By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
Drift-boaters who remained stealthy managed to scrape up between one and three steelies per boat this week, but their operators had to work hard for them.
On Friday, the Chetco was running at 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and dropping. There are fish all throughout the system, but they are scattered.
"It's like bowling for spares," says Jack Hanson of jacksguideservice.com. "The river has sustained enough pressure that at this stage of the game they're wearing Band-Aids and crutches."
Many guides have noticed that specific groups of Chetco steelhead tend to hang out together and advance upriver in packs. Hanson has not observed that social activity as of yet this season.
"They haven't really acclimated into their big pods and in strange places yet," Hanson remarked. "One of the places they gather up is a place we call The Petting Zoo, which is just below Tamba. Another spot is Glassy Flat. They should be there but they're not quite piling up like that yet."
This week calls for periods of rain, so hopefully we'll get enough precipitation to raise the river and bring in some "fresh recruits," as Hanson calls them.
Because of the low and clear water conditions, the fish have been very spooky. So doing everything you can to remain undetected is a feather in your cap.
Keeping hidden can be taken to different levels. A good place to start is with clothing. Avoid sporting white colors whenever possible. White fishing nets are considered primitive by today's standards, having been replaced by the stealthier black mesh.
Everywhere you go anglers are shrouded in camouflage. Fishers commonly cloak themselves in camouflaged waders, vests and hats.
But if you're going to go the camouflage route, you might as well go all the way and consider wearing either a face mask, or painting your face. Your lily-white mug looks like a dinner plate to a steelhead.
Another scheme for hooking more fish is to dump the traditional side-drifting, lime-green mainline that glows like a flashing neon sign, and spool up with a smaller diameter, clear monofilament or copolymer.
"When the water's clearing up, that bright stuff does not help your action at all," emphasizes Hanson. "You'll just have to grin down and try to find where your line's at."
Any clear, low-visibility line will work for your mainline as well as for your leader. Clear Sufix Siege is the best line I've ever used.
"You want to use 4 1/2-foot, 6- or 8-pound fluorocarbon leaders and size 4 hooks," adds Hanson. "If you really want to scale down, you can use size 6 hooks. You also want to use pinky-fingernail size baits. Think of glow-bugs and try to imitate glow-bugs."
Hanson also advises making very long casts. Filling your spinning reel with 6-pound test all the way to the brim will help you become an expert long-distance caster in no time.
Because of extremely crowded river conditions, Hanson also suggests fishing the middle of the river, because boats have already hit both sides of the river, pushing the fish toward the center.
"It's either fish first, or fish the middle," emphasizes Hanson.
The Rogue River
The plunking action below Lobster Bar has been fairly slow this week; however, the stretch of river from Foster Bar down to Quosatana Creek has been kicking out good numbers of steelhead.
"The fish have been averaging between 8 to 12 pounds with some 14s and 15s mixed in," says Patrick Hollinger from the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach. "The guys side-drifting from Foster Bar to Agness or from Agness on down to Quosatana were getting between three and five fish a day."
Hollinger suggests using light leaders, No. 4 hooks and very small pieces of roe.
Lingcod and rockfish go on-the-bite
There was a string of three days last week where anglers had a good shot at catching some nice lingcod, rockfish and cabezon. Those who went out were not disappointed.
On Wednesday, Andy Martin of wildriversfishing.com, invited me and another friend to fish the Chetco Cove area. We missed the incoming high tide so we ended up fishing the worse possible tide, the outgoing tide.
Still, we managed to hook several limits of black rockfish by using Berkley Gulp! 3-inch Sandworms attached to the shrimp flies.
When Andy wanted to take us out for lings, he first took us into the shallow-water kelp beds to fish for kelp greenling (sea trout) to be later used as live lingcod bait. They call them kelp greenling for a reason; the fish are everywhere.
Sea trout are lingcod candy. Typically, take your live sea trout (minimum length 10 inches) to a nearby reef where there are no sea trout available.
Andy uses between 3- and 5-ounce lead jig heads with a stinger hook attached. First, hook the sea trout from the lower jaw up through the nose. This keeps it's mouth shut and allows it to swim freely. Then bomb's away!
You do not have to be directly on the bottom. You can reel the bait up 5 or 6 cranks. A lingasaur will easily come up 10 feet out of a pinnacle to grab a sea trout. Put your rod in a holder and wait for it to make a steady bend. Ninety-nine percent of the time the ling will not be hooked, but will be hitchhiking onto the greenling with its inwardly curved teeth. It cannot let go of the greenling unless you give it slack.
The trick is to reel in the lingcod agonizingly slow. I believe that the ling does not think it is actually hooked, but is merely following the sea trout upward. When you get the ling toward the surface, quickly gaff it, but be careful. You've now got a tiger by the tail!
We boated six lings altogether. One of the 28-inch lings had a larger ling hitchhiking on its tail and gave Andy a pretty good fight before finally letting go. We also lost another large ling. Don't forget to count the greenling toward your rockfish bag limit.