Anglers catch the first Rogue Springers

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist March 22, 2013 09:31 pm

Harold Helton and Richard Smith of Gold Beach nabbed a winter steelhead and a springer on the lower Rogue River on Thursday while fishing with guide John Anderson. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
Harold Helton and Richard Smith of Gold Beach nabbed a winter steelhead and a springer on the lower Rogue River on Thursday while fishing with guide John Anderson. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
A few anglers aching to catch their first springer of the year on the lower Rogue were rewarded with handful of spring Chinook last week. On Thursday, a steep rise in water flow from the Illinois River, one of the Rogue’s tributaries, helped bring more water into the Rogue, causing more turbidity as well. Consequently, the once-spooky springers, which had been seeing gin-clear conditions all week, finally let down their guard and hit a variety of lures including spinnerbait/anchovy rigs and Spin-N-Glo/anchovy rigs.

The smart fishermen were using the tide to their advantage. In the ocean, fish seem to go on-the-bite on the incoming tide, as it peaks at high tide, and then about an hour after the tide turns. At some point during that three-hour tidal window, the fish are going to snap.

The river is no different. Those fish were programmed that way in the ocean between three and five years, and the fish can sense this tidal change when they get into the river.

Take the Port of Gold Beach for example, where the Rogue River empties into the sea near the town of Wedderburn. At local beaches near Gold Beach, high tide was at 7:34 a.m. on Thursday.

The tide progressively moves upriver and is strongest in the lower sections of the river. Just like clockwork, Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing and John Anderson of Memory Makers Rogue River Fishing each put one of their clients on a springer at 10 a.m. on Thursday, just as the tide had turned from high slack to an outgoing tidal situation.

Know your cabezon identification

Until July 1, retention of cabezon by recreational boaters and shore-based anglers and divers is not permitted, and there have been plenty of cabezon caught this year already. It has also been mentioned to me that several cabezon have been retained by anglers who either don’t know the difference between a cabezon and a lingcod, or were not aware of the new rule change.

I will address the identification issue first. It is true that both cabezon and lingcod have mottled features on their skin, and that feature often confuses anglers. In addition, both fish can have brown or turquoise-tinted skin. But lingcod have obvious sharp teeth, while cabezon do not. So if you’re not sure if you have a ling or a cabbie, look in its mouth.

Not being able to keep a cabezon until July 1 is a new rule for Oregon. Supposedly, Oregon recreational anglers reach the harvest cap earlier than usual.

Here’s my opinion on this new ruling.

Every year, recreational anglers have been able to keep cabezon until the federal quota was met, which was usually around September or October. The season was then shut down until the beginning of the following year.

Then in the hopes of anglers not attaining their quota sooner, ODFW implemented a one-cabezon daily limit. No workie! The season was still shut down in September or October.

In addition, to supposedly keep anglers from reaching the quota sooner yet, the retention of cabezon was restricted six months out of the year. Still no workie!

Now, in an attempt to not reach the quota at all, ODFW has closed cabezon retention to recreational anglers for nine consecutive months. And I was also told by a fisheries official that the quota could still easily be attained by the end of the year.

Perhaps recreational fishermen have suddenly evolved into cabezon-catching machines — but I don’t think so. Something’s definitely fishy in the state of Oregon. If you start outlawing one fish, which fish is going to be next on the list? Perhaps a China rockfish or a kelp greenling?

My only question is, if cabezon are managed by the state under a federal quota, why is it that in the five coastal regions of California, the daily limit on cabezon is three per person when their seasons open?

Tight lines!