Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! A serious rain-dance marathon must have been taking place last week because the Chetco rose to over 22,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Wednesday, which quickly blew out the river. The river then slowly lowered toward 10,000 cfs on Thursday. But with more rain in the forecast, the river is anticipated to rise to the occasion again this weekend, possibly to over 40,000 cfs.
That means that, as soon as the river begins to lower and clear, plunking will be the technique that rules the river. When that time comes will be anybody's guess, but it will be a welcome relief to the low-water situation that has plagued the southern Oregon and Northern California coast for the last three months.
So what exactly is plunking, and why, when and where do you do it exactly?
Well for starters, plunking is one of the easiest techniques to learn on a river, so easy in fact, that it can be deployed from the safety, comfort and warm conditions of your truck or automobile.
Plunking basically means still fishing from the bank. It involves the use of a stout rod holder, sinkers ranging from 6 to 10 ounces, and various color Spin-N-Glos. And since it is a high-water technique, it is always the first technique that is available to anglers when a river is dropping from a high raise. The plunkers always get the first crack at steelhead.
Every river has a particular flow in which it gets blown out, with "blown out" meaning that a river is too high to fish effectively. When a river's blown out, it looks like chocolate milk, due to lots of runoff containing mud and silt. If a river looks muddy after a big rain, it is blown out. Forget about fishing under these circumstances because it's almost impossible to get salmon and steelhead to bite under runoff situations.
However, as a river starts to drop, it slowly begins to clear. At first it might take on lighter-brown appearance - still unfishable but the perfect time to tie up some leaders while getting your gear locked and loaded.
As the river starts clearing further within a day or two, it will begin to take on a split-pea soupy-green or a slate-gray appearance with about 1 foot of visibility. That's the time to break out your plunking box and head for the river.
Every individual river blows out at a different flow, and those flows will change based on the height from which a river is dropping. But for all intents and purposes, the Chetco usually gets blown out on a raise in water flow that is over 4,500 cfs, a time when most drift boaters steer clear of the river. If you want to keep tabs on the local rivers, simply visit rivervilla.com and follow the easy instruction.
Perfect plunking heights on the Chetco range between 4,000 and 6,000 cfs, but I've seen people do quite well when the river has dropped from an extreme rise and is around 8,000 cfs, because when a river is dropping from this high of a river flow, it can take on that pea-green or slate-grey appearance within a few days.
The best plunking water is where there is a current seam close to the bank. Current seams can change daily, or even hourly. A current seam is quite visible and looks like ripply water meeting calmer water. Current seams can parallel a bank or approach a spot diagonally. Whatever the case, find a current seam with a sloping bank in the 2- to 4-foot depth range, and you've found perfect plunking water.
The biggest mistake that people make when plunking is casting out too far. Sometimes the ideal current seam/water depth combination may only be within 5 feet from the bank. In this case, casting 8 feet away from the bank would put you in a river current that is too fast for steelhead to travel. A slight lob toward the middle of the current seam would be the correct call here.
During very high-water situations, steelhead will avoid the faster whitewater in the middle of the river and will hug the softer current closer to the bank, where they don't have to struggle as hard, so remember this when you make your initial cast.
Rigging up is a piece of cake, and remember that there are lots of different ways of rigging up. You'll want to use a stout rod with a good reel loaded with 20- to 25-pound monofilament for your mainline.
After threading your mainline through a plastic slider that has a snap connected to the bottom, slide a 6mm bead through your mainline. Now tie your mainline to a size 5 barrel swivel. You'll want to connect sinkers ranging between 4 and 8 ounces to the snap on the slider.
You'll want to use a leader ranging from 2 to 3 feet, and the leaders generally range from 15- to 20-pound test monofilament.
You'll be tying an egg loop knot to a size 1, 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook. After you've tied your hook to the leader, slide down a 6mm bead to act as a bearing against the rapidly-turning Spin-N-Glo. After sliding on the appropriate-size SNG, tie your leader to the opposite end of the barrel swivel, put some roe inside the loop and make your cast. You don't even have to use roe on your Spin-N-Glo for it to be deadly effective.
Don't forget to bring a rod holder.
The most popular color Spin-N-Glos for the Chetco and their sizes are flame chartreuse, sherbet, red-rocket tiger stripe and pearl red, in sizes 2, 4 and 6. A size 4 winged bobber is the most popular size when used with a size 1 octopus-style hook.
Nobody knows for sure when the river is going to pull into shape for fishing, but one thing is for sure, a plunker is going to land the first incoming steelhead.