By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
This past week has been a plunker's holiday, as well as a side-drifter's dream, with many limits of hatchery metalheads being hooked from the heads of riffles, behind boulders and on the outside edges of willow bushes. The fishing has been flat out phenomenal.
Everywhere I went the same phrase kept being uttered, "You should have been here yesterday!"
For example, on Thursday I had heard about the plunkers at Social Security Bar catching fish from one end to the other. It was a wide-open bite and, from what all the anglers were saying, the fishing was so good almost everyone who made a cast got a hookup.
That's the way it was all week long. But it didn't matter whether you were there yesterday, today or tomorrow, if you stuck around long enough, you would eventually see a steelhead landed by a plunker, drift-fisherman or side-drifter.
Mint-bright steelhead are being hooked from the head of Tidewater all the way up to Upper Summer Bridge. Most of the fish, however, are being hooked in the lower river, from Ice Box down to the South Bank Pumphouse, with special emphasis on the word "hooked."
Not all the fish that were hooked were landed. I witnessed three hookups in a row where all three fish came unbuttoned. Although these steelhead are just pure scrappy, fighting machines, it was too coincidental that three were lost the same way.
What I did notice was the absence of hook sharpeners. With all the laser-sharpened hooks available this day and age, anglers seem to feel they don't need to sharpen their hooks. Even with laser-sharpened hooks, they will eventually become dull from being dragged over river rocks, getting hung up in deadwood or from just being in the water.
A 4-inch Luhr Jensen hook file only costs about 5 bucks and should be in every fisherman's pocket. To figure out if your hook needs sharpening, use the rule of thumbnail. Hold the hook by the shank and drag the point across your thumbnail. If the point does not instantly stick in your thumb, you need to sharpen your hook until it does.
Hold your hook by the bottom curve with the point toward you and take about three swipes with the hook sharpener in your direction.
Since this week is calling for rain almost every day, the river is probably going to be a plunking situation when the color is pea-green and the river is above 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). But there were so many fish going up the Chetco that they were even biting on a rising river on Thursday.
When the river drops below 4,000 cfs, then the call will be side-drifting. Side-drifting has literally enabled anglers to catch more fish than they ever have before, and anyone who had the technique down last week was landing, or at least hooking, between four and eight fish.
"Fifteen or 20 years ago, before side-drifting really became popular, you weren't having the numbers of fish caught that you are today," said Casey Malepsy from Casey's Guide Service. "Before side-drifting there were only a handful of people that were catching a lot of fish. Most of the boats that drifted downriver were happy if they just caught a steelhead or two. Nowadays, catching between 8 and 10 fish is just another day."
It's hard to believe that side-drifting has only been around for a short period of time. Living near the Chetco gives anglers a chance to have multiple fish days because it has classic side-drifting water.
All you have to remember about side-drifting, is that the oarsman controls the speed of the boat so that it drifts down the river at the same speed of the current. Every rod, reel, size line, length of leaders, size hooks and sinkers must be precisely equal in order to be effective at this technique.
You should have at least three people in your driftboat because the oarsman is going to be too busy maneuvering the boat to match the speed of everyone's lines to the same speed of the river. This enables at least two people to be fishing at all times.
Side-drifting enables anglers to cover a lot more water in a shorter period of time. Just make sure that your casts are made in precisely the same spot, so that the currents will be the same for each rod.
Steelhead fishing on the Lower Rogue has also been stellar this week. The Lower Rogue is basically a plunking situation, no matter how high the water is.
"The Rogue has been doing excellent as far as steelhead goes," says Ian Nourse from the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach. "A good number of fin-clips have been showing up. I'd say for every two natives that show up, there is one fin-clip. It's the first year that I've ever heard of that."
Not only are the fish plentiful, there are still some monster metalheads tipping the scales. On Wednesday, Nourse weighed in an 18-pound steelhead.
"Orchard and Huntley Park are definitely the number one spots this year," Nourse notes.
The hot color Spin-N-Glos have been flame/chartreuse (50-50) and pearl red (pearl pink) in a size 4.
Most Rogue rats use a double outfit, but Nourse says that Hot Shots have not been producing for the top rig this year. Double Spin-N-Glos are the call for the Rogue this season.
Double outfits were explained in last week's column. When using two Spin-N-Glos, often the bottom rig will get bit while the top one remains untouched. The trick is to get the top rig to swim at the same depth as the lower rig.
You can help the top rig swim at nearly the same level as the bottom outfit by simply keeping your rod tip lower to the surface of the water.
Other anglers will attach a sinker to a snap-swivel, allowing the weight to slide down the main line, keeping both SNGs at exactly the same depth.