Come mid- to late December — maybe even early January if things work out — I’ll be making several flame runs to the inlaws in Newport.
And as much fun as their house on the Oregon Coast is, one can go a little stir crazy there — especially when the whiff of winter-runs hangs thick in the air.
I already have plans for where I want to fish, but if you’re new to steelheading in Western Oregon or looking for new waters, ODFW today put out its comprehensive guide to winter fishing on the North, Central and South Coasts as well as Lower Columbia, Willamette and Sandy Rivers.
Glory hallelujah, Christmas has come early!!!
It covers waters from Gnat-sized streams to Rogue rivers and almost every rill in between, and though it doesn’t come with a pronunciation guide, it also details everything from smolt releases and boat launches to run timing and what lakes ODFW stashes surplus steelies in.
Let us give a moment of thanks to those hard-working folks in Salem, Clackamas, Tillamook, Newport, Gold Beach and elsewhere across the left half of the Beaver State.
For more on tactics and gear — as well as hot spot maps of the Wilson and Clack — pick up the December issue of Northwest Sportsman!
So, with no further adieu (i.e. blathering from The Blatherer In Chief), I give you ODFW’s 2011 Winter Steelhead Guide:
Go, catch many.
Several local streams host early returning (late November through January) hatchery winter steelhead. The North Fork Nehalem River is generally one of the better early season streams, with hatchery steelhead also available in the Necanicum, Kilchis, Wilson, and Nestucca rivers. A fair number of hatchery steelhead also migrate up the Trask River, although none are planted there. The Wilson and Nestucca rivers, which have wild broodstock hatchery programs, will have hatchery steelhead available throughout the winter and early spring (generally through mid-April). Wild steelhead are available throughout the winter and the run generally peaks in March.
Anglers should contact the local ODFW office in Tillamook at 503-842-2741 for more information on fishing techniques, locations and updated fishing conditions. Recorded fishing information for the North Fork Nehalem is available at 503-368-5670. Tillamook County has instituted a fee system at county-owned or operated boat launch sites. Daily fee envelopes are available at access sites. Contact Tillamook County Parks (503-322-3477) for more information or to purchase an annual pass.
Hatchery steelhead smolts are released in Gnat Creek (40,000), Big Creek (60,000), and the North Fork Klaskanine River (40,000). Fishing for steelhead is restricted to the lower portions of the streams below the hatcheries. Hatchery fish are primarily available during December and January, with numbers of fish tapering off quickly after that. These streams are small and are primarily fished from the banks. Access is available at the hatcheries, at Big Creek County Park, and along roads following the streams. Anglers may call 503-458-6529 for recorded Big Creek fishing information. The Lewis and Clark River, Young’s River, and the South Fork Klaskanine River also are open to steelhead fishing. While anglers will encounter some stray hatchery fish, these streams offer mostly catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead.
The Necanicum River offers excellent small-stream steelhead fishing throughout the winter. Hatchery steelhead (the river is stocked with 40,000 smolts at a several locations up to Black’s Bridge) are caught in the early winter months, and wild fish are more commonly caught later in the season. The Necanicum is open to steelhead fishing through March 31 downstream of the Highway 53 Bridge at Necanicum Junction.
Bank access is available along Highway 26, especially at Klootchie Creek Park and around Black’s Bridge (about 1.5-2 miles above Klootchie Creek). Boaters may launch at the park, and a takeout is located along Highway 101 just south of Seaside. The Necanicum River is one of the first North Coast streams to clear following heavy rains.
Nehalem River Basin
The Nehalem basin offers a multitude of steelhead fishing opportunities. Hatchery steelhead (90,000 smolts) are released in the North Fork Nehalem at or below Nehalem Hatchery on Highway 53. The best fishing for hatchery steelhead is usually in December and January, with fish beginning to show in the catch by mid-November most years. Hatchery steelhead are recycled from Nehalem Hatchery regularly during the peak of the run. Call 503-368-5670 for recorded fishing information. Fishing for wild steelhead in February and March can be productive and is usually much less crowded.
