Learning on the Smith River

Recently my husband and I decided to take a vacation to fish the Smith River in California. We were in awe of the beauty of the river and the forest that surrounds it. The thought of a wild river that flows steelhead green water, surrounded by towering redwoods, and big wild steelhead were what brought us to Gasket California. We are both very comfortable fishing our regular haunts in Oregon and felt that our techniques would be productive on the Smith River. We were wrong.


When we first go to the yurt that we had reserved on the river we immediately dropped our stuff off and took the short walk to the river. With three fishing poles a piece we figured we would have at least one set up that would work on the Smith. We had not expected the volume of water that was flowing through the beautiful canyon and fished everything that we had set up. As the sun started to set we decided to head back inside and retie all of our rods. We were working on adapting to the new water but were still stuck in our ways. Sean and I decided to up size our bobbers to the largest ones we packed and try again in the morning.


The morning started with a breakfast at a local cafe that was full of fishermen that wanted to tell us all about their river. We were eager to learn and taking mental notes. We did not take their advice as to the styles of fishing that are effective on the river. We pounded the river all day, working our way up and down the river. We fished eight holes during the day and scouted holes for the next day.

The weather forecast was not looking good for the next day and the hydrograph showed a jump in river level of 10.5’ starting midday. Sean and I looked at each other and knew that we had to do something to adapt to the river. After making a game plan we rerigged all the rods again. Finally after being beaten down by an incredible river, I tied up a drift set up, plunking setup, and one for hardware. 

At 0530 the next morning the alarm went off and I had this feeling of dread. The pressure was on and I was not going to be fishing as confidently as I would with my usual float setups. Sean and I were driven to catch a fish. We hit the river hard and decided to go home when the weather started to turn. Beaten and defeated we got out of our vehicle. We both looked at the river in the back yard and headed back out. There was not the usual excitement as we walked towards the water, it was just silent.

Spinner for steelhead

After the first few casts we both ended up tossing hardware into the river. There was little enthusiasm it was pure defeat. Sean was up river and yelled “FISH ON” like I had never heard him yell it before. He had a fish on! It was amazing and finally there was hope. He landed the pretty wild hen and quickly released it. We hugged with excitement, joy, and relief. Not too long after Sean got his fish and the weather was taking a nasty turn I hooked up on hardware. I was in shock. Finally adapting to the water I was fishing paid off.