A big draw to the local area, in addition to the redwoods, is the Smith River and the nearby Pacific Ocean. Both have amazing and sought-after fisheries. During the late fall and winter months when rain is abundant, salmon and trout are in the river. The fishing season kicks off with Chinook and Coho salmon coming into the river to spawn, usually in the November to December time span when the first rains appear.
That salmon run is followed by a run of steelhead trout. In both cases it is the rain, a rising river, and flow of water from land to ocean that stimulates the fish in the ocean to swim against the current and aim for the same spot in the river they were born at. The goal in both cases is to spawn and replenish the populations of fish that make the fishing here world famous.
It’s one of the amazing facts of biology that prompts this migration, attracting fish that have for years been feeding and gaining strength in the ocean to swim up the same river they were born in and return to the exact spot of their birth in order to spawn.
These three species are born in the river, spend anywhere from a few months to a few years in the river, then travel to ocean where they spend another one to four years feeding. Salmon return to the river to spawn, after which they die. Steelhead trout on the other hand can return over the course of a few years to spawn. Eventually though they also die after their last year of reproducing.
Fishing on the Smith usually involves hiring a local guide and floating in a 17’ to 20’ Mackenzie design drift boat along with the current. A full day float is usually spent on the few miles between the forks of Hiouchi to either the Society Hole near the Hiouchi Bridge or further downriver to Ruby Van Deventer Park. Sometimes guide and client with float that distance twice, sometimes only once.
Limits and regulations in general are narrowly written and tightly enforced. There are no motors allowed on the Smith, only barbless hooks can be used, no wild fish are permitted to be kept (only hatchery), and only two fish per day are allowed. Coho salmon are a protected species and are always released. Each river has its own regulations so be forewarned –- read up on regulations so you don’t break the law. The rangers don’t take lightly to those who don’t abide by the regs.
Local ocean fishing, when it’s not from a boat, is most often taking place on South Beach. Fisherman park on the side of Enderts Beach Road and walk through the low brush to the beach, then walk south again toward the high rocky spit of beach nearer to the overlook. From there the fishing is for surf perch and candlefish (also called smelt). Depending on the year (and the tides), that beach is also a good place to dig for razor clams. Take note that depending on the year, clamming is allowed either north of the harbor or south, and alternates every year.
Ocean fishing from a boat means you are targeting tuna, salmon, or bottomfish (rockfish and cod the most prevalent).
Crabbing from the shore and from boats is also a popular activity in the area. For many years, the waters off Crescent City were known for their robust Dungeness crab populations. The 2014-’15 season was lackluster, though, with most commercial crabbing operations relocating to the south.
One interesting factoid is that crabbing from shore is the only fishing permissible without a license. All you need are the crab pots and bait. All other fishing requires a California fishing license and sometimes additional species-specific licenses (called tags).