CHETCO BAY OPENS TODAY FOR CHINOOK SALMON

November 01, 2008 12:00 am

By Larry Ellis

Fishing report for October 24-30

As the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for." I was thinking about that statement last week while wondering whether or not the Chetco was going to open on November 1.

All I can say is that ODFW personnel in the Gold Beach office must have been sweatin' bullets last week, and I can't say that I blame them.With the Chetco River scheduled to open today, the river flow was only at 87 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Monday, and it was still dropping.

On Thursday the river was at 81 cfs and the long-term forecast wasn't looking so hot either.There was rain in the forecast but even with a couple solid inches of rain, raising the river still takes a minimum of two days, especially when the ground saturation is high.And remember, the Chetco is slow to rise anyway.

The actual decision of closing the river wasn't all that difficult.

"We had all those fish stacked up at Social Security and we didn't want to see a bloodbath on Saturday morning," said Todd Confer, District Fisheries Biologist for ODFW.

There was a lot more at stake at saving this particular batch of fish than meets the eye.Everything hinges on why the emergency regulations were enacted in the first place.These were proactive decisions made by ODFW based on foresight.

In hindsight, it was obvious their actions were perceptive and protective. After all, no two rivers are created equally.

The two main questions most anglers should be asking are, "Out of all the coastal rivers, why was the Chetco singled out not to open until November 1," and "Why was the closure extended beyond November 1?" Confer explains:

"We had a really poor fall Chinook return coast-wide in 2007 and we're not expecting a very good return to most of our rivers this year, so we had some heightened conservation concerns already.

The fish that we had the river closed for to protect are sitting there at Social Security and vulnerable if we had an opener on the first of November. It seemed pretty obvious that we needed to extend the closure to protect the fish that were all kegged up at Social Security."

The decision about opening and closing a river would be a lot easier if someone could just throw a switch. Turn the switch off – the river closes; turn the switch on – the river opens back up. Sorry Charlie, but that's not the way the system works, sadly – or may not so sad after all.

After having had a long conversation with Mr. Confer, I began thinking that not being able to make an instant decision could be a built in failsafe mechanism that might prevent a possible future calamity.

After all, no two rivers are created equally.Situations change with the times. It would indeed be sad if only one person or one statute ruled every river in Oregon.

What ODFW was not looking forward to in closing the Chetco was an arduous six-step process, a procedure that normally takes a minimum of two days but CAN take as long as six.Here's how it works.

Step one involves discussions with ODFW personnel at the district level, where the decision to close the river is first made.

After the first decision is made, the second step is to touch base with Confer's direct supervisor Russ Stauff, the district's ODFW Watershed Manager in Central Point.

The third step is to discuss the decision with Steve Denny, Confer's Regional Supervisor in Roseburg, to make sure that the decision was sound, considering all the possible variables involved.

"We don't want to do things in a vacuum and have it turn out that it didn't make sense," notes Confer.

The fourth step is to have discussions with the Fish Division in Salem to make them aware of the first three discussions.

After the Fish Division agrees with the decision, the fifth step is to go to ODFW's Director or Deputy Director's office for the final OK.In the case of the Chetco closure, Curt Melcher, ODFW deputy director made the final decision and signed off the temporary rule. But they were still not out of the woods quite yet.

"That temporary rule then goes to the Secretary of State's office and gets filed to become official," adds Confer.

As one can tell, it's easy to see how this process usually takes a minimum of two days.If the original decision was made on a Thursday, it's possible that the rule might not take effect until Monday, because offices are closed on the weekend.

But what if a holiday falls on Monday?In that case the final decision might not be made until Tuesday, in which case the public might not hear about it until Wednesday.That's the worst case, six-day scenario.

Now comes the re-opening of the river procedure, which by now should be a piece of cake – right?Guess again.

"We have to go through the same steps when we decide to reopen (the Chetco)," says Confer."We'll need to file a superseding temporary rule."

Conceivably it could take up to two weeks to do and undo what seems at first to be a simple procedure.

I suppose you could say I'm pro ODFW – I am.I wouldn't have their job for all the gold in Fort Knox.

Now for the actual fish report

When seas cooperated, the bottomfishing was outstanding last week.Just like the week previously, limits of large black rockfish plus a few vermilion and coppers made it to the fillet tables.

In addition, the lingcod bite turned on with about 25-percent of anglers either bringing home a nice lingasaur or telling a tale of a whopper that got away. There were a lot of 20-pound fish carcasses in the barrels last week.

Most anglers ventured uphill toward Bird Island or House Rock, and the bottom-grabbers were very aggressive biters, falling for just about anything thrown at them.

The Chetco bay opens today for Chinook

The good news is that the Chetco River from the Harbor water intake tower (rivermile 3) down to the mouth will be open for the retention of Chinook salmon.

How you fish for them all depends on the weather.If the river doesn't rise, then it's either trolling the estuary with cut-plug or whole herring, or bobber fishing the tidal holes with eggs or sand shrimp.

The combination egg/sand shrimp cocktail is always a favorite, but don't give up on using anchovies or anchovy tails under a bobber as well. Sometimes rigging an anchovy tail backwards will catch more of the jacks.

If it was me, I would be throwing a 1-ounce chrome Krocodile or a 3?4-ounce blue/chrome or gold Kastmaster from the bank first thing in the morning.

I like to put some glow tape on one side and hit it with a flashlight before throwing it out.At first legal light it can really sucker in the kings.

Remember that until further notice it is illegal to fish for salmon above the Harbor water intake tower.

Tight lines!