By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
The red can buoy outside the Port of Brookings
In spite of inclement weather and rough seas, hordes of anglers trolled outside the jetty jaws of the Port of Brookings Harbor in the hopes of landing a trophy Chinook of a lifetime. Except for one day (when the bar was closed), up to 75 boats at a time gathered around the east side of the red can buoy.
Day by day, more salmon are stacking up as the monster 'nooks head into the Chetco estuary and tidewater holes at high tide and slide back out to sea as the tide ebbs.
Typically for October, 30-pound Chinook are always the norm, but many salmon over 40 pounds have been weighed in on a daily basis. Even some brutes over 50 have even been reported.
In addition, larger fish keep tipping the scales at Sporthaven Marina's King Salmon Hawg Derby.
"We have a new leader on the board," said Kathy Ramsay, co-owner of Sporthaven Marina. "It is 48-pounds 7-ounces caught by Sam McKee."
That statement was made on Thursday. It is very likely that a salmon over 50 pounds will break McKee's derby fish's weight by the time this article comes out on Saturday.
Not everyone wetting a line, however, has caught salmon. The fact is, anglers have had to work darned hard for their fish this year. About one out of 10 to 15 boats have brought fish to the fillet tables. But that's why they call it fishing' and not catching.' Anyway, things could be worse it could be the other way around.
Just put yourself in a salmon's place. Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean between 2 and 5 years. You have literally feasted like a king (pun intended) between 730 and 1,825 consecutive days. Now Mother Nature's suddenly thrown a switch that's caused your senses to start honing in on the scent of your native birth-waters.
Your throat has swelled up to the point where you couldn't swallow a guppy if you wanted to. It's kinda like getting your tonsils yanked out and being promised all that ice cream, but you find out you couldn't eat it if you wanted to because your throat is too sore.
Has your innate desire to scarf on baitfish suddenly going to go away? No way! If anything, you're still going to want to snap at an anchovy out of habit. And that's how these big guys and gals outside the red can are being hooked by sheer instinct.
Compound that feeding factor by 75 boats trolling up to four different baits. The salmon are being bombarded by over 300 baitfish and most of them look exactly like each other. What's going to make you suddenly gobble up one of those baits? Maybe something that looks just a little bit out of the ordinary. Something that looks more wounded than the rest.
Therefore it might be worthwhile to start mixing things up a little bit. You still have today and tomorrow to try and throw these nooks a curve before the season closes down and everyone starts hitting the estuary.
So try using really big herring, like the ones that come five to the pack. Other anglers have been killing their kings using small mackerel. You can also try trolling Apex lures. As discussed in last week's column, you could also try using cable-baiters or crowbars. Or how about an E-Chip? The ball is in your court. You're only limited to your imagination.
After the ocean season ends on Sunday, anglers are going to be concentrating their efforts in the Chetco estuary trolling anchovies, herring, Rogue Bait Rigs and home-tied spinnerbait rigs. It's also a good time to start bobber fishing some upper tidewater spots like Morris Hole, the South Bank Pumphouse and Tide Rock using sand shrimp and roe.
Mouth of the Smith River
Every river guide who fishes the Chetco fishes the Smith and Klamath Rivers. The Smith River mouth is only 5 miles south of the border and the bite has been very good at times. You'll need a California license to fish here.
The best time to hit the mouth is on an outgoing tide and as it pushes toward low slack. About an hour before low slack the river-mouth forms a groove. You can really hammer some big kings at this spot by casting three-quarter-ounce gold Kastmasters and 1-ounce chrome Krocodiles.
Be very careful when fishing the Smith. It doesn't have protective jetties like the Chetco, so sneaker waves can come up from behind at any moment.
Slowly reel your lure all the way to the bank before pulling it out of the water. Salmon are known to appear out of nowhere and smack your spoon inches away from the bank.
Klamath River Chinook and steelhead
California's Klamath River has literally been on fire.
According to Sara Borok, California Fish and Game biologist and head of the Klamath River Project, you are allowed a total of three combined adult and jack Chinook, of which only two may be adults over 22 inches. In addition, you can also harvest one hatchery steelhead. Many anglers have had no problem limiting out.
Last week the Klamath mouth plugged up which caused thousands of fish to stack up in the ocean. The water levels kept building.
"And then overnight it just blew out a new hole, so now the river's going straight out," says Jim Bansemer of goldriverguides.com. "The fishing's been pretty stellar, and I'm staying low, below Starwin."
Bansemer suggests trolling the bay with anchovies or CV-7 spinners for the kings.
"If they go upriver I suggest side-drifting roe and a Puff Ball," Bansemer added.
Fly fishing for half-pounders and steelhead up to 12 pounds is also solid upriver from Blakes Riffle to Blue Creek using Brindle Bugs, Silver Hiltons, Mossbacks and the Herniators. "We're swinging through the tail-outs using floating fly line. They come right up for them," comments Bansemer.
Twenty miles upriver, Rich Mossholder of riverswestoutfitters.com operates a lodge only accessible by jet boats.
"Since the mouth blew out, the fishing on the Klamath has been phenomenal," Mossholder says. "We're averaging at least 20 fish a day. And those fish are chrome-bright. They still have sea lice all over 'em."
Anglers have been whacking Indian Creek Chinook as well as coho salmon that are starting to stage at the mouth of Indian Creek. Think "bright" when it comes to coho. Reds, pinks, oranges, you get the picture. Chinook like bright things as well. You might try dyeing your anchovies pink, or even chartreuse.