Nick Amato (right), editor of Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine fished on Thursday with Larry Ellis and guide Andy Martin (left) when he caught this 34-pound Chinook in the upper Chetco River. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
Fishing report for
The Chetco River’s entire main stem opened last Saturday, and although the water flow was only at 159 cubic feet per second, anglers caught fish in lower tidewater at other various locations.
Social Security Bar (SSB) was plugged with fish as well as fishermen, and anglers who got there at first light and threw Kastmasters painted with glow-in-the-dark paint or phosphorescent tape caught fish at first legal light.
After the sun hit the water, those who were lucky enough to have found live sand shrimp also were able to get the salmon to bite. Sand shrimp sold off the shelves in most tackle shops that carried them and by Sunday it was hard to find them; however, anglers who used bobber-and-anchovies, or bobbers-and-eggs were able to get some very nice kings to the bank.
I saw quite a few salmon landed at SSB. Some were fair hooked while others were foul hooked. For the most part, anglers patrolled each other, and practically all of the fish that weren’t fair hooked inside the mouth were released back into the Chetco, along with a salmon that probably went an easy 50 pounds.
Morris Hole was another popular spot, but mainly for prams that had fly fishermen in them. During the entire week, Morris was lined up from one end to the other with prams so thick you could walk across them.
Then the effect of recent rain began to manifest itself. On Sunday the river rose to 2,520 cfs and the fish began leaving the lower tidewater holes and entered the upper main stem. Even with a muddy river, some anglers were able to find isolated areas where they could back-troll Kwikfish or FlatFish, or back-bounce roe.
Monday was probably the best day of the year, with river flows averaging 1,500 cfs. But with little rain in the forecast, the Chetco gradually began dropping back to its original flow. Then as the week progressed, it slowly dropped toward 300 cfs.
Morris Hole became jammed to the hilt with prams, which is historically the personality of the Chetco during late October, a phenomenon that is usually over and done with when the first major storm hits in November. But here it was, November 9, and the river was continuing to drop.
I began worrying that a friend of mine who was I was scheduled to fish with on Wednesday and Thursday would not find sufficient enough flows to make his trip from Portland worthwhile, yet Nick Amato, the editor of Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, who had not yet fished the Chetco, wanted to experience this great river, regardless whether or not fish were caught.
Paul LeFebvre, local fishing enthusiast, said that the action at the Smith River was quite good and there were fish stacked like cordwood in all of the major holes, so Nick and I made tracks for the Ship Ashore Resort late Wednesday night to purchase our one-day license and required salmon tag.
Now I’ve seen some pretty interesting-looking salmon tags, but California has really gone over the top on these things. Without a doubt, they could easily qualify for a new Guinness World Record for the longest salmon tags in the world.
The entire tag is over 3 feet long – no joke! I had to take a few things out of my wallet in order to make room for it. By the time you’ve taken this multi-folded monstrosity out of your wallet, it looks just like an accordion. When I first took it out of my wallet, I felt like I could start bellow-shaking the melody to Lady of Spain.
Anyway, Paul, Nick and I launched at Ruby Van Deventer State Park at first light and began back-bouncing roe and even back-trolled some sardine-wrapped Kwikfish. Although there were fish rolling all around us, no fish were caught, so we proceeded downriver to find some willing biters.
When we got to one of the more popular holes, there were more salmon frequenting the spot than Carter’s got pills, with loads of fresh, bright fish coming through. We were using roe floated up with a cocktail marshmallow. Within 10 seconds of my first cast I was doing battle with the chromer of a lifetime. In everyone’s estimation, the fish must have weighed in excess of 50 pounds. After a 45-minute battle, the hook straightened out and the fish to get away.
Then we proceeded to have what I consider was one of the best days ever recorded on the Smith River. Nick, Paul and I continued hooking fish, after fish, after fish. By the end of the day I had landed a 40-pound-plus Chinook on 10-pound-test that was shiny with a slight tint of bronze. At the Brookings fillet station, it filleted out nicely and had flesh the color of beets.
But Nick wanted to experience the Chetco on Thursday, fish or no fish, and the flow had abated to 420 cfs. Andy Martin, our host, had a few tricks up his sleeve for fishing the upper Chetco.
This was the first time Nick had fished the Chetco, and the first time I had ever fished the upper River during extremely low flows, but under the expert oarsmanship of Martin, we were able to deploy several different fishing methods including back-bouncing roe and pulling plugs like M2 FlatFish.
With the river now narrower, there were still plenty of long slots over 10 feet deep, plenty of tail-outs, pools and lots of chutes. We probably saw over 200-moving salmon, at least one-third of them as fresh as they were when they entered the river.
We fished from sunup to sundown and ended up hooking several salmon in an aquarium-clear environment.
Martin’s expert fishing skills salvaged a fishing trip by fishing the upper Chetco in the Wild and Scenic Section. I only advise the more experienced boaters to do this float under low flows, because you will definitely have to get out of your boat and pull it through at least six low spots.
Rain is expected this week and into next weekend, so pray for more rain, do a rain-dance or spit in the air. When the river finally rises between 2,000 and 5,000 cfs, the Chetco will be on fire.