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Forest Service Opens Upper Chetco Put-ins

Matt Barr from northern California fished with Mario's Guide Service on the Chetco River last week before all the rivers blew out and caught this nice Chinook while pulling plugs.
Photo Credit: Larry Ellis

by Larry Ellis

The U.S. Forest Service just issued a news release last week that popular upper Chetco River put-ins and take outs such as Miller Bar, Nook Bar and the South Fork Bluffs camping area will now be officially open to folks visiting those areas.  This applies most especially to boaters who float the Chetco.

Forest visitors should be aware that these areas are open to day use only, remaining closed to overnight camping.

So what does this mean for salmon and steelhead fishermen? It now opens up a vast array of possibilities!

Up until last week, it was only legal for drift-boaters to float from Loeb State Park (or downriver from Loeb) to Social Security Bar and below.

Now that these salmon are well-spread throughout the entire Chetco River system, anglers might now want to drift from Nook Bar down to Loeb State Park or from Miller Bar down to Loeb when the gauge at reads below 4,000 cubic feet per second.  These are two of the most gorgeous floats on the river.

In general, drift-boaters start thinking about putting in on the Chetco when the current is flowing no faster than 4,000 cfs.

So what does this week have in store for Chetco River salmon aficionados?

Start tying up your plunking leaders because the National Weather Service is predicting that the Chetco will be dropping from 16,000 cfs last Monday to a flow hovering around 5,000 cfs through today.  That means that plunking will be the technique that rules the river until the flows start creeping up again this weekend.

It also means that today, November 25, which is the second free fishing day after Thanksgiving, anglers are not required to have a license or tag in their possession.  In addition, anglers who already have a license and/or fishing tag can leave them at home. The only requirement is to abide by the regulations.

Last Tuesday, the river was blown out with a light brown complexion.  As it drops through today, it should take on a rich pastoral-green hue and will finally clear to perfection visibility today.

On a dropping river, plunkers should do quite well by using size 2 or 4 Spin-N-Glos in these colors: Flame Chartreuse with white wings, Rocket Red Tiger Stripe with white wings, Egg Fluorescent with white wings and Fire Tiger with white wings.

There have also been reports of anglers catching the beginning of the steelhead run.  For plunkers, use size 4 Spin-N-Glos in these colors: Flame Chartreuse with white wings, Sherbet with black wings, Egg Fluorescent with white wings, Pink with white wings and Pearl Pink with white wings.

Look for Elk and Sixes River Chinook Action
While the Chetco is high and on-the-rise, anglers might want to consider fishing the Elk and Sixes Rivers just north of Port Orford, which are only 10 minutes from each other.  These two sisters of streams get the latest runs of chrome-bright Chinookzillas on the entire Oregon coast.  And they're usually big buoys and gulls, the reason being, these fish tend to return to the aforementioned rivers as 4- and 5-year-old kings.

These are highly-crowded streams and there is very little bank access due to the fact that these rivers run through private property.  For that reason, it is best to hire a guide when fishing these rivers.

That being said, you will want to keep your ears peeled for Elk River heights, which can be accessed via a recorded message at 541-332-0405. The recording gives the height, river temperature and river color.

The Elk fishes best when it is running anywhere from 4.2 to 6 feet.  It also drops, rises and clears the fastest of south coast streams. Ideal fishing is when it's dropping from 5.5 feet.

The main put-in is at the Elk River hatchery. Elk River RV (541-332-2255; $5.00 launch fee) is a put-in or a take-out and the lowest take-out is at Ironhead, an ODFW easement.

The three main drifts are from the hatchery down to Ironhead, the hatchery down to Elk River RV, or from Elk River RV down to Ironhead. Do not miss the Ironhead take-out because there are no other public put-ins and take-outs downriver from there.

When the Elk drops below 4 feet, it's usually gin-clear and the fish are spooky.  That's when it's time to hit the Sixes River.

More on the Elk and Sixes next week.

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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