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Plenty of fresh steelhead entering the Chetco River

Salinas, Calif., residents Mike Delaney, left, and Pat Moore whacked these steelies on the Chetco River on Wednesday while fishing with guide Dave Castellanos. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
 

Fishing report for 

Feb. 24-March 1

Last week, two fishermen from Salinas, Calif., had a hankering for catching some fresh steelhead and to enjoy some beautiful scenery. They knew right where to go to enjoy both activities: the Chetco River. 

While fishing with guide Dave Castellanos, owner of Cast Guide Service (smithriverfishing.com), the two steelhead warriors braved frigid winds and dime-sized hail to put the pedal to their metal. But their trip was well worth the drive. Not only did they catch their limit of steelhead, they also got to practice some catch-and-release on other steelies as well. 

 

 Then two other driftboats pulled up to the fish-cleaning facility at the Port of Brookings Harbor. Everyone was grinning ear-to-ear. It was almost a carbon copy of the preceding event.

I know one of those guys in the third driftboat will be back because I thought I heard him distinctly say to pencil him in on the same date next year. Then it hit me. It was February 29 – a leap year day. Did that mean that he would be back in four years? I think not. Everyone had such a good time, I have no doubts that they’ll all be back next year, if not sooner.

People have been asking me if the steelhead run was winding down. I have no reason to believe that this is happening. Fresh fish keep entering the system, both hatchery and wild fish, and spawned-out downers are being caught with frequency.

Last week, the Chetco had risen sharply from 650 cubic feet per second on Tuesday to 1200 cfs on Wednesday. That’s a major rise. Fish don’t usually bite well on a steep rise. But on Wednesday, the water flows only fluctuated 50 cfs or so, which definitely put the steelhead on the bite. 

Steelhead are predictably more aggressive biters when a river levels off or is dropping. When you factor in the equation of having more downers in the system this year than there have been in over a decade, that makes for some pretty spectacular fishing.

Now, when you’re talking about steelhead, a downer is not a bummer. A downer refers to a spawned out steelhead that is on its way back to the ocean. They’re also called down-backs, snakes and tubes, because they have lost their roe and milt. 

They’ve gone through the arduous spawning process, when they bite the least, to floating downriver doing the backstroke. During this stage, they’re doing a lot of resting – and eating! They’re ravenously hungry and extremely aggressive biters. So be on the lookout for things floating downriver, especially if they have a fin attached. Those puppies are downers.

They often will look like pieces of wood just floating downriver. If you see anything like this, be ready to make a cast toward it with a Corky, Puff Ball, Fish Pill – anything that’s attached to your drift-fishing outfit. These things are very aware their environment and will swim 20 feet out of their way to attack your offering.

Truly, I don’t think I have seen this many downers floating down the river in more than a decade. This is a good sign of what is to come because steelhead are repeat spawners. They’ll be back next year, only they will have put on a few extra pounds. From what I’ve seen, I’m predicting that with next year’s combination of fresh incoming metalhead and repeat spawners, 2013 should be a banner year for steelhead on the Chetco.

Yesterday at 1 a.m. the Chetco was on the drop at 1,650 cfs. Today, with predicted calm seas and a bar to match, there should be plenty of fresh steelhead still entering the Chetco, because steelhead will tend to enter a river when the bar is the calmest. 

The National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service Web page has predicted that the Chetco is going to rise to approximately 2,500 cfs on Friday, and drop to 2,000 cfs today. But with no rain in the forecast until at least Monday, I don’t see that that’s going to happen.

With the ground being fully saturated, I think the Chetco will continue dropping this weekend and possibly even level off somewhere between 1,200 and 1,300 cfs, which would still be great water conditions for drift-fishing from the bank or side-drifting from a boat.

~~~

With the first springer of the Rogue River caught by guide Rick Howard on Feb. 20, boaters have been anchoring up in the lower Rogue in hopes of getting their first springer. Normally the first springer of the year isn’t caught until the first week of March, which is this week.

A few anglers who anchored up in the lower Rogue and put out anchovies managed to catch a few springers, and I did hear of one fellow who caught one from the bank at Huntley Park. But overall the fishing was a little on the slow side.

But don’t give up. There should be more fish on the way. With calm seas and a calm bar, a few more springers should theoretically be showing up this weekend. 

The Rogue springer fishery is highly technical fishery. In other words, not everyone is created equal when it comes to springer fishing. So to put the odds in your favor, book a trip with one of the many Rogue River guides who eat, live and breathe for springers.

Right off the bat John Anderson comes to mind. Other superb guides are Greg Eide, Denny Hughson, Sam Waller, Bruce Craviotto, Helen Burns, Jeff Lottis, Mark VanHook, Steve Beyerlin, Jay Lander and a host of others too numerous to mention, but all with mega qualifications.

To attain a more complete list of excellent springer guides, visit goldbeachoregon.com/recreation/fishing.html, or talk to Sam Waller at Jot’s Resort or Jim Carey at the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach.

Springer fishing is not for the person who wants light’s out action all the time. It’s a sit-and-wait fishery. Smart fishermen will ask a lot of questions and take copious notes when talking to their fishing guide. Also know that paying attention to the minutest detail is the key in learning how to fish for springers.

Tight lines!

 

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