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If you plunk it they will bite

On Oregon Waters, Larry Ellis,

It almost seems redundant to keep talking about anglers plunking on the Chetco River, but it is my job to report the truth, and by golly, I have no choice in the matter but to do it again this week.

Yes, it rained last week, and yes, the Chetco River swelled up once again because of being pummeled by pails of pelting precipitation. And yes, the technique of plunking was again in full swing. But one word about plunking.

When I first moved to Oregon over three decades ago, I thought that the word 'plunking' was a corny-sounding word that was only used by people who lacked more refined angling skills such as accurate casting, proper presentation and line mending. I actually scoffed at the word.

"Plunking!", I laughed with a hardy guffaw. "That's the hokiest-sounding word I ever heard."

But scoff no more!

It didn't take me long to realize that it was the plunkers who had the last laugh. They were the anglers who were consistently bringing home all of the salmon and steelhead during high-water events.

Here's the irony. About two hours after I scorned the word plunking, I became a born again plunker. You don't have to hit me over the head twice.

3 men, each holding a steelhead, photo courtesy of Larry Ellis
Three Brookings-area anglers who plunked on the Chetco last Thursday when the river flow was coming down from 7,000 cfs show off their catches of steelhead caught on Spin-N-Glos. Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis

So indeed, the Chetco rose to over 24,100 cubic feet per second last Sunday. But all that meant was that it would only be a matter of time when the plunkers would once again be taking over the river, because as everybody knows, plunkers always get the first shot at the river.

So on Sunday the river blew out, which meant that it was spewing brown chocolate-looking water.

On Monday the river started dropping, however it still remained the same color - brown and unfishable.

Tuesday the river hovered around the 10,000 cfs range, giving serious steelheaders a glimmer of hope. At this point, anglers started to watch for some serious color changes because any water other than the color of brown means that it's nearly time to break out the plunking box.

On Wednesday Social Security Bar was still a little on the brown side, but the river had dropped to 9,500 cfs - serious plunking flows! So I decided to take a trip further up the North Bank and visit some upriver holes such as Ice Box and Miller Bar. The water was just coming into perfect shape, with hues of green being the rule rather than the exception. And folks were hooking up a few steelhead upriver.

So there's your tip of the week. When the river seems a little out of shape at some of the lower-river spots, don't be afraid to head upriver, especially when the river is on-the-drop. Often the color of the water changes the further you get upriver, and when the river takes on shades of the green color wheel, it's time to toss out a Spin-N-Glo.

Then on Thursday, with no rain in the immediate forecast, I made tracks for the lower river holes such as Market Hole and Social Security Bar. The Chetco had taken on the texture of light split pea soup and was averaging around 7,000 cubic feet per second. It was also on-the-drop - perfect plunking conditions.

And plenty of steelhead were caught.

The typical situation would be shooting the bull with a few of the local yokels, when all of a sudden somebody's rod would start bouncing in its holder.

"Fish on", an excited angler would exclaim.

This same scenario took place for several hours. Some fish were landed while others were lost.

During high-water situations, fish often make long runs and then turn sideways in the faster current, just juice-dogging it and milking the current to their advantage.

One angler even had a large steelhead inches away from his feet when the scrappy steelie spit the hook and gave him the middle fin.

If I had my druthers, I would plunk the Chetco if it was between 6,500 and 8,000 cfs, but it plunks well at any height over 4,000 cfs.

Seriously, though, I was going to do an article on the top five fishing techniques on the Chetco River, but somewhere in the middle of that article, the technique of plunking got in the way.

Perhaps other techniques will be used on the Chetco next week, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen at least through the middle of the week.

So when the river is high and green, put on your plunking shoes, toss out a Spin-N-Glow, jaw-jack with a few friends and catchasteelie.

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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