Bank access on the North Fork is available near the hatchery and on neighboring industrial forestlands. The Nehalem Hatchery Barrier Free Fishing Platform allows increased access for anglers possessing the required disabled angler permit. Boaters may float the North Fork below the hatchery, but extreme caution is necessary. Several bedrock rapids make drifting this river hazardous, and it should only be attempted by experienced boaters. Rafts are highly recommended.
The main Nehalem River is a very productive catch-and-release fishery for wild steelhead. Best fishing is February to early April. Some very large steelhead (topping 20 pounds) are caught from this river. Access is along Nehalem River Road. The lower river can be boated from the Beaver Slide (below Nehalem Falls) to Roy Creek County Park. The Salmonberry River, a tributary of the Nehalem about 7 miles above Nehalem Falls, can provide superb fishing for large winter steelhead. The Salmonberry closes March 31. Access to the Slamonberry is currently very limited. The Port of Tillamook Bay has closed access to the Salmonberry in the railroad right of way due to safety concerns. The railroad tracks are still in disrepair following the storm of December 2007. Anglers are advised to check with the Port for current status of access restrictions. The road bridge over the Salmonberry River near the mouth was removed by the December 2007 flooding. The bridge will not be repaired until at least 2011.
Tillamook Bay Streams: Wilson, Kilchis and Trask rivers
The Wilson, Kilchis and Trask rivers offer excellent fishing opportunities. Hatchery steelhead usually begin returning in late November, with good fishing through January. Approximately 40,000 early returning hatchery smolts are released in each of the Kilchis and Wilson Rivers. The Kilchis is stocked up to Kilchis Park. An additional 100,000 wild brood smolts are released in the Wilson River, primarily in the lower river up to Siskeyville but a small proportion are released in the South Fork. Wild broodstock hatchery steelhead are available in the Wilson River throughout the winter and early spring (primarily January to mid-April). The Trask River is not stocked, but hatchery strays are present. Wild steelhead are available through the winter in all three stream, with the best fishing in March. There is ample access to all three streams.
CHRIS WHEATON FIGHTS A WINTER STEELHEAD HOOKED PLUGGING ON THE WILSON RIVER LAST MARCH. (RICK SWART, ODFW)
Highway 6 follows the Wilson River from the lower reaches to the fishing deadline at the South Fork. The Little North Fork Wilson River and first mile of the South Fork Wilson River are open Dec. 1- March 31 for steelhead fishing. These streams provide good opportunities when the main stem Wilson River is high.
The Kilchis River is accessible at the Mapes Creek launch, Kilchis Park, and along Kilchis Forest Road up to the deadline at the confluence of the North and South forks. Under recent regulations adopted in 2009, the Kilchis River is now open year round for steelhead fishing.
The Trask River is accessible at Trask Hatchery and Loren’s Drift, off Chance Road, and along Trask River Road. The North and South Fork Trask (open Dec. 1 to March 31) are accessible by forest roads that follow each stream. The North Fork Trask deadline is at Bark Shanty Creek and the South Fork deadline is at Edwards Creek.
Boat launches are available on the main stem Kilchis, Wilson and Trask rivers. The Vanderzanden boat launch on the Wilson River and the Stones Road boat launch on the Trask River were recently damaged. Plans are underway to make repairs, but access may be restricted, especially early in the winter steelhead season.
The Tillamook and Miami rivers are open to steelhead fishing though March. A few stray hatchery fish and smaller populations of wild fish are present in each stream. The Miami River offers access in the upper stretches along Miami Forest Road; however, public access is very limited on the Tillamook River.
Early-returning hatchery steelhead (40,000 smolts marked with an adipose and left maxillary fin clip) are available from late November into February, with a peak in early January. Wild broodstock hatchery steelhead (70,000 smolts; adipose and right maxillary clipped) are available in the Nestucca through the spring (recent creel surveys show the catch to be primarily January to early April).
- LATE WINTER STEELHEAD, NESTUCCA RIVER, JASON HARRIS. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)
Since 2008, hatchery winter steelhead smolt releases have been altered in the basin. Most of the early returning fish are now released in Three Rivers, with a portion released at Farmer Creek boat launch. The wild brood hatchery smolts are released in Three Rivers; in the main stem Nestucca River at Farmer Creek boat launch and First Bridge boat launch; and in Bays Creek (a tributary just above the fifth bridge). This release strategy should optimize harvest opportunities and help spread the fishery out. Wild steelhead are caught throughout the winter, with a peak in March.
