The Chetco is located in the southwest corner of Oregon, only a few miles north of the California border. The Chetco is Famous for its superb salmon and steelhead fishing.Originating in the high mountains of the Siskiyou National Forest, the Chetco’s uppermost reaches are protected within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (a popular destination for hikers and backpackers). From there, the river flows southwest for 50 miles to its mouth at the town of Brookings. Through out the year, resident and sea run cutthroat inhabit every reach of the river, but salmon and steelhead are the main attraction for anglers. Salmon fishing begins in Chetco Cove in late July or August. Chinook salmon feed voraciously on anchovies and other baitfish in the protected waters of the cove. Trolling herring, anchovies and spinners is the most popular style of fishing.
By September, a good number of Chinook begin to hold in the tidewater reaches of the river, as well as the first few deep pools above the reach of tide. Until the fall rains arrive, salmon accumulate in this section of the river, where fly fishing from a boat is a preferred method. Float fishing and casting lures are also popular. Once the rains of autumn arrive (in October or November), the salmon move into the greater river. Winter steelhead move into the Chetco from November to the end of March, and provide excellent sport.
The Chetco Wild and Scenic River is divided into three segments: a 27.5 mile wild segment from the headwaters down to Mislatnah Creek; a 7.5 mile scenic segment from Mislatnah Creek down to Eagle Creek; and a 9.5 mile recreational segment from Eagle Creek down to the Siskiyou National Forest boundary.
The Chetco heads in steep, deeply dissected, sparsely vegetated, mountainous terrain within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Over its 55.5 mile length, the Chetco drops from 3700 feet to sea-level as it empties into the Pacific Ocean between the towns of Brookings and Harbor, about 5 miles north of the California border. In the upper section, the river floor is fairly narrow and boulder-strewn with numerous falls and rapids. As the river leaves the wilderness, its character gradually changes. The country becomes less dissected, the river gradient gradually becomes less steep, the river bottom widens, and the surrounding hills become more densely forested. The river narrows in several areas, crossing through rock outcrops and leaving enormous boulders in the riverbed. The Chetco River Gorge, jst below Steel Bridge, contains steep sides and unusual rock formations. Below this, the Chetco continues to broaden, and the gradient becomes less steep, with sand and gravel bars and raised river terraces becoming more common.
Fishing the Chetco: The Chetco River fishery, typical of Pacific coastal systems, is dominated by trout and salmon. There are important populations of anadromous winter steelhead, fall chinook salmon, and sea-run cutthroat trout. Coho and chum salmon are occasionally observed. Resident cutthroat and rainbow trout are abundant in upper stream reaches. Native populations of fall chinook and winter steelhead are supplemented with hatchery fish. The Chetco provides excellent spawning and rearing habitat and has some of the highest salmonid smolt returns of any coastal stream in Oregon. Pacific lamprey, three-spined stickleback, and assorted sculpin are also known to inhabit this system.
Recreational Opportunities: Primary transportation routes within the river corridor are the North Bank Chetco River Road (#1376), the South Bank River Road (#1205), and associated spur roads. Recreationists can access the recreational and scenic river segments and launch boats in several locations, including Miller, Nook, Redwood riverbars; upper and lower South Fork Camps; the Low-water Bridge Site; Forest Road #1917-067; and the dispersed campsite at Steel Bridge. Various trails access the river, both maintained and unmaintained. Maintained trails include the Chetco Gorge Trail (#1112) in the recreational segment and the Tincup Trail (#1117) in the scenic segment. Access to the wild segment can be accomplished by trail within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The Chetco River at the Slide Creek confluence is accessible from the eastside of the wilderness via the Upper Chetco Trail (#1102), southwest of Chetco Pass. The Taggart’s Bar area of the Chetco can be accessed by a combination of the Johnson Butte (#1110) and Upper Chetco (#1102) trails. These trails are listed as ‘most difficult’ and are open to hiking, riding and packstock. For basic trail information and directions to the trailheads, please refer to the Trail Recreation Opportunity Guide which is available from the Chetco Ranger District. Or visit the Recreation Opportunities section of the Siskiyou National Forest Web Page.
Fishing and Boating. Permits are required to float the Chetco for all users year round. The primary fishing season for steelhead and salmon is sometime between November and March. Free self-issuing permits are available at a station along the North Bank Chetco River Road (#1376). Commercial outfitting for fishing has been established by 40 guides, and all available permits have been issued at this time. Non-commercial use is not limited but must be permitted. Motorized boat use is not allowed on any river segment. Off-highway vehicle crossings of the river are prohibited.
Whitewater boating on the Chetco is restricted by its limited access, high use during the fishing season, and availability of other good boating opportunities in the area. A very limited number of kayakers have floated through the wild segment of the Chetco during high-flow conditions. Rapids are class III and below during the summer months during average flows. During the winter months rapid class is higher depending upon flow conditions. Summer floating during low water conditions has become an increasingly popular river activity on all river segments. Commercial outfitter/guide services on wild, scenic and recreation segments, during these low flow conditions, started operating during the 1997 season.
Camping. Day use of river bars and boat launch sites is free. Fees are required for overnight use (between the hours of 8pm and 8am) at Nook and Redwood Riverbars ($3.00 fee) and the Little Redwood Campground ($6.00 fee). A camping fee is also required at Loeb State Park located below the Siskiyou National Forest boundary.
River Ethics. When camping on remote sites without facilities, use existing fire-rings. If a fire-ring is not present, contain your fire using a fire pan. Pack out all garbage and unburned fire residue. Whenever possible, if a toilet facility is not available, pack out human fecal waste using a wilderness toilet system designed to meet state requirements (no use of plastic bags and provide for discharge into a recreational vehicle dump site). If you don’t have a satisfactory pack-out toilet, bury the waste above the high-water mark, in mineral soil (not sand), 6″ – 8″ deep, above the high water mark.
Wilderness Use. Permits are not required for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness (although a permit must be obtained for floating the Chetco River. The Forest Service appreciates your filling out our voluntary registration cards at the trailheads. Wilderness and wild and scenic river corridors are sensitive environments which require the practice of the best Leave No Trace ethics in minimizing impacts while still enjoying these natural areas. Information about the Leave No Trace program is available from the Forest Service, at the Leave No Trace Home Page, or by calling 1-800-332-4100.
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