By Larry Ellis

Pilot staff writer

Happy vernal equinox everyone! The start of spring has officially sprung.

March is typically one of the best months to catch steelhead on the Chetco, mainly because you've got them comin' and goin'. A combination of fresh fish mixed with downers increases the odds of your hook seeing the inside of a steelhead's mouth.

And that's exactly what happened last week. After a slow week previous to last, the Chetco finally turned on last week when someone opened the handle to nature's faucet. As was hoped, last week's anticipated rain brought in some more fresh fish, both the smaller blueback steelies and some larger mint-green metalheads as well.

It also sparked quite a few downers to make their move back to the Pacific, with the vast majority of fish landed being the slender tubes.

You couldn't have ordered up a platter of better luck, especially with only 10 days left in the steelhead season (last day March 31). The forecast is calling for a mixture of sun and rain, and with the river dropping from 4,000 cubic feet per second, there will probably be several more shots of fish coming.

It's not as though someone pulls a switch at the beginning of April that says, andquot;No more steelhead.andquot; The tag end of the winter steelhead run will keep coming even into May. Just don't fish for them after March 31.

The downers are really fun to catch, especially because you can see them doing the backstroke as they leisurely float with the current downriver. After having completed a spawning mission, they're resting up by taking the easy way out.

I've caught these guys on single Puff Balls or Corkies without any bait at all. They're hungry, they're aggressive and they're here. So keep your eyes peeled for things floating down the river. Often downers will look like a piece of wood, that is, until you see a fin move.

If you're plunking, keep a casting rod handy and be ready to throw anything and everything at 'em. If you're side-drifting or drift fishing, just reel in and cast to them. They will make a beeline to your lure.

Surfperch on the bite

Anglers have been bringing their fair share of redtail and striped perch to the fillet tables this week. The fishing has been very steady for those who want to put in the effort to move when not getting bit.

Remember, redtails don't come to you - you have to go to the redtails. Put the odds in your favor by fishing the three-hour window: two hours before high tide, through high slack, and about one hour after the tide recedes.

I've had good luck using both raw shrimp and Berkley Gulp! Sand Crabs or Sandworms. They're tough and stay on your hook really well.

Some good spots are one half mile up the beach from the Winchuck Wayside, McVay Beach, Sporthaven Beach near the motel and the south jetty, both north and south jetty and at Chetco Point Park.

Rockfish - Lingcod

The rockfish and lingcod were still biting well on days when the ocean was cooperative. On Monday, a handful of boaters all limited out on lingcod and black rockfish.

The lings have been averaging about 12 pounds, which are pretty good size males.

Various fishing methods have been employed, the most popular being a 3- to 4-ounce leadfish on the bottom rig with two shrimp flies threaded through dropper loops spaced about 18 inches from each other and about 22 inches above the leadfish.

When the rockfish bite is hot and heavy, a lot of fishers prefer to use only one shrimp fly, so their day on the ocean lasts longer. The days of the three-shrimp fly gangions are becoming history. Two drops in a big school and you're done fishing before you've had a chance to enjoy the trip.

A lot of anglers are using a big, single herring attached to a mooching leader and a banana sinker. This method seems to catch the larger lings and really big snappers.

And the ultimate lingcod attractant is still a live kelp greenling (minimum size 10 inches) attached to a 4- to 6-ounce jig head.

Trout in the local area

Libby Pond, located up the north bank of the Rogue River road, was stocked last week with 300 2-pound trout in addition to the 667 catchable size rainbows planted the week before that. Libby's entire perimeter is accessible by foot.

Garrison Lake, located in Port Orford, received 250 of the 2-pound rainbows last week, in addition to 4,950 'bows planted the previous week. If you go to Garrison, make sure your motor is operating properly. The winds on this lake can really kick up without warning. There is limited bank fishing at Garrison, so you definitely will need a boat.

Rogue springers

Spring has also sprung on the Rogue River, in the form of spring Chinook. The bite is far from wide open, but there are a few fish starting to trickle in.

andquot;There's been about six fish caught,andquot; said Sam Waller of Jot's Resort on Friday. andquot;But I wouldn't be surprised if today or tomorrow I heard about multiple fish caught.andquot;

The Rogue's been on-the-rise, and salmon don't typically bite well on a rising river. But within a few days the water levels should be evening out or even dropping, which is better tempered to salmon fishing.

andquot;When the water comes up like that, they don't bite too well,andquot; notes Waller. andquot;They'll come in, but once it starts leveling out and dropping, it's a good time to be out there.andquot;

You can bet that a few salmon have already been caught by plunkers fishing for steelhead. Usually those guys don't give up their secrets very readily, and I can't say that I blame them. Once the word gets out, there are about a hundred boats swarming the spot the next day.

I would expect the fishing to pick up in April. Remember, you can only keep adipose fin-clipped (hatchery) salmon on the Rogue at this time.

Fish on!