Chetco closure meant to aid stranded chinook

BROOKINGS — Sport-fishing will remain closed indefinitely along most of the Chetco River as low stream flows continue to have chinook salmon kegged in a lower river hole, where they remain ripe for stress caused by fishing.

The Chetco was set to open to anglers Saturday, but Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists decided Tuesday to extend the angling restrictions until rains swell the river and reduce fishing-related stress.

However, Saturday will see the opening to fishing on the lower three miles of tidewater from the Harbor water intake on the south bank downstream to the mouth, according to the ODFW. That would provide some estuary trolling of salmon passing through a stretch where they normally don't congregate in great numbers.

That will allow bank-fishing access at Tide Rock and Morris Hole, two popular tidal-influenced fishing spots.

But it keeps closed the popular Social Security Hole, where hundreds of chinook this week were holding and waiting for better migrating conditions.

"We aren't really excited about opening that up and allowing those fish to be harvested," said Todd Confer, an ODFW fish biologist in Gold Beach.

Many anglers are supporting the short-term closure, but some, like Dave Pitts of Brookings, would prefer to see the closed waters include Tide Rock and Morris Hole so bank anglers don't catch and release stressed chinook there.

"Those fish just need to get a break so they can get themselves upriver," Pitts says.

The river has been closed so far this fall as part of a coastwide effort to reduce angling pressure on wild fall chinook salmon, which are experiencing relatively low returns statewide. It was set to open Saturday because a freshet intense enough to get those chinook out of the Social Security Hole and distributed river-wide normally occurs by then, Confer said.

Without that freshet so far this year, flows Tuesday was down to 80 cubic feet per second — about one-third of the historic median flow for that dam according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Extending that closure is a continuance of that effort, Confer said.

The closure will be lifted as soon as rains come and create better migration conditions, and that could be as early as next week if weekend rains get the river up to around 1,000 cfs, Confer says.

The closure, written as a temporary rule, sunsets Nov. 30 if no rains come, Confer says.

Also, the temporary rule on Saturday will close angling in the Winchuck River, a salmon stream right along the Oregon/California border.

The Winchuck was added in anticipation that anglers will over-run the relatively small Winchuck estuary during the Chetco closure, Confer says.

When conditions change, both rivers will open simultaneously, Confer says.

Under emergency rules that began Aug. 1, the limit remains up to two chinook a day, but only one can be a wild chinook. Anglers also are allowed to keep up to five wild chinook in aggregate this fall on all South Coast streams except the Rogue, where the limit is two wild chinook a day and no more than 10 this season.

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