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First Chinook show in Chetco Estuary

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,

ver the last 34 years I have grown to realize one thing about the Chetco River. The very first adult Chinook are almost always caught fairly close to September 15. Last Tuesday, I noticed a couple fellow fishermen unloading two hefty chrome-bright kings at the Port of Brookings fish cleaning station. The two fish each pushed 30 pounds. I also noticed that it was the fifteenth of September.

About an hour later in saunter two of the Chetco's more-celebrated salmon warriors. A large, obtrusive salmon tail was sticking out of their ice chest. When one of the gents opened the lid, my brains fell out.

"That's the small one," said Mark Gasich of Brookings as he began hoisting out the upper behemoth. "The one underneath is bigger."

The second fish in the box truly rendered meaning to the moniker "king".

Caught by his friend, Mark Roland, this one definitely pushed over 30 pounds.

Mark Roland of Brookings holds a 30-pound-plus monster Chinook, photo courtesy of larry Ellis
Mark Roland of Brookings holds a 30-pound-plus monster Chinook he caught while trolling a spinnerbait/anchovy rig in the Chetco estuary last week.

Mark could barely wrap his hands around the salmon's caudal peduncle, the portion of the fish just anterior of the tail fin. When an average person has a problem spanning his hand around that particular part of a salmon's anatomy, the fish is usually pushing or exceeding 30-pound status.

So that was four Chinook that I witnessed in a period of less than an hour that weighed at least 110 pounds amidst the four of them.

And that wasn't even counting the 4-pound jack that the first group of guys unloaded with their 55-plus pound stringer.

There were also a few more large adult Chinook caught on that fated Tuesday as well.

So the old adage that the first adult Chinook are usually caught around the fifteenth of September is no wife's tale, especially on this particular day, because Gasich remarked that he had also caught similar-sized fish while trolling the Chetco bay the day before.

"Missed it by 'that' much", I'm saying to myself as I find myself gazing at the number 14 on the calendar on my wall.

All Chetco and Rogue bay fish were caught trolling a spinnerbait/anchovy setup. If you don't know how to tie up these exceptional riggings, you can buy professionally-tied setups from the Chetco Outdoor Store, the Rogue Outdoor Store, Lex's Landing or Jot's Resort.

Now when I talk about the Chetco bay or the Chetco estuary, I'm talking about the section of the river that is downriver from the Highway 101 Bridge, and upriver from the river/ocean deadline. The river/ocean deadline is an imaginary line drawn from the tip of the north jetty to the tip of the south jetty.

Everything inside or upriver of that line is technically the river, and anything outside, or in the ocean side of that imaginary line is technically the ocean. So if you hook a fish inside the deadline, you try to do everything humanly possible to keep that fish confined to the river, because at this point in time, the ocean that is outside that imaginary line is closed to fishing for salmon.

That is until 12 days from now, when the ocean will once again re-open for 11 days for the Chetco River Ocean Terminal Area Bubble Fishery, which will be taking place from October 1 through October 11.

And by the way, things are shaping up inside the river mouth. I think that it is safe to say that the fishing in the October bubble fishery is going to be rated PG (pretty good). It is even saliently possible that the bubble fishery may even garner the rating R (remarkable). Of that last rating, no one knows for sure.

James Tavel of Brookings and a friend caught these two monster kings, photo courtesy of Larry Ellis
«James Tavel of Brookings and a friend caught these two monster kings last week while trolling a spinnerbait/anchovy setup in the Chetco bay last week.

But one thing is for sure, Howard and Cindy Jones, owner of Sporthaven Marina Restaurant Bar and Grill will again be hosting another ocean derby during that bubble fishery.

This derby reminds me a lot of the city of Reno, Nevada's motto - "the biggest little city in the world". In that respect, this contest can be thought of as - the biggest little derby in the world.

It's big because three-fourths of all the entry fees are paid out to the three largest salmon weights. It's little because it is limited to the first 200 people who sign up.

But by no means is the prize money considered little. The entry fee is $40.00 per person, so if the derby tops out (which it usually does), three people will be vying for $6,000.00 in prize money.

The derby lasts for the entire duration of the bubble fishery, from October 1-11, and the restaurant also hosts a spectacular banquet on the last day of the derby, in which even more prizes are raffled off to the contestants.

It is possible that one person could even win all of the cash, if he or she is lucky enough to catch all of the three largest salmon. I've never seen that happen before, but there's always a first time for everything.

Paul DeAngelo, noted fish taxidermist also told me that he will be mounting the largest derby-caught salmon for free.

And before I forget there is also some good crabbing taking place right here in Brookings Harbor.

Jim and Georgia Brucher from Grants Pass, Oregon holding crabs from their pots. Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis
Jim and Georgia Brucher from Grants Pass, Oregon set their pots late Friday in 30 feet of water close to the south jetty out of the Port of Brookings Harbor and nailed limits of Dungeness crab plus a few red rock crab to boot.

Rogue River still kicking out Big Chinook
Folks trolling the Rogue bay are still catching some very large fall Chinook.
"We pushed off the dock about 10:30 and didn't even make it to the bridge and got a nice 28 pounder," said Sam Waller, guide and owner of Jot's Resort in Gold Beach on Thursday. "They even got 'em yesterday really good. It was raining and ugly, so I didn't fish, but guide Bruce Craviotto went out about a quarter to eleven and ended up with four fish. He had to let two go because they were wild silvers."

Both Waller and Tim from the Rogue Outdoor Store are saying that the guides are starting to see a lot of Indian Creek Chinook showing up in the mix.

The Curry Anadramous Fishermen out of Gold Beach raise 75,000 smolts every year that are timed to come back to Indian Creek around October, which extends the Chinook fishery at least another month.

You'll recognize the Indian Creek fish because they are the only fall Chinook in the Rogue that have a missing adipose fin. Right now the Indian Creek Chinook are as bright as a freshly-minted quarter.

And the bulk of the coho run has yet to show up. So grab onto your rods and hold on. The great fishing has just begun.

Tight Lines!

Larry Ellis, author, writer, columnist and photographer has had a 50-year passion for fishing in California and Oregon's saltwater and freshwater venues. He is a well-known writer for Oregon, Washington and California Fishing and Hunting News, Northwest Sportsman, California Sportsman and Pacific Coast Sportfishing. He currently writes monthly for Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, and is the weekly fishing columnist for "On the Water" for the Curry Coastal Pilot Newspaper. He particularly loves living in his hometown of Brookings, Oregon - The heart of salmon country and gateway to fishing paradise. Posted with permission of the Curry Coastal Pilot of Brookings, Oregon.

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