The Smith has long been known as a tough river to fish. Singularly beautiful water that challenges the skills of the most adept angler. So what is it that makes the Smith so tough and at the same time so tempting? It has a lot to do with the setting. Floating first through the forks of Hiouchi, boaters feel the force and foam of the colliding South and Middle forks of the Smith. Then in the main stem, fast waters push you past the tall trees of Stout Grove and under a wood-covered bridge. Follow the riffles and series of minor falls to the Society Hole take-out or maybe Ruby Van Deventer park a few clicks past.
Then there are the cold hard facts: the biggest steelhead in the state’s history was caught on the Smith, a 27 pound 4 oz. titan of a trout caught near the 101 bridge. The Smith is the state’s largest undammed river and the country’s largest Wild and Scenic River that’s still undammed.
When you are out on the river, though, those stats and all these words kind of fade into the background. Watch that rod for nibbles and bites and be sure your line is weighted properly — get your gear bouncing off the bottom, keep your yarn trimmed just right, run with roe or maybe just yarn and a fish pill. By all means listen to your guide, if he’s worth the fare. There’s always a chance of pulling a whopper from the waters, record-setting fish or not.
Some days favor the fisherman but not today. On this day the river was gin clear, the water was low. Bad news for the Smith’s hatchery, the Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery, located on Rowdy Creek, a small tributary of the Smith in the small town of Smith River. Its annual fundraiser took place today; 20-odd boats on the river in search of the non-existent steelhead.
It was a still a beautiful day to be floating. Note the absurd clarity of the Smith’s water. The boat above seems suspended in air above the river floor. The fish, if they are present, are well out of reach. Unlike the salmon that swim in the Smith, the steelhead have a brain in their heads. They are thinking creatures who react to conditions, not just their own overstimulated gonads.
Today, the fish ruled the Smith. Tomorrow, no one knows.