The Nestucca River Road parallels the upper Nestucca River, beginning at Beaver and continuing upstream to the angling deadline at Elk Creek. Best bank access is above Blaine, with many pullouts along the river. The use of bait is prohibited in the Nestucca River above Moon Creek. Fishing in the upper Nestucca is best later in the season, as primarily wild fish return to the upper river. The Nestucca River upstream from Moon Creek closes March 31. Boat access is available at boat ramps located at the first and fourth bridges above Beaver, at a primitive boat slide above the fifth bridge, and at the sixth bridge. Only experienced boaters should launch upstream of the fourth bridge due to some hazardous water. The lower Nestucca River offers limited bank access, but some very good boat access. Launching/takeout is available at boat ramps located at the Rock Hole, Farmer Creek wayside, the mouth of Three Rivers, and at Cloverdale. Bank access also is available at those sites.
Three Rivers, a tributary entering the Nestucca at Hebo, offers very good bank access in the lower river and excellent opportunity for anglers targeting early-returning hatchery steelhead, as well as later-returning wild broodstock hatchery steelhead. Good numbers of steelhead ascend Three Rivers on their return to Cedar Creek Hatchery. Bank access is available at the hatchery, at the “heart attack” hole (on the south side of the stream), on the “S” curve just above Hebo, and by the sewage treatment plant in Hebo. The upper Three Rivers is accessible along Hwy 22, but fewer fish are present above the hatchery weir and bank access is limited. When available, fish are recycled downstream from Cedar Creek Hatchery.
The Little Nestucca River offers fair opportunity for steelhead. A few stray hatchery steelhead are present throughout the winter season. Wild fish may be caught and released through the winter, with the run peaking in March. Limited public access is available along Little Nestucca River Road between Hwy 22 and Hwy101.The river closes March 31.
North Coast Lakes
Coffenbury Lake, Lost Lake, Vernonia Pond, Cape Meares Lake, Loren’s Pond and Town Lake receive excess adult hatchery steelhead periodically. Other lakes may also receive fish when available. Check the weekly Recreation Report on the ODFW website, http://www.dfw.state.or.us, for updated information on fish releases. Steelhead caught in these lakes are considered trout, and do not have to be recorded on a harvest tag. Only one trout over 20 inches per day is allowed.
The Mid-Coast winter steelhead returns are typically from December through March depending on the location, flow conditions and broodstock. Please note that only hatchery fin clipped winter steelhead may be harvested. If you do catch a wild steelhead, please handle it carefully and try not to remove any wild fish from the water while unhooking it. For in-season updates of winter steelhead fishing along the mid coast contact the ODFW Newport District Office at (541) 265-8306 ext. 236 or 224. Many of the large river basins along the coast have river gauges which can be reviewed online at .http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/
The Siletz River offers anglers the opportunity to fish for wild and hatchery steelhead year round. Winter steelhead begin arriving in late November with a peak in January-March and extending into April. The winter steelhead hatchery program in the Siletz Basin, which uses wild fish as broodstock, can provide excellent fishing throughout the season. This program releases approximately 50,000 steelhead smolts each spring from the Palmer Creek acclimation facility located near Moonshine Park. During peak season drift boat fishing can be very good productive and many sections of the river are often busy when flow conditions are good. Bank fishing can also be very good in the upper river around Moonshine Park. Fishing upstream of the park does require access through the Siletz Gorge Road — a private logging road open to public vehicle traffic only on the weekends. Bank anglers also plunk with stationary gear in the lower river. A portion of hatchery fish returning to ODFW fish traps are also recycled to provide additional fishing opportunities. These fish are tagged with a small colored tag near the dorsal fin.
LAYTON THURLOW STEELHEADING ON THE UPPER SILETZ. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)
The Siletz River also has a native summer steelhead run, the only one in the Oregon Coast Range. A hatchery summer steelhead program with a target smolt release of 80,000 each spring offers anglers an excellent opportunity to harvest fresh steelhead by early summer. The summer steelhead start arriving in May with a peak in early July. A second push of summers arrive with the first fall rains. Most fishing is from the bank from Moonshine Park upstream.
