You never know when it's going to rain in Oregon. Last week's front dropped out of the air and caused the Chetco River to rise to almost 14 feet last Monday, which translates to 23,500 cubic feet per second.
That early-October rise also sparked a lot of controversy among local fishing enthusiasts as to whether or not the Chetco River above river mile 2.2 should open early, as opposed to waiting for the slated opener on November 2. According to the area's district fisheries biologist, that's not going to happen.
"Are we going to open (the Chetco River) based on this rain event? No," said Todd Confer, district fisheries biologist for Curry County's southern Oregon coast. "Just because the flows came up in late September doesn't mean that the flows are going to be up in the middle of October for those fish to be able to move upriver. In our opinion, it's just too early to make that call. We need to wait and have some certainty at what levels the flows are going to be between the 15th of October till the end of October."
Good call, Mr. Confer. Historically, when the local area gets a freshet in late September and early October, the river flows come back to normal within a week, due to the ground not being fully saturated. And according to data given by the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrological Prediction Services, the Chetco's river flows are predicted to be in the 600-cfs range by next Monday, October 7.
Some anglers are also of the opinion that a big rain such as what happened last weekend triggers all the salmon to move from the ocean and head upriver. But in reality, the only fish that made tracks for their happy spawning grounds were only the fish that were already in the bay, and possibly a few more ocean fish that were already working the tide numerous times.
"The bulk of the fish aren't even going to be in the river yet," emphasized Confer last week. "Are there a few fish in the river? Probably. Are they going to move on up? Probably. But typically, we don't see big numbers of Chinook even entering tidewater for another couple weeks. So it's pretty unlikely that the bulk of the population's going to shoot by, because undoubtedly, it's just way too early for them."
And that's how Mother Nature takes care of her own. If an entire run of salmon shot upriver just because of one high-water event - and an early one at that," there would be too many salmon spawning in the same area, and that doesn't make any sense at all. Typically, the jacks always enter the river first, and by October 15, the big boys are starting to load up the holes in upper tidewater.
Luckily for folks fishing in the ocean during the Chetco bubble fishery which is taking place October 1-13, the Chetco has been true to her historical form. The first day where folks could start trolling the ocean was on Wednesday, when several fish over 20 pounds were caught. Thursday also proved to be a good day as well, with guide Andy Martin limiting out his four clients on some nice chrome-bright kings. One of those salmon weighed over 30 pounds according to my Berkley digital scale.
"We had a double first thing in the morning," said Martin, who caught all his fish on cut-plug purple label herring.
Martin got most of his fish in 80 feet of water between the red can and the whistle buoy, slow-trolling the large herring between 25- and 35-feet deep, which is typical for this particular fishery.
As far as the Chetco Hawg Derby which is run by Howard and Cindy Jones, owners of Sporthaven Marina, folks are already being written down on the leader board. As of Friday afternoon, Marshall Maze, of Brookings, was in the lead with his 33-pound king. But barring a tsunami or a hurricane, that will change as more fish start grouping up outside the jaws of the Port of Brookings Harbor.
According to Larry Cody, of the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach, the Rogue Bay has experienced some very good days, with both Chinook and coho being caught. Anglers are also catching salmon in select areas further upriver as well.