Fisherman Larry Ellis, right, catches a late winter steelhead on the Rogue River while fishing with guide Jay Lander. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
Anglers who took advantage of calm seas last week were rewarded with limits of rockfish, lingcod and cabezon. For most of the week, fishermen were lined up elbow-to-elbow at the Port of Brookings Harbor fillet station.
Included in anglers’ bags were a variety of exotic rockfish, including some big Chinas and vermilion, as well as plenty of black rockfish. When I got to the fillet station on Saturday, the fish barrels were overflowing with filleted carcasses.
Anglers caught their rockfish on a variety of lures and baits, including shrimp flies, twin-tail scampis, grubs and leadfish.
In addition to the rockfish and lingcod, surf anglers who tried their luck at local area beaches brought home limits of striped surfperch. The most popular bait for the flat-siders is still raw shrimp.
For the best bang for your buck, buy frozen, raw shrimp, the kind that says “50-60” to the bag, which costs between $6 and $7. I buy the Kroger brand of shrimp at Fred Meyer and I find that it works as good as any other bait.
This week, the peak of high tide will be favoring late Saturday and Sunday evenings, with high slack becoming ideal in the mornings as the week progresses.
The Rogue River still continued to kick out some spring Chinook plus a few late-run winter steelhead. On Monday of last week I had a chance to fish with one of the Rogue River’s most successful fishing guides, Jay Lander (jaysrogueriverguideservice).
Fishing in Jay’s 21-foot Sundown sled is fishing in comfort. It’s equipped with a canopy and heater; nobody ever freezes in this boat. What I really like about this rig is that it was built by Sundown Boat Works, a local-area business that has built boats for over 20 years in Gold Beach.
Like many Rogue River fishing guides, Jay cooks breakfast for his guests. After an hour of waiting for the first biter, fresh eggs, potatoes and sausage really hits the spot on these trips.
The water temperature was just starting to become favorable for a springer bite, but it was the late-run winter steelhead I was hoping to hook up with. I got my wish when a chrome-bright hatchery fish whacked one of Jay’s homemade spinners and immediately peeled off 40 yards of line.
Bud Warren (budsrogueriverfishingguide.com), who accompanied us on the trip, broke away from anchor so we could drift downriver to fight the fish.
Because of the fish’s initial burst of speed, we first thought it was a springer, but after getting the fish close to the boat, we realized it was one of those late-run winter steelhead I was hoping for. After a 10-minute battle, Jay scooped up the 10-pound hatchery fish in the net.
In my opinion, the lower Rogue puts out the best-tasting steelhead and springers in Oregon. But in order to make sure to have the best-quality product possible, Jay bled the fish and hung it over the side on a tethered line.
I was quite impressed with this technique. This procedure allows the fish to fully bleed out, much better than any other bleeding practice I’ve ever seen. After about 20 minutes, Jay stuck the fish in an ice-filled fish box so that its body temperature could cool down rapidly and remain below 40 degrees.
I am absolutely convinced that this is the best way to care for your steelhead. After our trip was over, I transferred the fish to my cooler and filleted it at home.
Another thing I like to do is to remove the pin bones from the fillets. It’s a pleasure to eat a steelhead that has absolutely no bones in its flesh. As described in a previous article, the pin bones run down the fillet about two-thirds of its length. It’s not all that hard to remove pin bones, although some people make it sound much more difficult than it actually is.
Depending on how well the fish has been filleted, each fillet will contain between 28 and 35 pin bones. To reveal the pin bones, gently stroke the fillet with your fingertip, from the head portion toward the tail. This exposes all of the pin bones.
Now, simply take a pair of needle-nose pliers and pull each pin bone in the direction of the fillet’s head. Figuring that it might take about 4 seconds per pin bone, removing all of these bones from one fillet only takes 2.3 minutes at the most.
The results of a properly-cared for fillet with no pin bones is evidenced at first bite. I sautéed my fillets in butter over very low heat to prevent the butter from burning. I put the cover on the pan to accelerate the cooking process, which only took around 15 minutes.
When my mom tried the fillet, she remarked that it was the best fish she ever tasted, commenting that it tasted just like trout. And well it should. After all, a steelhead is a sea-run rainbow.
Since these late-run winter steelhead are being caught in the spring, I call them spreelhead, or spreelies.
But back to the fishing trip. As afternoon rolled around, the water warmed up to 48 degrees, the temperature when spring Chinook first start to remember that they do bite.
Once again, the silence was interrupted as the port rod went off, with a fish peeling off 50 yards of line. Unfortunately the treble hook didn’t stick on this one. When I reeled in the rod, there wasn’t anything left on the hook but the bait’s mouth. Now, I’ve heard about ripping the lips off of a fish, but in this case, a springer ripped the fish off its lips.
As the week progressed and the river warmed up to 51 degrees, the springer bite warmed up as well. When I got to the Rogue on Wednesday, Jay had just put two springers in the box and had released one wild Chinook. His clients, Gordon and Jeanne Benton, both from Fort Collins, Colorado, each took home a 28-pound springer – and a happy grin that would remain on their faces for at least a week.