The Yaquina Basin receives approximately 20,000 smolts of an early-returning Alsea hatchery stock. The return usually peaks in December and January, depending on location and flow conditions. Good bank access is available along upper Big Elk Creek near the smolt release site (river-mile 21 below Grant Creek) and several miles downstream. There is no boat fishing on Big Elk Creek.
The Alsea Basin provides good fishing opportunities for hatchery winter steelhead from December into March. The target release of 120,000 smolt into the Alsea are split between the traditional Alsea hatchery stock and a wild Alsea broodstock. Fair to good bank access can be found throughout most of the basin at numerous public pull offs and parks along the river. During high water, bank anglers should focus their efforts in the upper basin and around the Alsea Hatchery. A parking lot just below the hatchery provides anglers with off-road parking and access to the river. Most river access near the hatchery is on private property, which is clearly posted.
CHRISTMAS EVE WINTER-RUN, ALSEA RIVER, CHAD PHELPS. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)
Drift boats can be put in at launches from just downstream of the town of Alsea all the way to the head of tidewater, depending on the time of year and river conditions. Fishing from a boat is prohibited above Mill Creek. Throughout the season a portion of hatchery steelhead captured at the Alsea hatchery traps are tagged and recycled downstream as far as the Blackberry Launch to provide for additional fishing opportunity.
The Siuslaw winter steelhead tend to return later than traditional coastal hatchery stocks. Steelhead returns and the fishery typically peak from late January through February, though they can last well into March. There is also an extended fishery in the Siuslaw River from Whittaker Creek downstream to 200 yards below the mouth of Wildcat Creek through April 15. The Siuslaw River near the Whittaker Creek campground site offers good boat and bank access and is where a target of 65,000 winter steelhead smolt are released each spring. This area can be heavily fished during the peak season, particularly on weekends.
Lake Creek and its major tributaries can be a productive catch-and-release fishery for wild steelhead and there is an additional opportunity to catch hatchery fish near the town of Deadwood where 15,000 hatchery winter steelhead are released into Green Creek. A portion of hatchery steelhead captured at trap sites are recycled to provide additional fishing opportunities.
Salmon River (located north of Lincoln City along HWY 18) offers fair to good catch-and-release wild winter steelhead fishing opportunities from late December through March. Bank access can be found in the lower river near the Salmon River Hatchery or along the Van Duzer corridor.
Drift Creek-Siletz (located just south of Lincoln City) offers anglers good catch-and-release wild steelhead fishing with the occasional stray hatchery steelhead. A large portion of the fishable river is located within the Siuslaw National Forest with several good hike-in opportunities.
Drift Creek-Alsea offers fair to good catch-and-release wild steelhead fishing. A large portion of the river is within the Drift Creek Wilderness Area providing good hike in opportunities in a remote old-growth setting.
Yachats River (located in the town of Yachats) is a productive winter steelhead river with access to public properties from a county road bordering the stream. It offers good catch-and-release opportunities for wild steelhead from the forks down to tide water.
Cummings Creek (located approximately 4 miles south of Yachats on HWY 101) is a smaller stream located in the Cummings Creek Wilderness area. Anglers can have fair to good wild winter steelhead fishing in a secluded old-growth setting.
Ten-Mile Creek (located approx 6 miles south of Yachats on HWY 101) consistently produces good catches of wild winter steelhead when conditions are right. Much of the creek-side property is in private ownership. Occasional hatchery steelhead strays also can be caught.
Big Creek (located south of Yachats approx. 8 miles on HWY 101) can be good fishing as steelhead move into the river at high tide. A good road borders the stream and most areas are owned by the US Forest Service. Occasional hatchery steelhead strays also can be caught.
The Oregon South Coast offers the winter steelhead angler a diverse group of rivers to choose from. Anglers can fish tiny Brush Creek, battling steelhead and willows, or sit in the comfort of a jet boat running plugs on the mighty lower Rogue River. All rivers are providing good steelhead fishing by early January. When anglers look to go steelhead fishing, flow and water clarity are two key factors in determining success. The best time to fish for steelhead is after a storm when river flows are dropping and waters begin to clear. The South Coast steelhead guide will help anglers identify streams and creeks that will fish best after a storm.
