By Andy Martin | 10/11/2013

One of the most anticipated salmon fisheries on the West Coast in early October is the so-called “Bubble Season” at the mouth of Oregon’s Chetco River. This is when anglers are allowed to fish both the lower portion of the Chetco’s estuary, and the near-coastal ocean water just off the mouth.

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Big kings, some topping 50 pounds, stack up near the mouth of the river, waiting for fall rains to move upriver to spawn. With up to 20 percent of the run made up of 5-year-old salmon – those massive 40- and 50-pounders – the season draws fishermen from throughout Oregon, Northern California and even Washington, Idaho and Nevada.

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Typically big baits are the offering of choice anglers use to entice these giant kings. But this season, smaller baits seem to be the ticket. Green-label herring, which measure a mere 5 1/2 or 6 inches compared to 8 inches for purple-label herring, have been a hot bait this fall off of the Chetco. The green-label herring are plug-cut, and fished 5 to 6 feet behind an inline flasher, such as a Big Al’s Fish Flash.

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Currently off the coast of Southern Oregon there are giant masses of krill, and plentiful anchovies and other baitfish. With so much natural bait off of Brookings, it seems the large king salmon staging at the mouth of the Chetco are more likely to hit a smaller herring than the larger blue- and purple-label baits.

Several times this season already, I’ve started out with a mix of herring sizes and then switching over to whatever is producing best. Smaller green-label baits have been the ticket.

The biggest problem with plug-cutting green-label herring is keeping them on the hook. There is not a lot of meat to sink a 4/0 or 5/0 hook into, and the smaller baits are more likely to tear off after a few minutes of trolling.

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Brining the baits is a must.

My favorite brine is Pautzke’s blue Fire Brine. The blue tint it gives baits helps, but just as important is the way it toughens up the baits, helping them stay on the hook longer. Nothing is worse than trolling around for half an hour with two bare hooks.

Most brines require the bait to be soaked overnight or longer to toughen up the baits. Pautzke’s Fire Brine, however, is the most potent brine on the market, and works quickly. I usually place a few trays of herring in a contained and submerge them in the brine as I leave my driveway. A couple hours later, the baits are ready to fish. I’ll add another tray of bait as I start to go through baits. Those new baits will be brined and toughened up as I run out of the initial baits.

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Chetco Bubble Tips

When salmon first return to the Chetco, they stage near the whistle buoy, typically close to the surface. Anglers will begin trolling over 100 to 120 feet of water, but dropping their baits only 20 to 35 feet below the surface. As they salmon get closer to beginning their charge up the river, they will move to the red bell, off of Sporthaven Beach and near Salmon Rock just out from the North Jetty.

Closer to the mouth, anglers in the know will put away the downriggers, and switch to spreaders and lead. I like to use 6 ounces of weight, and fish them 65 feet out (using a line counter reel to measure). Troll just fast enough to get the herring to spin. Fish Flash flashers are important for adding vibration and attraction to the herring.

Editor’s Note: Guide Andy Martin, who has guided anglers to salmon as big as 58 pounds at the mouth of the Chetco, owns and operates Wild Rivers Fishing. His web site is http://www.wildriversfishing.com/.