Recent low-pressure systems bringing significant amounts of precipitation to the Brookings area has local-area fishing enthusiasts on the edge of their seats, hoping that southern Oregon may be finally settling into its long-awaited winter weather pattern.
January has always traditionally been the peak of the steelhead season, when copious quantities of corpulent chromers crowd the course of the Chetco's countless chasms and channels.
If the vast amounts of steelhead that entered the Chetco during December's low-water flows is any indication of forthcoming events, I believe that January's customary peak-season convention will have the Chetco's boundaries bulging bank-to-bank with bright bountiful metalheads.
Already on Thursday, the Chetco had risen to 950 cubic feet per second, and the fresh incoming missiles were being caught all throughout the river. With more rain expected in the forecast this weekend, the Chetco could very well be back to her normal river flows.
In personal correspondence with National Weather Service meteorologists on Thursday evening, the Brookings vicinity had received .38 inches of rain within 24 hours. On Wednesday, the area received .61 inches of rain, and on Tuesday, the local area received .49 inches of rain.
Normally this is enough rain to keep the Chetco River flowing up to or over 3,000 cfs - perfect river conditions. But since the area has been in a severe drought situation, much of that rain soaked into the ground. It's similar to what happens in the beginning of the rainy season in October - only later in the season. So in effect, local-area rivers are starting over from scratch in order to attain their ideal heights and flows.
That should not be a problem this weekend, as Friday was expected to receive up to .75 inches of rain, and today is anticipated to receive up to or over .75 inches of rain as well. The ground should now start becoming fully saturated once again, and the effects of any additional rainfall events should be readily discernible in terms of increasing river height and water flows. In other words, the Chetco should become quite fishable for steelhead sometime this weekend or early in the week.
In addition, the National Weather Service is also predicting record-high swells this weekend. Some meteorologists are predicting that westerly ocean swells should average between 20 and 30 feet this weekend and may even attain heights up to 50 feet. That scenario should create extremely-high waves breaking between 20 and 35 feet in certain areas of the southern Oregon and northern California coast. Therefore, everyone should avoid walking on the beaches this weekend.
These formidable ocean conditions can often cause steelhead to remain in the ocean rather than entering a river. Steelhead will steer clear from crossing a rough bar in order to avoid getting sand, silt and other particulate matter in their gills. Hopefully by this weekend, crabbers will have either moved their pots into deeper water, or pulled them entirely.
But even if steelhead should hold off on crossing the Chetco's jaws, there should be plenty of steelhead already in the river waiting to engulf your offering, whether it be a Spin-N-Glo, a Corky or a plug. I would not be surprised to see steelheaders catching fish in the stretch from Loeb State Park up to the South Fork.
Part of becoming a successful steelheader involves knowing what a river flow or height is in real time. In order to achieve this, visit the Pilot website, www.currypilot.com, click on "Weather."
Choose "Chetco River flow from the Weather Links on the right side of the page. This will take you to the USGS waterdata site.
You can read the water flow on a graph in cubic feet per second, or read the river level in another graph in feet.
If the National Weather Service's predictions come to fruition, then the Chetco should be rising this weekend and peak to approximately 7,000 cfs on Saturday. At this point, the river should be blown out as it takes on a chocolate-brown appearance.
The first steelhead ops always come to the plunkers. If the Chetco has a slate-grey or a deep-green appearance, and is dropping between 4,000 and 6,000 cfs, break out your plunking boxes and your Spin-N-Glows and get ready to yell "fish on"!