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Techniques vary based on clarity

On Christmas Eve, Shawn Bridges from Coquille was plunking a Spin-N-Glo from the bank just upriver from Social Security Bar on the Chetco River when he whacked this 14-pound steelhead. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
On Christmas Eve, Shawn Bridges from Coquille was plunking a Spin-N-Glo from the bank just upriver from Social Security Bar on the Chetco River when he whacked this 14-pound steelhead. The Pilot/Larry Ellis

Once again, the Chetco is proving itself to be a world-class river. Every time I visited one of the local plunking spots last week, I either saw a steelhead being caught, or arrived shortly after one was landed. This kind of action is a fish photographers dream.

That is not to say that everybody on the riverbank has been hooking up, but there is enough action going on to keep people from packing it in early and heading for the barn.

Take Christmas Eve for example. Music teacher Shawn Bridges from Coquille decided to pay a visit to the Chetco, where his Spin-N-Glo found the inside of a 14-pound steelhead’s mouth.

The color of the winged bobber wasn’t a typical Chetco steelhead color.  It had a metallic-lime body with chartreuse tiger stripes. Shawn wasn’t using roe with his Spin-N-Glo either, which proves that presentation is more important than using specific colors. 

The key in hooking up is putting your Spin-N-Glo in the middle of a steelhead’s travel lane, and then having the patience to wait for a hook up.

Today and tomorrow, the Chetco is going to be a plunker’s paradise, with flows ranging from 5,200 down to 4,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

On New Year’s Eve, the river should be dropping below 4,000 cfs, which means that side-drifting will be the technique that rules the river.

Generally speaking, boaters don’t usually launch on the Chetco until the river drops to 4,200 cfs, but that rule is not always carved in stone – it’s a general rule of thumb that has merely been a guideline over the years. 

However, a lot of folks will start thinking about side-drifting when the river drops to 5,000 cfs. Everything depends on the clarity of the water.

Take Thursday for instance. On that day, a few boats were side-drifting the Chetco, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few fish caught. But, the river had about 10-inch visibility, and with that kind of turbidity, Mr. Metalhead usually won’t go out of its way to chase down a Puff Ball, primarily because by the time it sees the Puff Ball floating down the river, the bait is usually long gone.

But today could be one of those exceptions where side-drifting at the predicted flow of 5,200 cfs could actually be an effective technique. With two extra days to allow for sediment in the water to dissipate, the Chetco could have between 16 and 24 inches of visibility. If that scenario occurs, there will be enough water clarity to invite a few intrepid souls to side-drift the Chetco.

“With high water, as long as you can get the bait down to where you get a natural presentation, you can catch steelhead side-drifting,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “The fish are going to be next to the bank in the slower water next to shore, right where the plunkers are catching them.”

Martin also indicated, that when the river is above 4,000 cfs, side-drifters will generally do better using slinkies rather than sploosh balls (otherwise known as Plunk-N-Dunks or Mad River Drifters).

With New Year’s Day only 3 days away, don’t forget to buy your 2013 fishing license ($33) and your  combined angling tag ($26). It is also wise to get your shellfish license, as well ($7), since the crabbing has been nothing short of spectacular when anglers have been able to hit the high seas.

Crescent City Harbor has still been kicking out jumbo Dungeness crab, with many crabbers limiting out in 90 minutes. Unless you’re crabbing on Citizen’s Dock or at the B Street Pier, where fishing and crabbing licenses are not required, you will need to purchase at least a 1-day fishing license to crab this California bay. Unless, of course, you already have a California fishing license.

Tight lines!

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