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Steelhead abound in local-area rivers

ast week fishing local area rivers was as easy as tossing a coin in the air. Heads - you went to the Chetco; tails - you fished the Smith.

"I'm out here weathering the storm looking for another silver-sided chrome dome," said guide Mick Thomas, owner/operator of Lunker Fish Trips while fishing the Smith on Thursday. "The fishing's been real good. So far we've had 2 out of 4 today, and the day isn't even over. Yesterday we went 3 out of 5. There's quite a few fish in the system with new fish coming in every day."

Mick's been side-drifting Puff Balls-and-roe through the tail-outs and current seams that abound from The Forks put-in down to Ruby Van Deventer County Park.

Larry Washburn with hatchery steelhead, Photo by Larry Ellis
When Larry Washburn from Salem, Oregon had a hankering to catch a nice hatchery steelhead on Wednesday, he knew right where to go - the Chetco River. Photo by Larry Ellis

"It's one of the best January's that I've seen in quite a few years," noted Thomas. "Everybody's catching fish."

Including another well-known California fishing guide who is no stranger to the Smith.

"I've been on the Smith for 3 days so far," said guide John Klar of John Klar's Salmon and Steelhead Sportfishing. "I hooked 11 today," he said on Thursday. "Today and yesterday I fished from Forks to Ruby."

At a river height of 9.3 and dropping slowly, the Smith has been at a very premium water height and is very manageable for most drift-boat fishermen.

"I've been mainly fishing the Smith," said guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing on Thursday. "The Smith's been doing really good. I caught 5 steelhead yesterday drifting from the Forks down to Ruby and you have the whole river to yourself - I saw 2 boats all day."

The Chetco has also been fishing quite well but has had a lot more boats on the water than the Smith. Nevertheless, plunkers at Social Security Bar and anglers pulling plugs or side-drifting Puff Balls-and-roe have been hooking up with regularity.

"I had 5 fish on Saturday and I had a real good day on Sunday," said Martin.

Martin got his steelhead Saturday on Yakima Bait's Mag Lip 3.5, and when the water warmed up on Sunday he had 10 fish to the boat while side-drifting Puff Balls-and-roe. Fish are all throughout the Chetco system now with fresh batches coming in almost daily.

"The fishery is so prime," said guide Harvey Young of Fishawk River Company. "Today (Thursday) we fought 4 fish. And there were reports from other boaters who were catching fish all the way up to the South Fork. And on Tuesday, when the river was rising, we had 6 fish on and running, and ended up landing 3 of them. And these are hot fish - ripping around and jumping."

The interesting thing about the Chetco is that the plunkers have been catching their fish fairly early in the morning on size 4 Spin-N-Glos in the colors flame chartreuse with white wings and egg fluorescent with white wings.

Normally the Chetco stops plunking when it drops below 4,000 cfs, but plunkers have been still catching a fair amount of steelhead when the river has been approximately 3,000 cfs, mainly due to the beautiful milky-green color that the melting snow puts in the river every day.

When I talked to Jim Carey from the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach last week, the Rogue River bar had gotten a little rough and temporarily slowed down the fishing, but on Friday the bar calmed back down and it was game on again with lower Rogue River steelhead from the Old Mill Site and upriver.

"I'm 5 out of 9 today and the fishing is pretty good," said John Anderson from Memory Makers Rogue River Guide Service on Friday, who also serves a delicious breakfast to his clients. "The river's cut some new grooves in it this year and that's made it a lot better for fishing."

John typically anchors up and sets out diving plugs such as old Wiggle Warts and Wee Warts, sets his rods in their holders and then waits for the chrome missiles to hammer his offerings as they make their way up the tracks to their native spawning grounds.

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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