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Rain curbs angling on Chetco & Smith

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,

ne week ago Saturday, under picture perfect water conditions, anglers plunked from the comfort of their own vehicles at Social Security Bar on the Chetco River. The river was flowing at 4,500 cubic feet per second and it had a beautiful tea-green hue. Two winter steelhead were caught that I know of on flame-chartreuse-colored Spin-N-Glos. Most likely there was a fish or two caught after I left.

Then the rains came down with abandon and the river started rising sharply on Sunday and ran everybody off the river. The Chetco just kept on rising the rest of the week and it finally blew out, spewing chunks of brown mud and who knows what else.

By Pearl Harbor Day on Monday, the Chetco peaked at 24,400 cfs and it’s been maintaining a fairly-high flow ever since, averaging between 15,000 and 18,000 cfs.

A group of plunkers carefully watch their rods on the last fishable day on the Chetco River last Saturday when the river was 4,500 cfs.
A group of plunkers carefully watch their rods on the last fishable day on the Chetco River last Saturday when the river was 4,500 cfs. Photo by the author

Here’s what the meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) were predicting as of yesterday (Friday).

Friday overnight (last night) – Heavy rain, 100 percent. Saturday and Saturday night – Heavy rain, 100 percent. Sunday – Heavy rain, 100 percent.

That doesn’t look good for fishing either the Chetco or Smith Rivers in the next few days at least.

In fact, the Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service given by the NWS is even predicting that the Chetco could rise to 33,000 cfs on Sunday.

They’re not always right, but if that last prediction does come to fruition, the river probably won’t fish until the end of the week – minimum.

But sometimes those guys are wrong. There is a possibility that anglers could be seeing plunkable water by Thursday or Friday, but only if showers are virtually nil or very light during the rest of the week.

All anglers can do right now is sit, wait and watch the river, as well as the online river gauges at

That being said, the first anglers who will have the very first shot at catching winter steelhead will definitely be those who are plunking Spin-N-Glos.

After a big rain like what is happening at the moment, you should also be very cautious in your vehicles to make sure that you will get enough traction on the gravel, which can at first appear to be on solid ground, but at second glance is actually floating on unseen water – a very dangerous situation.

I have seen a lot of 2-wheel drive vehicles spin their wheels into the ground until their bumpers are touching the gravel.

So please – only 4-wheel drives on the river bar for a while.

If the rain doesn’t let up this week (which I think will be the situation), then you won’t be able to fish the river at all. In that case, it will be the perfect time to tie up a whole bunch of plunking leaders while watching your favorite salmon or bass shows on television.

You’ll want to make your leaders about 21-inches long and you will want to use good Maxima Ultragreen monofilament in the 15- to 20-pound category.

Use a good egg loop knot for your size 1 or 1/0 octopus-style hook. Before you finally tie off your leaders to either a size 5 or 7 barrel swivel, you will want to slide down two items onto your hook.

The first and most important item you will be sliding down is a 6 mm red bead, which will rest on top of your hook to act as a bearing against the rapidly-spinning second item – a size 2 or 4 Spin-N-Glo.

After you have slide down your bead and Spin-N-Glo, then tie off your leader to the aforementioned barrel swivel using a good Palomar Knot.

For Spin-N-Glo colors you can’t go wrong with flame chartreuse with white wings, also known as The Chetco Special, half-and-half or stop-and-go. But early in the season you can’t beat a sherbet-colored winged bobber with black wings, also known as Tequila Sunrise. Also egg fluorescent with white wings has come onto the scene as of late.

The Smith will most likely plunk before the Chetco because it drops and clears the fastest. Remember that perfect plunking water on the Smith is over 11 feet and on-the-drop.

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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