By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
When Val Early of earlyfishing.com fished the Chetco on the first day of the Chopper Westbrook Derby, little did she know what was in store for her and her two clients, Kevin Lee from Napa and Jim Rizza, one of her regular customers.
The derby involves fishing both California's Smith River and Oregon's Chetco on alternate days. It used to be called the Cal-Ore Derby. Now it is a series of derbies sponsored by the Friends of Cal-Ore Fish.
But on Friday, the first day of the derby, Lee hooked into the surprise of his life while drifting down the Chetco around Moffet Rock.
Early explained: andquot;We were side-drifting for steelhead when we hooked into a bright 46-inch, 50-pound salmon. We fought it for probably 25 minutes.andquot;
I caught up with Lee and asked him at what point he realized it was a salmon.
Lee laughed and then confessed, andquot;Well, first of all I didn't even realize it was a fish. I thought I had the bottom. And that was for a good couple of minutes. I was getting close to thinking that I would have to break the line, and then the thing moved toward me a bit. So then I was thinking, 'OK, whatever it is, it's flexing toward me, like a big stick.'
andquot;Then it started going back to where it was and I was sure I had a stick. But then it started taking line,and at that point it was obviously a fish.andquot;
After dogging in the same hole for about 15 minutes, the chromer started moving upstream for a while before moving back into its original hole.
andquot;I'd been around the rocks about four times,andquot; Early said. andquot;Finally we were getting down into the flats and it was getting tired, but the wind picked up and was blowing us away from the fish. So I gave the net to Jim and told him, 'When I tell ya', just stick it in the water nice and slow 'n easy.' And - it happened.andquot;
andquot;The hook popped out immediately when it got into the net,andquot; Lee said. andquot;I had maximum tension on it at all times. I think it was on the verge of breaking for about 25 minutes.andquot;
Here's the incredible part of the whole story - the salmon was caught on 8-pound test!
andquot;We weighed it in the net and it bottomed out my 50-pound scale,andquot; Val added.
After a few photos, the fish was released back into the river to hopefully continue spreading the Chinook's magnificent genes.
andquot;It didn't count toward the derby,andquot; Val joked. andquot;The directors decided that a clarification was needed in our rules because that was the first time that a salmon has ever been caught during the derbies.andquot;
It doesn't surprise me that Val put those anglers on that fish. Everybody knows she's one of the best guides in the business, most especially her husband, Gary.
When I first moved to Brookings in '81, there was a regulation stipulating that all salmon had to be released after the first of the year. After several years, the regulation was removed, allowing anglers to keep salmon after January 1.
For a while, I was beginning to think there was a late distinct run of salmon in the Chetco that sort of disappeared with time. But an ODFW biologist later explained to me it was probably just part of the normal bell-shaped distribution of fall Chinook.
andquot;Seeing a bright fish that late is probably a little unusual, but I think every year we see some late runs,andquot; says Todd Confer, District Biologist. andquot;I don't think it's a distinct run, I just think it's the back end of that bell curve.
Although I don't have the names of the winners of the Chopper Westbrook Derby, Val Early reported that a total of 79 fish were caught between the Smith and Chetco rivers (not including the salmon).
The derby was a success with 16 fish caught on the Smith and 63 fish caught on the Chetco. All of the fish were released.
Anglers haul in rockfish, lingcod and perch
Last week the ocean layed down like a sheet of liquid mercury, beckoning anglers out to sea in search of groundfish, and the bottom-grabbers didn't let anyone down.
For several days, anglers were once again lined up elbow-to-elbow at the fillet tables filleting rockfish of all kinds. Black rockfish, blue rockfish, vermilion, grassies, coppers and china cod, as well as plenty of lingasaurs and cabezon were being filleted at the cleaning station.
There were some vermilion that were easily over 10 pounds and one really nice copper rockfish that probably went about 6.
Limits of lingcod were common as were some Pacific sanddabs.
In addition, there were surfperch being filleted left and right, both redtails and striped varieties.
Many of the lings were reported either hitchhiking on other rockfish or a kelp greenling. Most of the larger fish were caught on leadfish weighing between 1 and 3 ounces.
It really didn't matter whether you went uphill, downhill or straight out - fish were everywhere. The ocean was so calm that a few boaters ventured to Mack Arch or out toward the lighthouse.
Now I said andquot;toward the lighthouse,andquot; not andquot;to the lighthouse,andquot; because as everyone knows, California waters are off limits for the moment to the retention of rockfish, lings and cabbies.
From the looks of things, the fishing should be getting better each week.
The crabbing was a little on the slow side last week, with a lot of people moving their pots in shallow when the seas layed down. Still, the average was about one crab per pot. The crab that were caught, however, were pretty good size.
The limit is 12 male Dungeness crab, 5 and 3/4 inches minimum length as measured across the inside of the points.