By Paul LeFebvre | 12/03/2010
On the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast we can fish for salmon every month of the year except for January and February. As the year progresses from summer into fall the Southern Oregon Coast angler shifts from the larger river systems like the Klamath and the Rogue to the smaller, shorter, streams like the Chetco, Smith, Elk and Sixes. These smaller systems receive their salmon runs coincident with the anticipation of the first rains of the season. The big attraction of these smaller streams is the large salmon that frequent these waters. Fifty pound HAWGS are possible here and provide the attraction for anglers fishing these smaller streams.


In our view, smaller coastal streams present the angler with a more complex arena to deal with when compared to the estuary and the stable marine trolling environments of summer salmon fishing. What river to fish, constantly changing river volumes, river turbidity changes, fish location, upstream or downstream, are all variables that challenge the angler to put together the right gear and circumstances to catch the HAWGS that frequent these smaller streams.

While this entire subject cannot be covered in the context of this blog, we will provide a few angling tips along with tips on how Pautzke’s products can help your success in this dynamic fishing arena.

River Dynamics

First let’s look at the behavior of the flow characteristics for the Smith River in Northern California as a couple of wet storm systems move thorough the area during the fall rainy period. These flow characteristics, although unique to each river drainage, can suggest what terminal gear, when, and where to fish.

These charts are carefully studied to help determine what river to fish on any given day. The height and flow of the river will dictate the terminal tackle to be used. While we will talk about the use of this information for California’s Smith River as an example…these data are available for most of the Northwest Rivers through the US geological service.

Predictive data is the most useful and is critical to the planning process for a successful fishing experience.


Strategies for extremely high water levels and high water limits

Most streams have a point where the turbidity is just too high to allow for any angling success. On the Smith River this occurs above 12-14 feet. Ideally, above these levels we will to shift to a different river because the water basin is massive and there are smaller streams within a short travelling distance that fish better than the Smith when it is at these levels.

If we choose to fish these high levels we may enjoy decent success by “plunking” from the banks of large gravel bars. Because of the high flows and turbid conditions, the HAWGS will tend to hug the edges of the river to conserve energy… this path of least resistance.

Typical plunking gear consists of 8-10 ounces of weight combined with a 36 inch leader and large Spin-n-Glow lure. Bright colors and a touch of yarn are often used to improve visibility. This rig is cast out from shore about 10 yards and, as the terminal gear comes to rest, we should be fishing in no more than 3-5 feet of water. Our rod is placed in an elevated holder and then…let the game begin.

A plunking rig can be used with or without bait. We like to add roe cured in Pautzke’s Pink Fire Cure to provide a scent trail for the fish to hone in on. We also, at times, incorporate a trailing sand shrimp by using a double hook setup. Yet another scenting approach is to use whole prawns soaked over night in Pautzke Nectar.

While plunking is a sit and wait game we like to have several rigs in play so we can reel in about once every twenty minutes and change terminal gear keeping my scent trail going and picking any debris off the line that may have accumulated in the high turbid water.

Shown on the left below are a few of the colors used by the author in high turbid conditions. Shown on the right below are the same terminal rigs with different approaches to creating a scent trail.


Strategies for a Falling River

After a significant storm system these rivers fall rapidly in direct proportion to the size of the river drainage and the amount of rainfall. Like the case with finding another river when the conditions on your favorite stream are too high, one may find situations as the rivers fall when their favorite stream is to low but another river is fishing very well.

We can categorize a falling river in three ways.

1) “HAWGS on the move” The river is high enough where fish are “on the move” and the river turbidity is moderate. As shown above this occurs when the Smith River is around 11 -13 feet. This condition generally occurs 1-2 days after the rain event.

2) “HAWGS on the move – Cautiously” The river height has fallen to the point that there is still significant flow…but the river is clear and the fish hold in the deeper pools during the day and move early morning and late evening. This occurs generally 3-4 days after a rain event. On the Smith River condition #2 occurs when the river is running at, or near, a level of 8-10 feet.

3) “HAWGS Holding…Spooky” The river height is now low and clear generally 5-7 days after a significant rain event. The Smith River level is less than 8 feet. The fish are holding the deep pools and in the estuary.

