Most visitors to Hiouchi come for the redwoods. Stout Grove, Redwood National Park, Tall Trees Grove and Fern Canyon are among the area’s big draws. The Smith ranks high among local destinations but often times visitors don’t think beyond the basics of swimming, tubing, skipping stones on it or just walking the bank.
But if you come all the way to Hiouchi and don’t at least try to fish the river, especially during the late-winter and early spring months, you’ll be missing out on a peak outdoor experience. Kind of like going to Cairo for the Pyramids but missing the Egyptian Museum. Like the museum, fishing the Smith is well worth it. Renowned for the size of salmon and steelhead that swim its waters, you may not match the state record for steelhead (27 pounds!) but you do have a better chance of catching a big fish on the Smith than on any the other local river.
Here’s what you need to know to turn just one day of your redwood holiday into a thrilling adventure on the water, and one that holds the possibility of a fine home-cooked meal that you caught!
How to prepare for your float with a local guide
Boiled down, you’ll need warm clothing, a fishing license, and a good attitude. Morning temps this time of year can get into the 30s and if there’s wind, it can get chilly in the boat. Clothing is important — you’ll want to dress in layers and have rain gear with you if the weather turns bad. Waterproof boots (or sturdy hiking boots) are also important. Either pack extra clothing for a day on the river or plan on filling out your wardrobe at one of the local stores in town (which pretty much means Crescent City’s 24-hour Walmart). A hat and gloves are essential.
A single day fishing license can be bought at the Chevron station in Hiouchi or at Walmart for about 20 dollars.
We can set you up with a local guide.
Your guide brings all the equipment and bait, and you’ll fish from his boat. The guide will keep your rod and reel prepped at all times, keeps your gear free of tangles, helps with snags, coaches you on casting and encourages you over the course of your six or seven hour float on the Smith. Most important, he steers the boat to where the fish are, often hovering over schools of fish or where they are pooled up, sometimes rowing upstream to fish the same spot or bend in the river more then once.
What to expect
Take it from me, if it’s your first time on a guided trip, there’s a lot of listening and a bit of work ahead of you. If you have time to practice casting, get out in your front yard (or in our driveway) and spend an hour or so giving it a try. If not, you’ll want to pay attention to your guide who will teach you the basics and coach you on exactly where to cast. With two or three people in a boat, in addition to the guide rowing, casting is done as a team and it’s important to know when and where to cast your line. This ability to keep it all together on the river – steering the boat, watching for fish, keeping the rods and reels primed with bait and directing the casting of the clients – is what separates the good from the great or merely OK guides. Make a commitment to being a good listener, relax, never give in to frustration and you will have a productive day on the river. Guides are generally pretty good blokes, given all that work that needs tending to. They are adamant about their reputations and much of that reputation comes from managing the day so you go home with a fish or three.
One last thing to bring? Your check book. A guided trip on the Smith isn’t cheap, but look at it this way: you will have fished one of the most sought after and beautiful rivers in the world and you didn’t have to fly to Alaska or Patagonia to do so. If you catch one or two 12-pound steelhead you’ll have saved yourself at least the hundred dollars that fish would have cost at Whole Foods or Safeway, and it will be way fresher! And you may have connected with a sport that can follow through a lifetime of travel and adventure. At least you’ll know first hand what it’s like to seriously fish. Personally, I always thought fishermen where obsessive nut cases but now I know otherwise – freshwater fishing in a drift boat is challenging and super fun, and now something I can pursue wherever I travel.
Another bonus? That feeling at the end of the day when you slip into the hot tub and eventually bed. You won’t have that feeling ever again, until you fish once more on the Smith.
[If you have questions about guided trips don’t hesitate to give me a call. I can probably answer your questions, and I’d be happy to put you in touch with one of the area’s local guides for even more specific answers. Expect a follow-up story on fishing from the bank of the Smith rather then a drift boat.]