By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
A water level for every angler.
With water flows dropping toward 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it looks like the Chetco will be coming into bloom for all methods of fishing this week. That means for a brief moment in time, plunkers, side-drifters, back-bouncers and plug-pullers could co-exist harmoniously on the same river.
More steelhead are showing up day after day. And these aren't dinks, either. A lot of fish are in the upper teens or are approaching the 20-pound class.
Since this is the beginning of the run, most of the molten steel are going to be chromers, the finest table fare and fiercest fighters the Chetco has to offer.
A lot of plunkers have been putting the pedal to their metal using what I am going to refer from now on as The Chetco Special' a No. 6 or 8 Spin-N-Glo in the color sherbet, also known locally as Tequila Sunrise.
You can use these puppies with or without roe. If you do use roe, please use it sparingly, no more than a dime-size cluster. Anything larger just scares 'em.
I would suggest your plunking itinerary start at the South Bank Pumphouse, where access has been traditionally granted by walking through the yellow gate where a well-beaten path takes you to the lower end of the hole.
When the river drops below 4,000 cfs, drift-fishing nightcrawlers from the lower section can often pay off dividends in the precious metal.
The rockpile right at the pumphouse is always a great place to pick up steelhead, then further upriver is a great stretch that always holds a few fish.
The most popular plunking hole on the river is Social Security Bar. Look for submerged willows as you first drive out to the spot and plunk on the upriver side just beyond the willow clump. Steelhead have to go around these bushes in order to get back into their travel lanes.
Never pass up an opportunity to plunk where you find willows with what looks like a deep trench with moving water cut in front.
This whole stretch of Social can be very productive water, especially where you find a current seam. However, I think that when this section becomes too crowded, the line of chrome bumpers and trucks can often spook the schools out from their traditional holding water. So it is always best to have a handful of places to head for in case the bite is slow.
Heading further upriver, another good plunkin' hole is at the North Bank Pumphouse in the stretch of water just downriver from the North Fork.
Further upriver I would next hit The Willows for some excellent plunking opportunities, especially the lower section.
Both upper and lower sections of Loeb State Park can also be productive steelhead haunts as well.
Good plunking holes will often shift from location to location as sand and river rocks shift around due to high water flows, so it is always better to learn how to read the water rather than depend on spot A, B or C.
So always look for newly excavated slopes or trenches on the edge of fast and soft water. Current seams are usually visible by the signs they exhibit on the surface.
Usually the slower water is closer to shore, while faster water will show a ripple on top. Steelhead will move up the softer water, right on the edge of fast water, to avoid expending any unneeded energy, but only if the slower water contains some current, just enough to float and rotate your Spin-N-Glo.
Protective cover such as whitewater, willows or overhanging tree branches always helps make these migration lanes even better routes.
It looks like this week is calling for sunny skies and moderate weather. When the river drops to 4,000 cfs, the side-drifters will start taking over.
When side-drifting, it is absolutely imperative that everyone in the boat use the same brand and model reel, rod, line diameter and type, the same size hooks and bait clusters, swivels and sinkers. It is also equally important to cast to the same riffle and pocket of water.
The oarsman has the hardest job of maneuvering the boat so it matches the river current, as well as keeping the anglers' lines moving at the same pace.
One of the most beautiful drifts is to put in at Miller Bar and take out at Loeb Park, part of the Chetco's Wild and Scenic sections. It is a trip into the land that time forgot.
There is plenty of side-drifting water in this entire stretch. Make sure not to pass up the Culvert Hole and the riffle at the head of Ice Box.
Dee Shurtleff and I recently had a conversation regarding behavior on the water. It brought back pleasant memories. Dee's been here since day one, and fortunately I was able to learn a few fishing tricks from Dee and his friends, many of whom have since passed on.
Back in those days, folks adhered to certain unwritten rules that not only helped people catch more fish, but also enhanced the beauty of the entire fishing experience. Because of today's crowds, it is more important than ever to observe these traditions.
One of them had to deal with when a fish was hooked up. Whenever anyone hooked a fish, anglers in the immediate area always, without fail, reeled in their lines, in order to ensure that the person stood the best chance at landing the fish.
This mode of conduct was so ingrained in the soul of fishers, that they felt that it was not only their duty, buy it was their obligation to help their fellow angler.
The motive was actually selfish. The next time you had a fish on, people would, in turn, relinquish to you the right-of-way, insuring that you, in turn, landed your steelhead.
In the same vein, it is also equally important to make sure that your neighboring plunkers are aware that you are hooked up by robustly shouting, "Fish on!"