These three conditions depend greatly on the size of the rain event and how deep we are into the fall season. As many rain events have taken place, the streams here tend to have lower turbidity at higher flow levels. The following illustrates how to change terminal gear tactics as the river you are fishing is “on the fall.”

Condition # 1 – HAWGS on the move…

With HAWGS on the move, and the river still a bit swollen, back trolling Kwikfish from a drift boat shines. This is an excellent method for intercepting large moving HAWGS. The Kwikfish is aggravator bait that induces a strike as the HAWG will aggressively protect the territory he is travelling in. While we prefer the K15 model scented with a sardine wrap as most people do, we tend to chose color and scent selection by the river section we are working …or… whether I am fishing over fresh run fish or not. The color selection differences between marine and upstream environments are the topic of another blog but are included her to show the Kwikfish selections we like when fishing for “on the move” HAWGS.



When scenting our Kwikfish we always start with a fresh sardine wrap, or a wrap soaked in Pautzke’s Nectar. We have also had success using sardine wraps treated with Fire Cure as detailed by Joel Shangle in his blog, FIRE-CURED BAIT WRAP.

In a marine environment we tend to use our sardine fillets fresh, and untreated, for about 20 minutes. After that session, we soak the used fillet in Pautzke Krill oil and back troll it for another 20 minutes…at this point we change the wrap or put on another pre-wrapped Kwikfish. It seems that in our experience the fresher fish in the lower river or estuary (marine) environments seem to prefer scents they are somewhat familiar with in the ocean. On the other hand… the approach of using egg cures and fillets soaked in Pautzke Nectar seem to stimulate more strikes upstream when the fish have been in the river system for awhile.

Remember when the river is on the fall in condition #1; stay off the heavy current and on the calm side of the seams or near the edge of the river. Pay particular attention to the inside corners for travelling fish and leave the rods in the holders. A massive strike from a HAWG can easily remove the rod from your hands changing the completion of your day.

Condition # 2 – HAWGS on the move…but cautiously…

Three to four days after peak flow will find the rivers of the Wild Rivers coast with fairly low turbidity. This condition provides plenty of flow but the improved clarity leaves the fish staged in deep holes during the day and moving early morning and late evening. Clearly Kwikfish at the top of a hole can be productive early and late, but the flexible angler will switch to back-bouncing techniques as the lighting improves. Back-bouncing is the preferred method to get on the bottom of deep pools where the fish are holding.


The author and Monty Moncrief with two nice Chetco River HAWGS caught on a falling river back- bouncing HAM and EGGS. Note the water clarity and the heavy water seam in the background where the fish were holding.

While back-bouncing cured eggs are fairly common, we like the “Ham and Egg” approach for big HAWGS. This combination is almost irresistible to a HAWG if presented properly. We use a double 1/0 – 2/0 hook set up behind a 30″ leader and a 10″ dropper.


Eggs cured in RED or PINK Fire Cure combined with fresh, live, sand shrimp as shown can be deadly and in fact may hook fish even if they have been molested by other boats.

As the water levels continue to drop to the low clear levels we back bounce exclusively. Our bait sizes are reduced accordingly and fluorocarbon leaders at additional lengths are employed for the clear water.

Condition #3 – HAWGS holding …and spooky…

This is a tough condition to fish on any stream as the HAWGS are holed up. As often is the case in this condition, their location is well known to the crowds. We tend to shy away from this condition and move to a larger stream that may be in condition #2, more water.

Our favorite low water tactic is to move back to the estuary and troll whole sardines or anchovies with the oars on a high tide. Kwikfish in marine colors can be effective but have a tendency to be more intrusive when compared to whole anchovies or sardines.

Another method is to and leave the drift boat at home and drift fish from shore using small clusters of eggs cured in Pautzke’s Borax-O-Fire. Most low water tactics involve a greater chance of catching a fish early or late in the day.

Finally, as one can see, if you can get these patterns down to a science then there would never be a day when one could not fish on the Wild Rivers Coast. Given this fact it is probably better to get the honey do’s completed with the rivers in low and clear conditions and get tackle ready for the next storm hitting the coastline.

Tight Lines,