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Gear up for winter steelhead

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,

resh schools of chrome-bright Chinook pushing 30 pounds were the name of the game on the Chetco River last week, and anglers were able to catch them by pulling plugs and deploying bobbers-and-bait rigs.

In particular, a group of anglers hit the Port of Brookings Harbor cleaning station in the beginning of the week and at least four fish, each as shiny as a freshly-minted quarter were filleted.

As the week progressed, the water levels started dropping, which meant that the only successful anglers were using bobbers and sand shrimp cocktails, which is a combination of roe tipped with a small piece of sand shrimp.

Anglers were also successful in the middle of the week fishing the Elk and Sixes Rivers near Port Orford, where several guides like Jack Hanson of Jack's Guide Service in Brookings, and Martin Thurber of Willakenzie Guide Service from Springfield, Oregon put their clients on some scrappy, chrome-bright Chinook, with the emphasis being on the Sixes River.

Tristen Holmes from Grants Pass, Oregon caught this chrome-bright king while fishing on the Chetco River, Photo by Larry Ellis
Tristen Holmes from Grants Pass, Oregon caught this chrome-bright king while fishing on the Chetco River last week. Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis

The Elk and Sixes rivers are within minutes from each other. After a large raise in water levels and flows, the Elk is the first river to fish well. If the rain subsides, like it did last week, anglers don't have to wait more than a few days for the Sixes River to be in perfect shape.

Last week we talked about the put-ins and take-outs of the Elk River.

This week let's take a look at the boat launches on the Sixes.

The highest put-in on the Sixes River is at the Edson Creek Boat Ramp, which is about 4.5 miles off of Sixes River Road, a road that runs east off of Highway 101. As you approach the boat launch area the road will fork. Take the right tine of the fork to get to the ramp.

Most anglers will drift from Edson down to a place called Mid-Drift which is approximately 2.5 miles east of Highway 101.

You can also drift from Mid-Drift down to the Grange. The Grange is on the west side of Highway 101 just north of the Elk River Bridge. A dirt road in back of the Grange leads down to the river.

You can also drift from the Grange down to the Hughes House, an historic Victorian-style house near the Sixes River mouth. There is a take-out nearby.

But use caution on this drift. You do not want to drift from the Grange down to the Hughes House when the winds are howling at Cape Blanco. So if the winds kick up, never venture below Highway 101.

Anglers are now waiting for more rain to raise the river and bring in the last batches of Chinook into the Chetco River. Most people thought that the last freshet would raise the river significantly, but the last storm was a little disappointing.

The Elk and Sixes Rivers are both known as "late rivers" as far as Chinook goes, which means that they are both well-known for spitting out fresh batches of Chinook all the way through December. But we need some rain to kick all the aforementioned rivers into gear.

It is looking like there will be a series of rainstorms hitting the local area the middle of this week, possibly starting on Wednesday. So keep your fingers crossed that the area receives just enough rain to raise the rivers to fishable levels, but not too much to blow them out.

What Chetco and Smith River anglers are hoping for now is to get in some fresh batches of winter steelhead within the next few weeks. So tie up some Spin-N-Glo plunking rigs, a few drift-fishing and side-drifting leaders and get your steelhead tackle in shape.

Both the Chetco and Smith Rivers favor their own particular water levels before anglers can effectively fish them.

For side-drifting, which is the most-effective technique for winter steelhead the Chetco fishes well between 2,000 and 4,000 cfs.

On the Smith River, you want to look at the gauge at Jedediah Smith Park and you want to key in on the water levels as opposed to river flows.

The ideal range for picture-perfect side-drifting on the Smith River is between 8.5 and 11 feet.

On the Smith, the river is usually starting to get large pushes of steelhead by December 15. So sharpen your hooks and don't forget to pinch the barbs shut on the Smith because it's a barbless-hook only stream.

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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