There’s the Smith and then there’s the rest.
The other really grand river in the area is the Klamath, to the south. This river figures large in the conversation of local rivers mainly as alternate fishing grounds for the sport fisherman and woman. The Klamath is a much bigger river than the Smith and has a fishable Salmon run year round (though some chunks of time will be more or less productive for the fisherman). Steelhead and sturgeon also swim the Klamath.
My read of the Klamath is that it’s a not only a bigger river then the Smith but also a more complicated one. Whereas the Smith bans motors above the mouth, motor boats and jet boats ply the Klamath far up into its headwaters. Whereas the Smith has no dams on its full length, the Klamath has four, more if you include tributaries of the Klamath. And whereas the Smith’s sportfishing rules and regulations rely only on California Fish and Wildlife code, the Klamath has two sets of regulations, one for Yurok Indians, one for non-Yuroks.
The Klamath is still a mighty river and has no shortage of beauty, visible from its bank or from a boat. But the utter isolation and quiet of the Smith is not something you will dependably find on the Klamath. In fact, try this adventure if you are at the bnb during the winter salmon run on the Klamath (the Yurok tribe will call it the “commercial season”). Head south on the 101 and when you reach Requa Road in the town of Klamath, turn right. Follow the road until you see the Requa Inn on your right. Take the spur of a road to the left and head down toward the river. In about a mile you’ll get to one of the busiest boat ramps around and the scene of a Yurok tent camp filled with fishermen living out of pop-up campers, RVs, and tents. It’s a chaotic scene that comes alive with the tides, with Yuorks setting nets and fishing the sub-marine super highway of salmon that is entering at the mouth just a hundred yards or so downriver. This is something not to be missed.
Reversing directions and heading north, back to Hiouchi and north still to Brookings, the last of the significant nearby rivers is the Chetco. When conditions on the Smith are sub par, guides often redirect clients to the Chetco. Sure, it take a change of rigging and the purchase of an Oregon license but the fishing tends to be a bit more predictable on the Chetco. The Smith has the reputation for king sized steelies, but sometimes it’s the Chetco that has the fish.
Mill Creek is renowned as fertile spawning grounds for the protected Coho salmon so there is absolutely no fishing on Mill Creek. Float trips invariably make a stop at the spit of beach that announces the creek’s confluence with the Smith. Float with an experienced guide and on your stop here you’ll get an earful regarding the ecology of the Smith River watershed (and the location makes for a well-timed bathroom break as well).
There you have the big rivers of the nearby coast. Further north is the Pistol, Rogue and Columbia. To the south is the Mad, Eel and Russian. Each has their history, ecology, fisheries, and fans. When you come to Hiouchi, though, don’t forget there’s only one home town team and that’s the Smith. We think of the other rivers as mere understudies.