Steelhead anglers who have dreaded fishing the low water flows and gin-clear conditions on the Chetco River for the last three weeks can now look forward to fishing in higher flows that not only make their lures work at their best abilities, but also produce more strikes due to turbid water conditions making fish less wary.
Last week, welcome rain produced by several weak cold fronts raised the Chetco River to 4,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Thursday, creating picture-perfect river conditions for steelheaders using a multitude of fishing methods.
On Wednesday, even on a rapidly rising river, fishermen plunking from the bank at locations such as Social Security Bar, the North Fork Pump House, Willow Bar and Loeb State Park were able to put the hurtin' on some chrome-bright metalheads using flame/chartreuse- and sherbet-colored Spin-N-Glos. Boaters were also able to sock it to the steelies using side-drifting and plug-pulling techniques.
Now that the ground is fully saturated, it doesn't take much rain to raise the river and maintain it at its most ideal flow, which for the Chetco seems to be between 2,500 and 4,000 cfs.
This week, the National Weather Service has predicted similar rainy conditions, so my best guess is that the Chetco will continue rising and lowering throughout the weekend and into next week as well, but only on a much smaller scale.
Most likely, the Chetco will be fluctuating between 3,000 and 4,200 cfs throughout the week, an ideal situation for utilizing most steelhead techniques.
As the water clears later this week, most boaters will be side-drifting Puff Balls-and-roe combos, or pulling plugs like Yakima Bait's 3.5-inch MagLips, or Brad's Wigglers and Wee Wigglers.
Look for the cones
Anglers should also keep an eye out for red cones and yellow signs indicating that the angler-caught donation program is in effect in that particular section of the river. If you catch a wild steelhead, you may donate the fish toward the angler-donation program, and the fish will not count against your daily bag limit.
"We're going to continue taking angler-donated steelhead through Feb. 15," says John Weber, STEP Biologist for the southern Oregon coast. "I would like to encourage folks to participate in this great community effort. We're about two-thirds of the way to meeting our goal of steelhead brood collection. Right now we're at about 69 fish and about 40 of those were angler donations."
Steelhead anglers on the lower Rogue River have been still whacking some nice fresh chrome-bright steelhead by anchoring up sleds and setting out plugs like Brad's Wigglers and Wee Wigglers, or 3.5-inch MagLips. But with increasing river flows, plunkers from the bank have been getting a piece of the action as well.
"We did get enough rain to color things up and bring the water level up a bit (from 5,500 to 10,500 cfs), so I'm hearing some interesting reports from the bank guys," said Larry Cody from the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach on Thursday.
The Rogue is predicted to keep rising toward 8.2 feet, or 14,500 cfs on Saturday night/Sunday morning, so the plunkers should start hammering their metal as the river drops this coming week.
The ocean has been a little on the rough side this past week and is expected to remain so through the middle of the week. So if you want to do some serious crabbing, either head to the B Street Pier in Crescent City (no license required here), or head up to Charleston Harbor, which in my opinion has the best bay crabbing on the coast. Big bays like Charleston tend not to have as much fresh water influence as other bays.
"Joe Cook at The Bite's On in Charleston Harbor (Coos Bay) has reported that they're having a banner situation on crab," notes Cody. "They're getting some real big Dungeness and some of the biggest red rock crab I've ever seen."