Kenny Priest/For the Times-Standard
I was itching to fish the Eel River as I heard reports of big fish from the guides over the weekend. I convinced my girlfriend, Tracy, to take a day off from work last Thursday to do some “fish research” with me. She brought along our friend, Margee – the owner of the Cutten Inn restaurant – who was also itching to take a day off.
Margee, over the years, had heard of all our tall tales of great fishing and had seen photos, but had never fished with us. Thursday just happened to work out for everybody. We had no idea what we’d find or how the day would go. I informed Margee the Eel River was catch and release. I didn’t want her to think she’d be mounting a big, Eel River fish on her mantle after today’s drift.
When we picked up Margee, she had a banana in one hand and her big, tote-like purse on the other. I laughed. “Just bring only what you need – your license and a jacket,” I told her. Most boat captains believe bringing a banana on any boat is bad luck and may influence your ability to catch fish. I wasn’t taking any chances. I already had two women in the boat, so the banana was discarded.
The plan was to drift from Holmes down to Stafford. After some quick instructions, we made out way to the top of the first riffle. The girls let out their Kwikfish and we started our slow decent down river. We saw a few fish roll, so I was optimistic we’d get some action. We had our first takedown in the first five minutes. Tracy’s rod doubled over hard and then immediately went slack. “Reel, reel, reel!” I shouted as I guessed the fish was swimming right towards us. As the line came tight, we realized we had a good-sized fish hooked. After a 10-minute battle, the adult salmon finally tired and slid into my net. We took some photos and then safely released the salmon. High five! The skunk was off the boat and we were hoping Margee would hook the next fish.
A little later, we moved down to the next hole. It had the two things salmon like – good current and depth. Right after we let out the plugs and they started working, Tracy’s rod went down again. She handed the rod off to Margee. Coupled with some more instructions on how to hold the pole and when to reel down, Margee landed the fish nicely. It was another nice salmon, around 20-pounds that I revived and released.
Before the next pass, the girls decided to trade seats – trying to disprove the theory that all the fish were on the right side of the boat. Tracy – now sitting on the left side – hooked up again. The fish didn’t stick, but clearly it wasn’t about what side of the boat to sit on, but what plug was annoying the fish more. Tracy’s plug was definitely averaging more grabs than Margee’s lure, but I felt like both plugs had good wiggle and there seemed to be plenty of fish around. So, we kept at it.
Tracy was able to land another big, bright salmon. Margee’s lure did get hit a couple of times, but the fish just wouldn’t stick. It was just a matter of time I determined. A few seconds later wham! Margee’s rod went down hard. This one stuck. Margee hooked and landed her first-ever Eel River salmon! I showed her how to hold the fish carefully, not touching its gills and firmly holding onto to the tail while keeping it in the water. When Tracy snapped the photo, we knew this picture was going in a frame and on the bar at the Cutten Inn. This photo would replace her husband’s halibut photo that had been on the bar for years. It was finally Margee’s turn for a bragging rights fish photo.
Tracy hooked up again on the next pass, but we ended up losing the fish as both lines tangled. I was just excited that my boat and both lures were finally moving like a well-oiled exotic dancer. On the very next pass, both rods went down simultaneously – a double hook-up! As luck would have it, each fish went on separate sides of the boat, making it easy to keep the lines away from each other. Tracy coaxed her fish into the net first like a pro. Margee’s fish was much larger and she had to battle it for another 10 minutes. Once we had both fish in the net and safely released back into the river, we celebrated like true sportsman – the girls popped open the cooler and reached for some frosty beverages.
We realized we had already hooked about seven or eight good-sized fish and it was only Noon. We were now fishing in our T-shirts, we had the river all to ourselves and there was a nice breeze. We felt like it couldn’t get any better than this. Even thought, we didn’t catch any more fish, the Eel River adventure wasn’t over just yet.
Out of nowhere, a large railcar bridge appeared on the horizon. It was essentially blocking our main drift down river. We pulled over and decided we’d have to drag the boat across a gravel bar, paddle into some deeper water and go around it through a narrow stretch of shallow water. It took all three of us to drag the boat across the river. We all got wet, up past our rubber boots. Trying to get back into a moving boat when you’re your boots are filled up with water is no easy task. There was a couple watching us from the bank and we thought how hilarious this must look to them.
There was another spot down river where we had to drag the boat across a gravel bar. So, now fishing had turned into a sweaty, wet work out. Margee was unfazed. She was just glad to finally have the chance to see how beautiful the Eel is.
When we finally arrived at the Stafford take out point, we talked about how fun the day was – even the parts where we had to drag the boat. We had inadvertently picked a great day to fish. It was one of those days where you tell all your fishing friends, “You should have been here yesterday.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the main stem Eel, from the paved junction of Fulmor Road with the Eel River to the South Fork Eel River was the only river that is regulated by low flow closures that was still open. All other North Coast rivers regulated by low flow closures were closed. The Department of Fish and Game will make the information available to the public by a telephone recorded message updated, as necessary, no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at anytime. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164.
The main stem is still open as of Wednesday afternoon and was flowing at 550 cfs and dropping. Minimum flows to keep it open are 350 cfs on the Scotia gauge. With no rain on the horizon, it will likely close before the weekend. Last week saw some dynamite fishing on the Eel, with guides reporting double-digit days. Thursday was probably the day to be there as the river had just peaked and starting dropping. NOTE: CA Fish and Game would like to remind anglers to check the CA DFG Sport Fishing Regulations booklet for the Eel River and other catch and release, barbless hook-only north coast streams and rivers. For more information, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/regulations/FreshFish-Mar2011/ccr-t14-ch3-art3.html. Also, in waters where the bag limit is zero for trout and salmon, the fish must be released unharmed and should not be removed from the water.
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