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On the Water: Fish the correct depth for best success

Fishermen line the Chetco River, almost elbow to elbow during the opening week to fish for Chinook salmon. With fish waiting for higher water flows to continue up river, the fishermen are out in droves to take advantage. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
Fishermen line the Chetco River, almost elbow to elbow during the opening week to fish for Chinook salmon. With fish waiting for higher water flows to continue up river, the fishermen are out in droves to take advantage. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
“I got one,” one angler exclaimed last Monday on the north bank of Social Security Bar after the Chetco River opened for the retention of Chinook above river mile 2.2 on November 2.

“No you don’t — you got me,” said another angler directly across from him on the south side of the river.

Actually, both anglers were fighting a different fish on that particular occasion. But with anglers fishing elbow-to-elbow within very tight quarters, tangles were common during the opening week. Often, fish were hooked within minutes from each other.

Because of extremely low water conditions, Chetco River Chinook are kegging up in the deeper holes. Estimates of 100 fish being in one particular fishing spot were not uncommon, as proved last week when ODFW again seined for the Chetco Broodstock Program.

“We went down there (Social Security Bar) and collected some brood today,” said ODFW fisheries biologist Steve Mazur on Thursday. “We collected about 11 fish but we sorted through about 110 fish.”

Understandably, when ODFW starts collecting broodstock, the fishing in the surrounding area starts dropping off, but Mazur said that, nevertheless, there were still a lot of hookups. That tells you that fish are stacking up like cordwood in some of these holes.

In fact, this is probably the first year that I recall in my 33 years of living in the local area that prams with fly fishermen were lined up as high as Loeb State Park.

It was not uncommon to land a fish and find multiple hooks and lures inside and outside the mouth, pieces of metal decorating the sides of their mouths like badges of courage.

During these low-water conditions, and especially with fish kegged up like sardines in some of the holes, it is not uncommon to hook a fish other than inside of its mouth. Legally, an angler can only keep a fish that is hooked inside the mouth. Inside the mouth does not mean “in or around the mouth.” Inside the mouth means inside the mouth. If you happen to accidentally snag a fish outside its mouth, please turn it loose.

I can tell you for a fact that there are ways of getting these fish to bite.

One of the ways is to use some type of spoon such as a Kastmaster, Little Cleo or Krocodile that has been painted with glow-in-the-dark paint, or attach glow-in-the-dark tape to the spoon itself. This method only works for about 60 to 90 minutes though, and you have to be fishing at a particular time of day.

Legally, you can start fishing for Chinook one hour before sunrise. During that time, it’s pretty dark outside, and if you flash one of these spoons with a super-bright flashlight, they will suck it down their throats. About 30 minutes after sunrise, forget about chucking metal and use bobbers-and-bait.

My good friend Mark Gasich is one of the best bobber men on the river.

“I hooked 34 fish using bobbers-and-roe and landed 27 on opening day,” said Gasich.

This is where using fluorocarbon leader really shines. Hooking up a bobber correctly is critical in getting fish to bite. If a fish hits a bait below a bobber, it is going to be fair hooked.

Great baits for using with slip bobbers are roe (clusters about the size of a nickel), anchovies and sand shrimp.

In fact, I’ve done quite well using just anchovy tails fished upside down, that is, with the tail up and lower body dangling.

Sand shrimp work really well, and since the local tackle stores do not carry live sand shrimp, I suggest going up to Bandon and buying a couple dozen from Tony Roszkowski at Port ‘O Call Bait and Tackle. When I talked to Tony on Thursday, he had about 60 cartons. But, to make sure that they have a supply, before you go up to Bandon I suggest calling the store at 541-290-2293.

Sand shrimp work extremely well when used in conjunction with roe, what the locals call “sand shrimp cocktails”.

The biggest mistake people make when using slip bobbers is not being at the correct depth. Most of the time they are fishing too shallow. You want to adjust the depth of your bait using your bobber stop so that your bait is fairly close to the bottom.

At first, adjust your bobber stop so that the bait is lying on the bottom. You’ll know when it is doing this when your bobber is laying on its side. Make bobber stop adjustments from there until the bobber rights itself. If you don’t get bit, make subtle adjustments inch-by-inch until your bait is in the strike zone.

Tight lines 

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