stunning views of the giant redwoods and great summer floating in Class I and II waters.

The Smith River supports a strong run of wild steelhead and king salmon.

The Middle Fork of the Smith River between the Hightway 101 and 199 bridges, an angler could find some of the most healthy and wild steelhead caught in California. This seven mile stretch is excellent steelhead water. Deep holes, where the water hits large rocks or the bank, provide holding water for both steelhead and salmon. The riffles below these holes provide some of the best flyfishing water on the Smith River.

The Smith River watershed provides habitat to a healthy population of sea run coastal cutthroat.

Coastal Cutthroat Trout or sea-run cutthrout are anadromous trout residing in the coastal watersheds of northern California. In addition to the South Fork of the Smith River, they reside in several Humboldt Bay tributaries like Little River and Redwood Creek, as well as coastal lagoons like Lake Earl, Big Lagoon and Stone Lagoon. Coastal cutthroat trout are the most freshwater dependent of the anadromous salmonids, migrating to the ocean for only a few months in the summer.

The South Fork of the Smith River is one of California's crown jewels in the Wild & Scenic River System.