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Steelheader catches 1st Umpqua springer

On Oregon Waters, Larry Ellis,

ocal-area rivers like the Chetco and the lower Rogue still continued to kick out fresh incoming steelhead, and the Chetco saw its share of spawned-out down-backs heading back to sea. But with the large swell that has been hammering the area, the steelhead action has temporarily slowed down.

As soon as ocean conditions start flattening out, anglers can once again look forward to catching mint-bright incoming steelies throughout the rest of March - and maybe a few Rogue River springers to boot!

"I've been hearing unbelievable rumors on spring salmon but to my knowledge we're at as high as 5 confirmed springers, possibly as high as 8," said Jim Carey from the Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach on Thursday.

Tom Toland with winter steelhead, courtesy of Larry Ellis
Tom Toland from Walnut Creek, California caught this winter steelhead last week while fishing with guide Kenton Bansemer of Gold River Guides on the Chetco River while side-drifting a yarn-and-roe setup. Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis

Which ain't too shabby for the end of February. But now it is March, and more spring Chinook should soon be crossing the Rogue River bar as soon as the large swell starts diminishing.

Meanwhile the first official Umpqua River spring Chinook of the year was caught last week by Brent Lanz of Eugene, Oregon. Brent and two other fishermen were back-trolling plugs with guide Martin Thurber of Willakenzie Guide Service when a Coppermine-colored Mag Lip 3.5 got inhaled clear down the fish's throat.

Brent Lanz with first Umpqua Springer, about 44 pounds, Photo courtesy of Willakenzie guide Service, Martin Thurber
Brent Lanz from Eugene, Oregon was fishing for winter steelhead on the Umpqua River with guide Martin Thurber of Willakenzie Guide Service last week when a Coppermine-colored Mag Lip 3.5 was inhaled by this springer which was estimated to be between 42 and 44 pounds. It is officially the first Umpqua springer of the year. Photo courtesy of Martin Thurber, Willakenzie Guide Service.

"We hooked 11 steelhead and landed 9 that day and we got 'em all side-drifting," said Thurber. "We got the springer right at the Bridge Hole. We were back-trolling Hot Shots and that one Mag Lip 3.5 when the springer buried Brent's rod."

Martin's scale was broken, but he did have a tape measure - the second best method of estimating the weight of a salmon.

So make sure to always carry a cloth measuring tape on hand for these instances. Without a scale, you can estimate the actual weight of a salmon within a 5 percent error or less, which is what Thurber proceeded to do after the enormous fish was landed.

To estimate a salmon's weight, you will want to measure the fish's length in inches from the tip of its nose to the fork of its tail. You will then want to measure the girth of the fish right at the forward-most part of its dorsal fin, which is normally the thickest part of the fish.

The standard I.G.F.A. formula for estimating the weight of a salmon is: length multiplied by the girth squared. You then divide the result (called the product) by 800 to get a rough estimate of the fish's weight.

Brent's fish was 43.5 inches long with a girth of 28 inches. So in this case, 43.5 multiplied by 28 multiplied by 28 equals 34,104. The product divided by 800 gives you an approximate weight of 42.63 pounds.

But that's being extremely conservative. When you are measuring very deep-bodied fish like springers or Kenai kings, you will want to divide the product by 775.

So in the latter case, the formula: length multiplied by girth squared and then divided by 775 equaled 44.005 pounds, which is probably closer to this fish's actual weight.

"In 30 years of guiding and having many true 40 pounders in my hands, and tending to underestimate a fish's weight, I'm conservatively calling that fish between 40 and 45 pounds," Thurber said. "I can honestly tell you it was the thickest-meated fish I've ever put my hand on in my life. It was just like putting my hands on a Kenai king."

Hence the latter formula for weight estimation truly applies in this case.

"I've never cut into a fatter chunk of meat except on the Kenai River in Alaska," noted Thurber. "I mean the fillets on this fish were at least 4 inches thick on each side, running from the head all the way to the back of its dorsal fin."

Thurber said he was back-trolling two Hot Shots on two different rods running on 12-pound test, but thankfully he was running 65-pound Power Pro braid tied directly to the Mag Lip 3.5, otherwise he said they would have never landed this fish.

But the action didn't stop after the big springer came to the boat.

"There was already a very small hole in my net where a steelhead had passed through. As soon as I netted the springer, strings started popping like crazy in the net," noted Thurber. "I could not lift that fish in the boat by myself. So three of us grabbed the hoop and hoisted the monster Chinook into the boat. As soon as it was in the boat, it started thrashing and put another hole in the net - it bored a hole straight through the net."

I think that justifies getting a new net!

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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