BY LARRY ELLIS
Dead fish tell many tails. As Brian Bullock, writer extraordinaire and former Curry Coastal Pilot reporter once told me, you could write an accurate and enthusiastic high school baseball article never having even been to the game. All you need as an accurate stat report.
The same thing could be said about fishing. You can actually write an accurate and enthusiastic fish report as well, just by just looking inside the barrels at the fish cleaning station here at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
In this case the filleted carcasses were the local stats. And last week you could have filled a short library with plenty of tall tales just based on scaly remnants, never having seen or spoken to one angler.
Fortunately I was at the cleaning station when many fish were being filleted. Just about every variety of fish was well represented.
The river and ocean conditions were perfect. The Chetco had a variety of river fluctuations where boaters could effectively back-bounce, back-troll, bobber fish, side-drift or boon-doggle.
Needless to say, there were plenty of Chinook caught. True to typical November form, lots of fish in the 20-pound category bit the dust as well as quite a few pushing the 30-pound mark.
There were also reports of sea-run cutthroat being caught as well, and plenty of them. This was a puzzling but welcome surprise, because for a while it was like, "Where did all the cutthroat go"?
Then in a recent conversation, Rhine Messmer, Recreational Fisheries Biologist for ODFW shed a little light on the subject. He told me that there is good information showing that sea-run cutthroat abundance is affected by ocean productivity, and that based on upwelling cycles with cool-water regimes off the coast, the fish have responded favorably.
In short that means that sea-run cutts behave much like a salmon. The better the ocean conditions are, the better the runs will be. With the last two years of favorable upwelling and excellent feed conditions in the ocean, they may have made a miraculous comeback.
We shall see when the trout season opens on the Chetco in 2009. You can bet I'll be reeling in a few bullhead fillets to see if they get hammered by an aggressive cutthroat.
In addition to the cutthroat, a few anglers were seen sauntering around the Chetco sporting a few steelhead.
Generally speaking, the metalheads don't usually start trickling into the system until the first rain in December, but this year they seem to be coming in a bit early, and that suits me just fine.
A lot of the locals look forward to fishing on Thanksgiving Day in the hopes of slaying the fatted ironhead. Right now there is no immediate rain in the forecast, but as is often said in Brookings, "If you don't like the weather, stick around. It could change tomorrow."
There were several days in the ocean last week when the seas laid down like a sheet of liquid mercury. This prompted several sportboat operators to head as far uphill as House Rock in search of lingasaurs.
On Tuesday Mike Ramsay from Sporthaven Marina took family and friends aboard his boat the Mad Mackerel and put the hurtin' on some serious lingage up at House Rock.
November is normally a great month for getting big lings, and after October's slow run it was good to hear the humming of electric fillet knives again at the cleaning station.
In addition to the lings, there were lots of big black rockfish brought to the fillet tables as well.
The highlight of the week was when Sanddab, a local fishing enthusiast brought in 10 gorgeous redtail surfperch. These puppies were all good size slabs, with one going well over 2 pounds and the rest approaching the 2-pound mark.
The flat-siders were caught uphill from the mouth of the Winchuck on little pieces of shrimp on number 10 hooks.
Sanddab said he hooked one fish that hit his rig and took off like a freight train and wasn't stopping for nuttin'.
If you talk to one person about the best size hook to use for surfperch, you may get a response ranging from size 10s to size 4s. It's been my personal experience that smaller hooks will hook most fish regardless of their size. It's up to the angler to finesse the fish to the bank.
Some of the guys justifying using size 4 hooks will say that anything else that steals the bait wasn't worth keeping. But then there are days when surfperch are very light biters, regardless of their size. So using a small hook makes good sense and actually acts as a buffer just in case the bait-stealers are short-striking or not inhaling the bait very far.
So to sum up the week, there were plenty of Chinook caught, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, lingcod, black rockfish and redtail surfperch. I'd say that's a pretty good variety and a darned good week.
There should still be another week or 10 days left of Chinook fishing before the steelhead runs begin taking over.
If you pay close enough attention to the rhythm of the river, you begin to see that there is an orderly procession of nature that rules a stream.
Steelhead always come in hard on the heels of salmon. The main reason is because they are picking off single eggs that are drifting away from the salmon redds. The metalheads pick off the eggs one at a time as fast as they can.
That's why you see more aggressive steelhead caught in the beginning of the season by side-drifting single Puff Balls, Corkies and beads.
This makes the tail-outs of redds great places to target. Do not target the redds themselves; you want the salmon to spawn. Just target the seams immediately downstream from the redds. That's where drifting a single Corky with a little bit of yarn can bring home the chrome.