By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
Fishing report for the week of March 9 through March 15
There are rumors flying around that the Chetco's steelhead run is over and done with. Guide Hal Borg from Medford dispelled that rumor on day one of the Hank Westbrook Derby when he put his clients on two fish over 20 pounds. Actually, one fish came to the net, the other one sawed the leader in two. The fish that was landed was promptly released afterward.
The red flag that the run is starting to dwindle would be the arrival of the bluebacks. In our neck of the woods, a blueback is a fresh steelhead that has a distinctive bluish back as opposed to a mint-green back. It's back sparkles like thousands of blue topaz scales in the sun. All of the old timers will tell you that the blueback run is a very distinctive run of steelhead.
Locals on the Smith River in California also call these fish bluebacks and they also believe it signifies the last, if not one of the last, runs to come up the Smith. Our Chetco season ends March 31 while the Smith's season keeps on going into April.
There is a theory that steelhead develop that distinctive back in the springtime the reason being, steelhead are exposed to more hours of daylight during spring. It actually makes a lot of sense that there could be an environmental cause for this phenomenon. I would have stuck with that theory had I not seen bluebacks mixed in with the chromers this past November, which contains less hours of sunlight per day.
I guess until some ground-breaking scientist figures out how to do a double-blind, peer-reviewed study surrounding the mystery of the bluebacks, and gets a major article published in Nature, the theory of how bluebacks come about will just have to remain an enigma.
Interestingly, there are other species of fish that are also nicknamed bluebacks' throughout the Pacific Northwest. For instance, as you travel further up the coast, people start calling sea-run cutthroats bluebacks.
On day two of the Hank Westbrook Derby (also called The Raider Derby'), I drove up to Loeb State Park to get a few photos. Little did I know that the dice were going to roll in my favor. As luck would have it, the legend himself, General Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, was devouring a chili dog at the lunch wagon, courtesy of the Brookings Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
General Yeager was fishing with his friend Dan Kevorkian along with guide Kim Hagen of Hagen's Guide Service.
At another table sat former Raider Vance Mueller. Soon another former Raider, Raymond Chester, joined them. Not long afterward, MacArthur Lane pulled up in a drift-boat and sauntered over to the picnic tables.
The highlight was when someone looked upriver and said, "Hey, Jack's got one on."
The significance of this event was mind-boggling. It wasn't surprising that veteran guide Jack Hanson of Jack's Guide Service put one of his clients, Ron Davison, on a scrappy metalhead. Jack's the best in the business. What was surprising was being able to capture the fight, the landing, the pose and the subsequent release of the steelhead in front of everyone there at Loeb. It was truly an amazing day.
Since 100 percent of these fish are released back into the rivers, it is extremely rare to be able to get a photograph of any derby fish let alone a close up of a pose and a release!
Lingcod biting on anything and everything
Now is the time to have some rod-bending, thumb-burning action on lingcod. Anglers who have lucked into a flat ocean have reported the lingcod bite to be flat-out stellar. Almost all boats have gone uphill, toward Twin Rocks and House. The main reason for the hot bite has to do with their spawning cycle.
After the females lay their eggs, the males follow hard on their heels, most often more than one to guard the nests. Sometimes you will find up to 10 males or more guarding the nests. This is the time when it doesn't matter what you throw at 'em. They'll snap at anything that gets in their way.
Leadfish, twin-tail plastics or shrimp flies choose your favorite weapon and bombs away! Individual anglers have been reporting 10 to 15 fish days.
Perch bite awesome
Shore-based anglers and some jetty fishermen have been scoring radically on redtails and striped perch.
One local surfperch aficionado has been cleaning up on the flat-siders.
"Froy says the perch fishing off the jetties has been dynamite," says Mike Ramsay of Sporthaven Marina. "He says he has to stop and only take home what he can clean, because it's way more fish than he wants."
Here's a classic example where one can easily catch a bucket full of perch every time one went fishing, but Froy chooses to take home only what he can eat. The reduction in the bag limit from 25 to 15 was one of the best laws ODFW changed. The old adage, "Limit your catch, don't catch your limit" is Froy's motto. If more anglers followed Froy's lead, there would be more fish available for everyone else.
The Brookings north jetty and the beach uphill from the jetty has been producing most of the striped perch, but there are also reports of anglers catching fish about one-half mile uphill from the Winchuck Wayside on the north side. Shrimp is the best bait used on a number 4 or 6 hook. Remember to fish the incoming tide, about three hours before high up through high slack, and then an hour after the tide starts receding.
Rockfishing has also been phenomenal. Some very large blacks as well as some nice vermilion have been coming to the cleaning station. This is practically a repeat performance of last year. If this action keeps up, we'll be fishing all year long. I don't see how we could top last year but it looks like the fishing just might step up a notch.
As of this writing, two springers have also been caught in the lower Rogue. It's going to be a great season.
Fish on and tight lines to all!