By Andy Martin
HIOUCHI That first big rain of fall, the one that muddies the river up, pushes it to the top of the banks, and then allows it to quickly drop back in shape, is a magical time of year.
Last week's downpour was no exception just ask any guide who was on the Smith River Sunday fishing for Chinook salmon.
"Today was phenomenal," longtime guide Mick Thomas said Sunday evening. "Lots of fish, big fish, small fish, every size fish. We probably got at least 30 fish today without hardly working."
Judging by this week's weather forecast, the Smith should be in great shape for salmon anglers through the weekend. This could be the best week of the year for salmon fishing in Northern California.
"With water conditions what they are now, there is going to be some phenomenal upriver fishing and lots of fish and they will continue," Thomas said. "Unless we went to a major drought for a month straight, there is no way you wouldn't be able to drift that river daily. It's a phenomenal river and it's dropping slow."
Thomas has been hammering the plentiful fall kings currently in the Smith River with the hot new egg cure from Pautzke Bait Co. He's using eggs cured in the red cure.
Sometimes the red cure makes the eggs too dark, so try mixing a bottle of the red and another of the pink next time you catch a big hen and cure up the eggs.
"We just back-bounced roe," Thomas said. "We got all of our fish on roe. They guys who pulled plugs did well too."
If you don't have any good roe yet this season, use a T50 FlatFish or K15 Kwikfish with a sardine wrap on its belly. Chrome with a chartreuse bill is always good, but the greenish colored "Fickle Pickle" or the "Double Trouble," which is silver with a chartreuse bull and butt, also work well. On sunny days, don't be afraid to use the "Gold Digger," with its gold with red stripes.
Before wrapping the sardine fillets to the plugs, try soaking them overnight in green Pautzke Nectar. It helps turn the fillets a fishy-looking green color and helps improve the scent trail.
Thomas nailed his fish early this week drifting from the Forks down to Ruby. Some boaters went from Ruby down.
The Forks down will continue to be the best drift with the relatively high water, which also bodes well for bank anglers.
"I was just amazed by how many fish were traveling all day long today," Thomas said Sunday. "They are taking full advantage of this water."
Bank anglers can expect to do well this season, Thomas predicted. "Basically, anywhere there is bank access you are going to see phenomenal bank fishing," he said.
Bank anglers can fish up to Patrick Creek on the Middle Fork and Jones Creek on the South Fork.
Tackle and shuttles
Now that the river is in great shape and the salmon are in, Thomas has opened his bait and tackle shop in Hiouchi, Lunker Trips and Tackle. Aside from bait and gear, boaters can also arrange shuttles there. Bank anglers can get advice there as well. Call (707) 458-4704 for the latest conditions this week.
Outdoor writer Andy Martin is a former editor of Fishing & Hunting News and runs a halibut charter boat in the Gulf of Alaska during the summer and guides on America's Wild Rivers Coast in the winter. He can be reached at wildrivers