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Serious About Catching Kings?

remember the days when I had to travel at least an hour and a half to get to a fishable river, which for me was the San Gabriel River in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near the town of Azusa in southern California.

And that was fishing for rainbow trout. If perchance you got skunked and wanted to save face (and have fish to fry for dinner), there was a slick place where you were guaranteed to catch a trout or two on the way home on Highway 39 called Happy Jack's Fish Farm, a place where you could pay to catch trout.

Now for the last 35 years I have lived in Brookings, a place where you can pick and choose from 4 different salmon rivers that pepper Highway 101 along the northern California and southern Oregon coastline, and you can expect red-hot action on one of these four rivers in the next three weeks.

Being able to pick from four rivers so close to each other is like having a Happy Jack's Salmon Farm located in your own back yard.

I'm specifically talking about California's Smith River, and Oregon's Chetco, Elk and Sixes Rivers. The difference in driving time between the Smith and the Sixes is only an hour and a half, so if one river isn't producing, you can always pick up and move to another river.

You don't just pick a river out of the clear blue sky, pick a date and then pin that date to a specific river. That would be like shopping for watermelons in the dead of winter and expecting to find good melon eating. If you want to be successful on the water, you have to learn to be flexible on being able to pick up your gear (or boat) at any time and be able to fish any four rivers.

Aaron Lancaster from Mildura, Australia was pulling a sardine-wrapped Kwikfish while fishing on the Smith River with guide John Klar's group last week when his plug got whacked by this 40-pound-plus chrome-bright Kingzilla. Photo by Larry Ellis.
Aaron Lancaster from Mildura, Australia was pulling a sardine-wrapped Kwikfish while fishing on the Smith River with guide John Klar's group last week when his plug got whacked by this 40-pound-plus chrome-bright Kingzilla. Photo by Larry Ellis.

How you fish these rivers will depend on their specific river flows, and it's almost a guarantee that one of these four rivers will fish well for salmon during the next three weeks.

But first here's a quick lesson on knowing how well these rivers fish, with everything depending on water clarity and river height or flows.

After a huge downpour, the Smith and Elk Rivers are the first to rise, but they are also the first to clear, with the Elk taking a little longer than the Smith to clear. Both rivers will also drop the fastest and clear the quickest.

The Smith fishes perfectly at 12 feet, with great fishable conditions being between 11 and 13 feet. Remember, there's a short window of opportunity on the Smith for pulling plugs and back-bouncing roe, but when it's running 12 feet you can't beat pulling Kwikfish with a sardine wrapper like a group of people in guide John Klar's group did last week, with several anglers hauling in chrome-bright salmon over 40 pounds each.

To access the Smith River Gauge, go to, click on recreational river flows and then click on Smith, Crescent City (USGS). This takes you to the Jed Smith Gauge. Scroll down to the second gauge, which reads in feet.

The Elk River has a daily recorded message which gives the morning flow and river color (541-332-0405). It will be a very short message saying something like, 'The Elk River is 4.8 and green'.

The Elk fishes well from 4.0 to 7 feet but when it starts running clear and below 3.5 feet, then it's time to consider hitting the Sixes River, which should be in perfect shape for several more days.

The Smith and Chetco Rivers are only 20 minutes away from each other, while the Elk and Sixes Rivers are only 10 minutes away from each other - very convenient!

The Smith and Elk both will fish well on a rising river, while the Chetco and Sixes fish the best on a dropping river.

The Chetco will probably fish the best out of all four rivers this week, with the Sixes, Smith and Elk following suit and in that order. There is rain expected in the forecast so get ready to read your gauges and fish accordingly!

Tight lines!

Larry Ellis is the author of the recently published "Buoy 10 - The World's Largest Salmon Run!", a 14-mile long salmon fishery on the Columbia River. It is the first book ever written about the Buoy 10 fishery. He is also the author of "Plug Fishing for Salmon. Both books can be found at, and Larry currently writes monthly for Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine and is also the weekly fishing columnist 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.

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