Crabbing closure due to high domoic acid

Chetco River - Brookings, OR (Curry County)

A fisherman guards his plunking stick at Social Security Bar on the Chetco River last week while his faithful companion keeps a vigilant eye for any finned intruders.
Photo Credit: Larry Ellis

by Larry Ellis

December 1 usually marks the first day that recreational crabbers can start harvesting Dungeness crab.  But impending storms are not the only reason why that opener will not be occurring this year.

High levels of a deadly toxin called domoic acid has caused the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Agriculture to issue statements closing all recreational and commercial crabbing in Oregon’s ocean and bays south of Tillamook Head.

“Recreational and commercial crab harvesting from the ocean, and in bays and estuaries, is CLOSED from the Tillamook Head to the California border,” quotes the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s website as of last Thursday.

The domoic acid toxin causes a potentially-lethal disease called paralytic shellfish poisoning.

To keep apprized of this crabbing closure, call the Oregon Shellfish Safety Hotline at 800-448-2474 or visit the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s recreational shellfish biotoxin closure website.

This is the time of year when Chetco River anglers begin to get high hopes of catching their first winter steelhead of the season.  But impending forecasts of large amounts of rain issued by the National Weather Service may prevent anglers from fishing the Chetco by causing the river to blow out this weekend and into the first part of next week.

When the river starts dropping and clearing, the first anglers who will get the first crack at catching the Chetco’s winter steelhead will be those who are deploying a technique called plunking.

As of last Thursday, the NWS’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service was forecasting that Old Man Chetco could in fact rise to 38,000 cubic feet per second.

Whether the Chetco River rises to 38K cfs, there is no doubt that the river will blow out at some point in time.

Once again, keep abreast of the Chetco’s river flows by typing in in your computer browser’s address bar, click on recreational river flows, and then click on “Chetco near Brookings.”

On the Chetco, ideal plunking water is anywhere from 4,000 up to 8,000 cfs, and the river must be dropping and clearing.  Regardless of the river’s flow, if the river is muddy, it’s blown out – time to stay home and watch your favorite fishing shows.

But when the river starts lowering and clearing to anywhere from a slate-gray to a pea-green hue, break out your plunking box and head for the river. Steelhead love biting on a dropping river.

Plunking is a term that simply means still fishing from the bank.  You will need a medium action rod approximately 8 feet long, an assortment of Spin-N-Glos ranging from number 4 to number 2, with number 4 being the most common, and a stout rod holder which you will hammer into the ground.

The three most effective Spin-N-Glo colors on the Chetco River are ‘flame chartreuse’ (also known as half-and-half or stop-and-go), ‘egg fluorescent’ and ‘pearl pink’, all with white wings.

Finding the right spot is always a challenge and these spots can change day to day.  Avoid the moderately-sloping and shallow spots.

However, do try to look for water that slopes downward fairly rapidly from 2 to 5 feet, and try to find water that has an inside turn with willows nearby.  Also look for a current seam, which is a visible ripple on top of the water that meets calmer water with no ripple on top.  Find a current seam along an inside bend with willows nearby that slopes downward from 2 to 5 feet and you’ve won the lottery.

The biggest mistake that plunkers make is casting out too far.  Often steelhead will be within 8 feet from the bank, especially when given the aforementioned conditions. They avoid the faster-running water further away from the bank.

You can also use spawn sacks containing a few eggs in the egg loop of your back hook for scent.

Next week I will describe the three most effective ways of rigging up for plunking.

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 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.

More Reports

Use bait sacks to catch first-season steelhead
Chetco River

It's now approaching the end of November, so I would anticipate that more Chetco River Chinook are still going to...... Read More

Chetco River Kicking Out Kings
Chetco River

In the last few weeks, we've talked about water levels and water flows, and how they influence the various fishing...... Read More