By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
Get your plunking box in order - the Chetco is rising
Whoa Nellie! It looks like we're going to have an early fall Chinook river fishery this year. It's 3 a.m. Friday morning and I just took a look at the Chetco River water flows. Right now she's at 16,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the graph's climbing vertically. That means the mighty Chetco will probably hit 20,000 cfs or more later today.
High water in October means that all those fish in the ocean are going to probably hightail it upriver, and with a little luck, the plunkers are going to have first crack at some of these 30-pound kings.
A lot of folks may be thinking that this is too early for the river to rise. Actually, when I first moved to Brookings in '81, this was perfectly normal behavior for the Chetco. The first storm always struck the southern Oregon coast after the middle of October and it looks like things may just be back on track.
Compared to the Winchuck and California's Smith River, the Chetco was always the last river to raise and also the last to clear, which is a good thing for us salmon aficionados. We could be in for some really great fishing within the next week or so.
Looking at the Eastern Pacific Water Vapor Loop put out by NOAA, it looks like we might be in for at least a few more days of rain. If that's the case, the Chetco won't start dropping until the middle of the week.
That means this is the perfect opportunity to get your plunking gear and driftfishing gear in order. Start tying some 15-pound test leaders between 18 and 22 inches long and start practicing your egg-loop knots. You can do this while watching your favorite episodes of Fishing The West or Hawg Quest. It's also a great time to start stocking up on some plunkin' goodies like Spin-N-Glos.
This will be the typical river scenario from hence forth: The Chetco will blow out, become brown, muddy and start blowing chunks. If that's the case, stay home, tie some leaders and get your plunking box in order. A well-stocked plunking box contains at least four different color Spin-N-Glos in three different sizes.
You're going to need sizes 2, 4 and 6 in the colors flame chartreuse (a.k.a. stop 'n go or half 'n half), sherbet (a.k.a. Tequila Sunrise), clown and flame tiger stripe. Those colors should get you bit on just about any river, especially the Chetco.
You're also going to need some Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in sizes 1, 1/0 and 2/0. In addition, keep plenty of crane swivels on hand between sizes 5 and 7, and also stock up on those little plastic Slidos that you can get for about a quarter.
You will also need plenty of pancake sinkers between 4 and 8 ounces. Make sure your reel is loaded with plenty of 20- to 25-pound test monofilament because there are times when you will need every last inch of it. Remember, those 30- and 40-pounders in the ocean will be making their way upriver.
The next river phase will be when she starts turning from a brown to a tea-green color. If the river is on the rise, don't head out quite yet. Salmon don't bite well on the Chetco during a rising river. But as soon as she drops below 8,000 cfs and starts turning a pea-green color, head for your favorite plunking spot such as Social Security Hole or the South Bank Pumphouse.
The biggest mistake people make when plunking is throwing out too far. Salmon are basically lazy and will be going up the sides of the river rather than fighting all that white water in the middle. Why go up ten flights of stairs when you can take the escalator? Salmon are a lot like that, too.
Look for current seams and plunk right on the edge, which can sometimes be no further than 6 feet from the bank.
It helps to have a little piece of roe dangling from the end of your winged bobber. But you don't really need roe to catch that first salmon when the water is really colored up. That's when flame tiger stripe can be a killer color. Then after you've caught your first hen, cure up some roe with red Pautzke's Fire Cure.
For many of you, this will be your first experience seeing salmon jam up the sides of the river in throngs. It's strictly an October phenomenon and a really incredible spectacle. Some days they will be porpoising up the river one after the other. The next day you might not see any salmon at all. But it's on the days when you don't see them when you seem to catch the most fish.
I sincerely believe that the reason more fish aren't caught when you see them splashing upriver is because they are becoming airborne in order to jar loose the skeins inside them, so that they will have an easier time spawning.
Sporthaven Marina King Hawg Derby Ends
The Sixth Annual Sporthaven Marina King Salmon Hawg Derby ended Sunday with many fish tipping the scales at over 40 pounds. I personally witnessed a 50-pound Chinook being filleted that was not entered in the derby. If it had been, the owner would have taken first.
Before the final awards were given away, a banquet was held for the contestants and their spouses. Everyone feasted on appetizers, kielbasas and porkchops cooked by Sporthaven's owners Mike and Kathy Ramsay. A plethora of delicious side dishes and deserts complimented the main course.
When the banquet was over, drawings for door prizes furnished by the Ramsays were given away.
First place for biggest fish went to Randy Tracy with a 48-pound, 9-ounce Chinook. Sam McKeen finished second with his 48-pound, 7-ounce king and the third place finisher was Jerry Mangono with a strapping 44-pound, 8-ounce hawg.
It's now 4:20 a.m. and the Chetco has now hit 22,700 cfs, and she's still rising. Will she hit 25,000 cfs by Saturday? As you can tell, I'm getting rather excited for this last couple weeks of October fishing. All we need now is a little cooperation from Mother Nature.
Last but not least, don't forget a good sturdy rod holder to put your favorite stick in while spinning a few home-spun fabrications with your fishing buddies.