June 12, 2013
Anglers have quite a few options when it comes to fishing cutthroat in the Chetco River. The estuary usually holds larger fish, but anglers may need a boat to access this fishery. The upper river is more for bank anglers fishing small spinners or flies. Anglers wanting the fish the upper river may want to pick up a Forest Service map to find all the access points.
The first known inhabitants of the Chetco River are believed to have moved to the area approximately 1,000+ years ago. These inhabitants were known as the Chetco Indians. There were at least nine Indian villages along the Chetco, including villages on either side of the mouth of the river where it pours into the Pacific Ocean. The word Chetco is an Indian word meaning close to the mouth of the stream. It is believed that the Chetco Indians met their first ‘white man’ in June of 1579 when Sir Francis Drake visited the area on his explorations of the world. In 1792 the Vancouver Expedition also explored the area. Jedediah Smith and his company of fur traders arrived on the Chetco in June of 1828. They are said to have camped on the south bank of the river near one of the Chetco Indian villages.
Just as had been discovered on the Rogue River in the mid 1800s early settlers discovered not only fur trapping and trading opportunities, but Gold as well; the Chetco also provided mining of nickel, cobalt and chromium. This discovery brought in a large number of settlers. During the same time as the fighting between the Rogue Indians and the white settlers was occurring, the Chetco Indians and settlers in this area were beginning to battle as well. Between 1853 and 1855 many of the Chetco were killed and their villages destroyed. On July 19, 1856, the remaining Chetco were marched north to the Siletz Reservation near Tillamook, OR.
The town of Brookings was founded at the mouth of the Chetco in 1914. The Brookings Lumber & Box Company moved to the area in 1912 from the San Bernardino Mountains in southern California. Brookings however, was not incorporated until 1951. The lumber company built a 1,200 foot wharf at the mouth of the river in 1917. In 1957 the United States Army Corps of Engineers built jetties on either side of the mouth of the river.
At an elevation of approximately 3,201 feet above sea level, is the beginning of the Chetco River. Its start is about four miles east of Chetco Peak. 44.5 miles of the river were divided into three segments with the Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1988. The wild segment of the Chetco runs north for 27.5 miles where it begins to gather water from tributaries such as the Little Chetco River, Babyfoot Creek, Box Canyon Creek, Tincup Creek, Boulder Creek, and Mislatnah Creek, where it runs into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Boundary. The river then takes a turn south for a 7.5 mile section known as the scenic segment, where it merges with the South Fork Chetco River and then continues through a Redwood grove to Eagle Creek. At this point, the Chetco flows 9.5 miles from Eagle Creek, between Bosley Butte and Mount Emily; the impact site of one of only four bombs known to have hit the continental United States by enemy aircraft in 1942; to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National forest boundary one mile downstream from Wilson Creek. This area is the recreational segment. Here, the river turns southwest and merges with the North Fork Chetco. From this point, the Chetco finishes the last few miles of its journey to the Pacific Ocean. In total the Chetco River is 55.5 miles in length.
The Chetco River, as is typical of the Pacific coastal rivers, is dominated by trout and salmon. It also has a large population of winter steelhead, fall Chinook salmon and sea run cutthroat trout. There is also the occasional Coho and chum salmon found on the river. The upper portions of the river and its streams are loaded with rainbow and cutthroat trout. The Chetco possesses some of the highest salmon smolt returns of any coastal river in Oregon.
Trails & Waterfalls
Chetco Gorge Trail
The Chetco Gorge Trail is great for day hiking and provides picnicking and camping spots at the end of the trail. It is a fairly easy trail with a gentle grade and follows along the Chetco River. Since the trails end is close to the mouth of Eagle Creek it also provides some good fishing and swimming at its end. The vegetation along the trail does include poison oak and the water is only safe for swimming during low water periods such as late spring through early fall.
Emily Cabin & Bailey Cabin Trails
The Emily, or Emlly, Cabin Trail is actually an old mining road that leads to the Emily Cabin sitting on the bank of the Little Chetco River near the Ditch Creek confluence within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This area has been mined for gold since the late 1800s. The trail going in is very easy, but is a steep climb coming out. The cabin was named for its original owner, an Englishman named Mr. Emlly who built the cabin in the late 1800s. The area also shows historic evidence that the river was mined by Chinese miners at one time.
The Bailey Cabin Trail connects the Emily Cabin Trail with the Bailey Mountain Trail. The old Bailey Cabin site provides an area for overnight camping near a seasonal spring. All three of these trails are in the area of a large forest fire that occurred in 2002. Known as the Biscuit fire, this forest fire started as 5 smaller fires that grew together and destroyed 500,000 acres of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area. The fire began with lightening strikes between July 12th and July 15th 2002 and burned until the end of December 2002. Over the past several years, the forest and ecosystem has begun to repair itself and new vegetation is becoming abundant.