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Chetco and Smith rise for winter steelies

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,

cold front moving inland on Thursday brought the first real significant increase in river height and water flows to the Chetco and Smith Rivers. The National Weather Service is predicting that a series of alternating warm and cold fronts should continue hammering the local vicinity this weekend and into next week, bringing with them even higher water levels and river flows. The resulting rising rivers should also usher in the last batches of Chinook and start escorting the first pods of steelhead into both river systems.

At 6:00 a.m. on Friday morning, the Chetco River swelled to 8,790 cfs and the Smith rose to 13.62 feet. Both rivers at that point were blown out and spewing muddy water and they are anticipated to rise even more this weekend. A blow out is good from the standpoint that it cleans out all those annoying leaves that wreaks havoc with your gear.

T.J. Davis of Jordan Valley, Oregon holding huge rockfish, photo by Larry Ellsi
T.J. Davis of Jordan Valley, Oregon took the time to travel 550 miles to fish last week on a calm day out of the Port of Brookings Harbor and was rewarded with large rockfish and this huge lingcod.

So it's time to get out your plunking boxes and Spin-N-Glos, hammer your sturdy rod holder into the ground and wait for a savage take-down from either a late king or an early steelie.

But you have to know what a river's plunkable heights are before you can go plunking.

These are some of the author's favorite Spin-N-Glo plunking colors for salmon and steelhead. From left to right - Flame Chartreuse (Stop-and-Go); Sherbet (Tequila Sunrise); Rocket Red Tiger Stripe; Gray Ghost, Clown, Pearl Pink , photo by larry Ellis
These are some of the author's favorite Spin-N-Glo plunking colors for salmon and steelhead. From left to right - Flame Chartreuse (Stop-and-Go); Sherbet (Tequila Sunrise); Rocket Red Tiger Stripe; Gray Ghost, Clown, Pearl Pink

On the Chetco, the river fishes well for most techniques used by anglers in drift boats such as side-drifting, pulling plugs and back-bouncing roe when the river's between 2,400 and 4,200 cfs. After the river rises over 4,200 cfs, the river is too swift for drift boats and the river will often look just like chocolate milk. After the river starts lowering, takes on a pea-green appearance and is between 4,000 and 6,000 cfs, you can start plunking.

The Smith is a different animal. It rises quite fast and falls just as rapidly. Normally, this river side-drifts quite well when it is between

8.5 and 11 feet. But after the river rises over 11 feet it starts to get a little pushy and becomes perfect plunking water. So as long as the river is over 11 feet and is taking on a turquoise-green hue, it's great plunking water.

Both the Chetco and Smith fish the best when they are on-the-drop, and none of them will fish well if they are muddy.

Plunking spots on the Chetco vary, but the main go-to plunking spot has always been Social Security Bar. If I were to select three favorite Chetco steelhead colors (they work well for salmon too), I would pick Flame Chartreuse, Sherbet and Egg Fluorescent, all in size 4. You can't go wrong with white wings.

On the Smith, a lot of anglers plunk at the Water Tower Hole and at Ruby Van Deventer County Park. As a matter of fact, back in 2006, Alex Green caught a 26-pound steelhead while plunking a Watermelon-colored Spin-N-Glo with black wings at Ruby. But you can't go wrong with the color Egg Fluorescent, also known as egg scale.

Now I will show you where to read both of these rivers' water flows and levels. It is important to note that the Chetco is usually measured best in flows (cfs) while the Smith is measured best in feet, and the Smith is read at the Jed Smith Gauge. Here is the easiest way of finding the flows and levels for both rivers.

In the address bar of your computer browser or cell phone enter this address: This will take you to another window. At the upper left corner click on "Recreational River Flows."

This will take you to another window displaying local rivers including the Chetco and Smith.

To read the Chetco flows, click on "Chetco near Brookings (USGS)". You will now be directed to two different graphs which are displayed in real time in river flows and river levels.

To get to the Jed Smith gauge, click on "Smith, Crescent City (USGS)"

and read the bottom graph which gives you real-time data in feet. Do not click on "Smith, Jed Smith (CDEC)."

So get ready and hold on -- the best river fishing is coming soon.

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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