By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
Baitfish enter the Chetco bay
Five different varieties of baitfish are living harmoniously between the jaws of the jetties, in the bay, up the river and around the docks. At night the sound of clumsy pelicans slamming into telephone poles is becoming a regularity.
Herring, anchovies, smelt and sardines are thick as thieves and opportunistic anglers are jigging them like there's no tomorrow. In addition a fifth variety that looks like a cross between a herring and a sardine is also dwelling among the baitfish: juvenile American shad.
American shad were introduced to the Pacific from the East Coast in 1871 by the famous fish culturist Seth Green. The shad's debut turned out to be one of Oregon's premier fisheries, and soon regular runs of 3 to 5 pounders began populating rivers from the Columbia to the Coquille.
They are often called the poor man's tarpon because of their ability to fight till their last dying breath. The run generally starts around Mother's Day on the Columbia, Umpqua and Coos Rivers, and lasts about one month. The Coquille's run traditionally begins around Father's Day.
About one month later, just like clockwork, they pay their annual visit to the Rogue and the Chetco. They only stay for a few weeks and then disappear until next year.
One of ODFW's biologists says that an occasional adult has been found in the Rogue's seine at Huntley Park, but most fish are smaller.
For unknown reasons the Chetco's run doesn't contain any adults. Almost all of the Chetco's shad average between 5 and 7 inches long. Most people think they are just a misshapen herring. Here's how to tell the difference.
A shad has a deeper body than a herring and usually contains between 1 to 7 dark spots along its lateral line, much like a sardine. A herring won't have any spots.
Often you will only see one dark spot near the shad's gill cover. Looking from the head of the fish toward the tail, the row of spots will never extend past the dorsal fin. The sardine's spots, however, extend well beyond the dorsal fin.
But the dead giveaway for identifying shad are the razor-sharp scutes on their bellies. You can easily tell if they are shad by gently stroking their bellies, in front of their anal fins toward their heads. When doing so be very careful because these scutes can cut your finger.
Jigging for baitfish is fun and you're practically guaranteed to catch something. It's a great way to start getting your kids hooked on fishing.
You jig for baitfish using light sinkers, about one-half to three-quarter ounces, and herring jigs. There are two varieties of herring jigs: one with wings and one without wings.
The ones without wings have a series of very tiny beads and seem to catch more sardines and shad. The winged variety also work well. If you're not having very good luck, just tear the wings off.
Anglers are filling their buckets and freezers with baitfish, in the hopes of using them at a later date for lingcod. A fresh 10-inch sardine is practically a guaranteed ling and both herring and shad are also magnificent baits for the toothmeisters.
If you're jigging on the jetty, you might want to carry two rods: one for jigging baitfish, and the other with a single hook to transfer your sardine onto. Last season about this time, Dee Shurtleff hooked a big sardine on the public pier and asked me if I wanted to use it as live bait. The next cast ended up on the inside of a 23 1/2-inch ling's mouth. It was a half-inch too short but it was still a fun fight.
Also be on the lookout for well-defined edges along the baitfish schools. If the bait becomes thick enough near the mouth it will attract feeder salmon. They are probably moving in and out of the estuary at this moment. All it takes is the first person to catch one and then you will have to bring your own rock.
It's also worth mentioning that Caroline Center, a talented local fisher, caught a 14-inch Pacific mackerel a few days ago while jigging for baitfish.
"At first I thought I might have hooked a big jack smelt," she said.
The limit on herring, anchovy, smelt and sardines are 25 pounds per day of the total combined weight.
There is no limit on shad.
Rockfishing, surfperch still great
Anglers were coming into the fillet station with full limits of rockfish. Northwest winds kicked up on Sunday making it difficult to cross the bar. The cans at the station started filling up with striped surfperch (they're evidently not all spawned out yet) and redtails.
By Thursday the ocean started calming down and anglers were again busting a move for Davey Jones' Locker.
Mike Ramsay, from Sporthaven Marina, took family out and limited on some big blacks. Bob Goodman and two friends also massacred limits of the bottom-grabbers.
Andrea from Tidewind Sportfishing reported that Jim was limiting his passengers with easy limits of rockfish and near limits of lings every time he is able to cross the bar. Dennis Salanti from Strictly Salmon is also enjoying great success on rockfish and lings. George Morin from Arizona was also busy filleting limits at the cleaning station.
But the catch of the day came from a regular visitor from the Portland area. Every year when Tyler Fisher visits his grandparents in Brookings he outdoes himself. On Thursday he zoned in on some serious shore-based angling and spanked the black rockfish at Chetco Point using anchovies. He basically one-upped most of the boater's catches.
Expect the rockfishing to remain good all week. If the winds start kicking up, and only if you have a good bar, head out at the crack of dawn and go slightly downhill. Stay close to shore and head for home at the first sign of a whitecap.
The limit is six rockfish; two lingcod per person, per day; 15 surfperch per day. Minimum size on lingcod is 24 inches, 16 inches for cabezon and 10 inches for kelp greenling (sea trout).
The crabbing has been great for those who were laying their pots in 25 to 30 feet off the Best Western Beachfront Inn. Dungeness come in close this time of year, especially when there is a flat-calm sea. Any time you go shallow for crab, be sure to exercise extreme caution.
The best hanging bait is a lingcod, but throw a razor clam or two in your bait jars for scent and watch the crab come to you.
The limit is 12 Dungeness crab per person measured 5 3/4 inches across the inside of the points.
Great minus tides expected for razor clamming
For early risers, Monday, July 24, begins another series of outstanding minus tides for digging razor clams at Myers Creek and Bailey Beach. On Monday the minus tide starts at 6:15 a.m. at a -1.0 and continues through Friday ending with an 8:30 a.m. tide at 0.0. Diggers at Bailey have been taking easier limits.
Myers Creek is located south of Cape Sebastian while Bailey is located a few miles north of Gold Beach just south of Otter Point.
The limit is the first 15 clams taken regardless of size or condition.
The Rogue Bay
Opening day for keeping wild Chinook on the Rogue estuary met with a fair amount of hookups. Some anglers got two fish per boat while others had a goose egg, averaging about one-half fish per boat. Many of the fish that were coming in, however, were button-worthy whoppers.
Salmon aficionados hold buttons in high esteem. The button system breaks down as follows: Any time you weigh in a fish over 30 pounds at Jot's Resort you get a button.
There are three levels of buttons. The bronze button is awarded for fish over 30 pounds, the silver button is given for Chinook over 40 and the gold buttons are reserved for the 50-pound hawgs.
"Since the 15th we've weighed in 15 button fish," said one of the resort workers on Thursday. "So that's 15 button fish in 5 days."
As of Thursday, the largest fish weighed in at Jot's was a 42 1/2-pounder, caught on the 16th by Justin Cuff from Roy, Utah. He caught his fish on a spinner-bait. For his efforts Roy was awarded a silver button.
I fished the Rogue with two friends on Tuesday. Although we didn't hook any fish, others were caught. Skip Baldwin was at the cleaning station with two nice Chinook. One looked like it was about 36 pounds.
In the course of the day, a half-dozen or so salmon were brought to the net. Another met its unfortunate demise at a sea lion's mouth.
The bay is just plugged with bait, which is a good sign. Hundreds of sea gulls, many of them the northern, Franklin gulls were diving on the bait, as were osprey and pelicans. Hopefully the fishing will keep improving.
The limit is two Chinook salmon per day up to Hog Creek.