Chetco high water fishing rules questioned

Chetco River - Brookings, OR (Curry County)

Laurie and Bob Manley from Brookings were fishing with guide Joe Whaley of Joe Whaley's Guide Service on Friday on the Chetco River when they caught their Chinook while pulling sardine-wrapped Kwikfish underneath a bobber, the only technique that is use
Photo Credit: Larry Ellis

by Larry Ellis

As I'm writing this article, I am looking at the Chetco River Gauge, and I like what I'm seeing. The river was blown out and spewing thick, brown mud on Sunday at 35,200 cubic feet per second, and over the last four days it has dropped and cleared to a light, pea-green complexion. Thursday, the Chetco was flowing at 4,400 cfs - perfect plunking conditions!

Additionally, the river is predicted to drop to between 2,000 and 2,500 cfs this weekend - perfect back-bouncing conditions if you are in a boat, and stellar drift-fishing water if you are fishing from the bank. And the river is supposed to maintain that aforementioned flow throughout the month.

But alas, neither plunking, back-bouncing or drift-fishing techniques can be deployed on the Chetco at this time (from rivermile 2.2 up to Nook Creek) because they will not be legal techniques for at least 13 more days.

Until November 4 rolls around, salmon anglers are limited to fishing underneath a bobber. And I don't care what anyone says, bobber-fishing techniques are highly ineffective when the river has high flows. The only bobber-type fishing technique that has had any credence on the Chetco as of late is using a bobber-and-Kwikfish or similar plugs (FlatFish; Mag Lip), a technique which can be only effectively utilized from a drift boat.

And that has gotten me just a little more than ticked off, because October has historically been one of the best months to plunk, back-bounce, drift-fish, pull plugs or even side-drift, and the more I think about this situation, the redder my face gets. I believe that someone clear down in Cucamonga can feel the heat that is emanating from my face at this very moment.

The Chetco River is currently under an anti-snagging rule (bobbers and fly fishing restrictions) until November 4, and please don't get me wrong. Of course I am very much against snagging salmon, whether the snagging is caused from hit-a-home-run side-sweeps of a fishing rod, or from the more subtle, delicate approach of line-biting.

The fact is, it is illegal to intentionally snag salmon and steelhead, or to keep unintentionally foul-hooked salmon or steelhead.

So I am all in for the anti-snagging rules and bobber restrictions that are listed under the "Chetco River" on page 30 of the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations. A photograph of a typical bobber rigging is on page 12.

But you have to remember the intent in which the anti-snagging regulation was made.

The anti-snagging regulation was intended for low-flow conditions, when salmon tend to keg up in the deeper tidewater holes, which makes them sitting ducks for fishing outlaws.

But it was not intended for the high-water conditions that often do occur in October.

In fact, I remember when deploying most fishing techniques on the Chetco were quite legal 35 years ago when I first moved to Brookings back in 1981.

During that particular year, people were back-bouncing roe from driftboats throughout Loeb State Park. I was one of the anglers drift-fishing Corkies-and-roe from the bank at the lower end of Loeb, witnessing the onslaught of drift boats deploying back-bouncing techniques as well as pulling plugs. And fish were rolling on the river just like a repeated lyric from Proud Mary.

Guaranteed, most years you will get at least 10 days of superb high-water fishing conditions in October on the Chetco River, conditions that render themselves perfectly to most river techniques. Often, October will even present itself with over 2 weeks of stellar high-water river conditions.

But now that the anti-snagging rule is in cold print in the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulation booklet, it is a very difficult rule to change according to the district fisheries biologist in charge of the Rogue and Chetco Rivers.

"At this point, we're still not proposing to make a change (in regulations), said Todd Confer, ODFW district fisheries biologist for the Chetco River on Thursday. "In the past we were operating under temporary rules. We had a temporary rule in place to require the bobber fishery and it was easy to just rescind that. But now that bobber rule is a permanent rule, so now it requires us to do a temporary rule to make a change."

So I say it's time to make another temporary rule change. And I also have a solution which will satisfy the anti-snagging law intent and allow anglers to use other techniques when the river has risen to high flows in October, which is:

Open and close the Chetco to specific fishing techniques according to specific river flows. 

This is not the first time that this subject has been broached, by the way. Nor should it be the last, at least until a new regulation has been added to the regulation booklet.

Here's an example of how a new regulation could read.

When the Chetco drops below 800 cfs (an arbitrary figure), the river above rivermile 2.2 up to Nook Creek would be governed by anti-snagging regulations.

Then when the Chetco raises above 800 cfs, the river would then become open to all other legal fishing techniques.

And when November 4 finally rolls around, and throughout the rest of the salmon and steelhead season, the Chetco River from rivermile 2.2 up to Nook Creek would then become open to all legal fishing techniques without any river-flow restrictions at all.

California opens and closes most of their north coast rivers according to this cubic-feet-per-second rule, and that system has worked quite well for them. There is no reason why It shouldn't work equally as well for "certain" Oregon rivers such as the Chetco.

ODFW could create an Oregon river flow hotline that anglers could call in order to get updated information at any hour.

Sound simple? It is indeed that simple, and quite lucrative in the long run for all parties who have an interest in fishing.

Law-abiding fishermen should not be punished because of a few bad apples who choose to snag and keep salmon and steelhead, when adjusting river techniques according to river flows would allow all fishermen to fish the Chetco when stellar October fishing conditions present themselves.

It's a win-win situation for the general fishing populace, river guides, ODFW employees and the agencies who enforce the sport fishing regulations.

For further information on how to change fishing regulations, visit, phone or email Lance Thomson at ODFW.

Lance Thomson 
Rules Coordinator Fish Division 
4034 Fairview Industrial Drive SE Salem, OR 97302 
Phone: 503-947-6233 

Tight lines!


Guide Val Early talked to Todd Confer this morning and told me that there was a possibility of opening the Chetco a little early in October.

“I talked to Todd Confer this morning and he said getting some emails from people would be helpful for sending up the line (Salem),” said Val Early on Friday morning. “Right now it was just them (ODFW, Gold Beach) that wanted to open it (the Chetco), so nobody in Salem was supporting that. So I’m going to send him an email and get a few guides to send him an email and then maybe you, and if you have a few friends that would like to be plunking who would like to send him an email, that would be helpful too.”

Todd Confer’s email is:

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 author of two books, "Plug Fishing for Salmon" and "Buoy 10, the World's Largest Salmon Run."  Both books can be bought from Amato Publications (, Amazon and eBay. Ellis particularly loves living in his hometown of Brookings, Oregon - The heart of salmon country and gateway to fishing paradise.

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