The Winchuck has an excellent run of winter steelhead. It’s also slow to muddy and clears quickly after rains. The upper river flows primarily through Forest Service land with good access for bank anglers. Anglers can float the river, but only experienced oarsman should attempt to. Anglers are reminded that fishing from a boat is prohibited.
The Chetco is slow to muddy and clears quickly after a rain event. It is the only non-Rogue River stream on the south coast with a hatchery program. ODFW has maintained a wild broodstock collection program on the Chetco River for more than 25 years, releasing up to 50,000 steelhead smolts annually. Releases occur at Social Security Bar, approximately 3 miles upriver from Highway 101. The majority of the returning hatchery steelhead stay within the lower 8 miles of the river, providing a very good fishery from early December to March. The heaviest concentrations are around the mouth of the North Fork Chetco River up to Loeb State Park.
The Chetco River also has a tremendous wild steelhead population. Both runs return at the same time, and most fish are spawned out by mid-March. The wild fish generally move through the lower river during rain events, providing excellent fishing. The majority of wild fish spawn in the upper river and tributaries. Flows are a key factor in determining when to fish and what method to use. Anglers can keep an eye on the Chetco River flows at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/or/nwis/uv?14372300. Bank anglers usually start plunking Spin-N-Glos around 9,000 cfs and drift boat anglers do best at 4,000 cfs and dropping.
Anglers are reminded that to maintain a wild steelhead broodstock program, ODFW staff are regularly netting wild steelhead on the Chetco River. At times, these broodstock collection efforts may interfere with an anglers fishing. Please be courteous to all ODFW personnel and volunteers that assist in collecting steelhead during these times.
The Pistol has a very good run of steelhead but muddies quickly during rain events and is slow to clear. Most anglers use roe, cast spinners or fly fish. Access is limited by private property and anglers are reminded to ask first before entering private property. Only the lower 4-5 miles is floatable. The best access for bank anglers is around the mouth of Deep Creek and the South Fork.
Hunter Creek muddies quickly and is slow to clear. Bank access is very good, with most landowners allowing access if asked. Anglers can float the river during moderate flows. Plugs work well. Hunter Creek is closed to steelhead fishing until Jan. 1 each year in order to protect spawning fall chinook
Euchre Creek muddies slowly, and clears quickly. Like all south coast streams, Euchre Creek has a good wild steelhead run. Bank access to Euchre Creek is all through private property, but bank anglers who ask are generally allowed access to fish. This creek is too small and brushy for boats. Most anglers use roe, cast spinners or fly fish.
Brush Creek is a small creek that muddies slowly and clears quickly. The lower river is all within Humbug State Park, providing ample bank access. Anglers will have to search for pools free of willows to fish, but are usually rewarded with a steelhead. Unlike most of the south coast rivers and creeks, Brush Creek is closed to the harvest of wild steelhead.
Elk River is slow to muddy during rain events, and clears quickly. It has an excellent steelhead run that is best fished from a boat. Elk River fishes best at 5.0 feet and dropping. Anglers can call Elk River Hatchery (541-332-0405) for daily gauge heights and water clarity. Limited bank fishing is available, because the majority of land along the river is private property. Most drift boaters put in at Elk River Hatchery and float approximately nine miles to Ironhead boat ramp; both are ODFW properties. The past three years, ODFW and volunteers have worked on a new boat ramp and access at Ironhead. This new access improves boat launching and retrieval and offers better bank fishing opportunities. Anglers are reminded to park only in the parking lot, pack out all garbage and respect adjacent property owners.
Sixes River muddies quickly, clears slowly, and boasts an excellent steelhead run. Bank fishing and boat access are at State Park, ODOT, ODFW, and BLM properties. Boat anglers can find floats that range from two miles to 12 miles. Most anglers fish roe, spinners, run plugs or fly fish.
Floras Creek muddies quickly, clears slowly, and has an excellent steelhead run. Bank and boat access are all on private lands.
