South fork of Eel and Chetco good before it rains
Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery will host their second derby of the season this weekend with what looks like favorable conditions on the Smith and Chetco rivers.
Linda Jones of Elk Grove poses with a wild steelhead trout estimated at nine pounds caught on the Smith River. Submitted by Kevin Brock
The 30th annual Hank “Raider” Derby will kick off tonight with a welcome dinner and raffle, and on Friday the two-boat teams will hit the Smith and Chetco, one boat on each river, to catch as many inches of steelhead as they can get. On Saturday the team-members switch rivers.
All derby fishing is catch and release, but before teams toss back steelhead, they cut a piece of string to match the length of the fish. Whichever team has the most cumulative inches of steelhead (string) at the end is the winner.
Fishing Guide Kevin Brock won the Chopper Derby (Feb. 23–25) for the second year in a row. Brock’s team was in second place at the end of the first day of the Chopper Derby, but their second day of fishing was enough to pull them to the top.
“The two anglers in my boat were 30-year veterans of the derby, Ron McGowan and Bob Pestoni of St. Helena, and they did a terrific job of landing the fish they hooked,” Brock said.
Brock has been hammering the steelhead on the Smith, including a double-digit catch last Wednesday. On Thursday, he had two beginner anglers and still landed five fish.
“I had to teach them how to fish and we still did good,” Brock said. “The Smith is going to keep right on fishing all the way through March for sure, which is a cool thing.”
Local guide Mike Coopman has been fishing the south fork of the Eel, which he said was fishing great up until Wednesday when the bite slowed down a bit. From Sunday to Tuesday, Coopman’s boat was catching eight to ten steelhead per day while the river was holding the right color.
Jason Lazono of Sacramento shows off a 7-pound steelhead caught on the Smith River last week. Submitted by Kevin Brock
The main stem of the Eel was still blown out from snowmelt, Coopman said, and weekend rains in the forecast will probably do the same to the south fork.
“There’s some rain coming this weekend which will probably blow (the Eel) out but it will help the Smith,” Coopman said.
On Sunday, the Smith is predicted to jump above 11 feet at the Jed Smith river guage in Hiouchi.
Fishing guide David Castellanos has been catching three to four fish per day on the Chetco, catching some on plugs as well as bait.
From March 1 to March 5 there were 286 adult fish that migrated upstream past the DIDSON‚Äąsonar fish counter at the Fred Haight boat launch.
“The average per day has dropped off pretty significantly,” said Jesse Nolan, a DIDSON technician.
Fishing tip of the week
“When the temperature warms up outside, the fish really bite plugs well,” said Brock, who recommended a No. 30 size Hot Shot diving plug, with a black lip, colored silver and black or prism and black.