COOS/MILLICOMA, COQUILLE, AND TENMILE LAKES BASINS
ODFW is anticipating another strong run of winter steelhead in the Coos, Coquille and Tenmile Lakes basins. The winter steelhead season in the Coos and Coquille basins begins around Thanksgiving, and in some years steelhead can be available through April. The peak harvest occurs from late December to late February. Steelhead usually arrive later in Tenmile Creek than other area rivers, often not making the first appearance until mid- to late-December.
The three basins are popular with winter steelhead anglers. Strong hatchery programs usually mean there are plenty of marked fish available for anglers to take home if they wish. In all three basins, only adipose fin-marked fish can be retained. Unmarked steelhead are naturally produced, and can be a large component of the catch in these basins. They must be released unharmed. Many of the rivers open to steelhead fishing in the Coos-Coquille-Tenmile basins are open through April 30.
The hatchery programs in the Coos, Coquille and Tenmile use local stocks of fish for broodstock. In years past, hatchery stocks from other river basins such as the Alsea River were used to produce a hatchery run of fish in local rivers. This practice was discontinued, and now only local stocks are used. Unmarked, wild steelhead are incorporated into the egg-take each year in an effort to keep the genetics, behavior, and other characteristics of the hatchery stock as close as possible to those of the wild population. One possible benefit of using localized broodstock is a longer run, with fish returning from late November through spring.
Hatchery steelhead for the Coquille River Basin are reared at Bandon Hatchery. There are no facilities in the Coos and Tenmile basins to rear winter steelhead to smolts. Subsequently, steelhead smolts for these two basins are reared at Cole Rivers Hatchery in the upper Rogue, and transported back for acclimation and release.
Novice anglers are encouraged to try drift-fishing roe and yarn on a leader about 20 to 24 inches under a three-way swivel. On the third eye of the swivel attach a short dropper (4-6 inches) of line, weighted to bounce slowly along the bottom. Adjust the amount of weight to allow the bait to drift at a natural rate, ticking the bottom periodically. Cast slightly upstream so that the bait is on the bottom by the time it is straight out from the angler. Bobber and jig combinations can also be a good method for the novice angler; if the bobber-to-bait length is adjusted accordingly it will keep the hook away from bottom snags. Long, straight runs with a uniform depth are good places to try this gear type. Sand shrimp are often added to the drift-fishing rig or on the jig, to further tempt steelhead to bite.
In the South Coos River, the lowest five miles above the head of tidewater (located at Weyerhaeuser’s Dellwood Log Camp) are best for hatchery steelhead fishing. The Big Creek Acclimation Site, also known as the “Fivemile Hole” at milepost 5 is a good place to target adult steelhead returning to the lower river. Above milepost 6, most winter steelhead hooked will be unmarked and must be released. This area is an excellent catch-and-release fishery for anglers who want to get away from the crowds. Primitive drift boat slides are located at several points above Dellwood, and many popular bank fishing holes are accessible for drifters or plunkers. Access to the South Coos River above the Dellwood Gate is by permit from Weyerhaeuser Company, and is subject to their rules. The company has delegated sales of their access permits to local businesses in North Bend and Coos Bay. Anglers can call the Weyerhaeuser hotline number at 1-888-741-5403 for recorded information on access and permit purchases.
Excellent steelhead fishing opportunities are available on both the East and West forks of the Millicoma River system. On the East Fork Millicoma, bank access is available in Coos County’s Nesika Park, with several excellent fishing holes and drifts from which to choose. On the West Fork, public access is available at ODFW’s Millicoma Interpretive Center (MIC), about nine miles upriver from Allegany. Located on lands administered by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the banks at MIC and for several miles upstream provide excellent steelhead fishing opportunities. The ponds at MIC are used for acclimation of steelhead smolts, so adult fish are drawn back to this area of the West Fork Millicoma. Limited boat fishing for steelhead occurs in the lower 3-4 miles of the West Fork, with access for launching and pullout on private property and subject to landowner permission. The West Fork has bedrock and boulder areas that make for difficult boating when flows are low.
The local South Coast Anglers STEP group usually puts on a “Steelhead Fishing Clinic” each winter at the Millicoma Interpretive Center. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff from the Charleston field office and many localSTEP members are happy to give tips and advice to novice anglers.
Coquille River Basin
Prime steelhead fishing on the South Fork Coquille River is downstream of the national forest boundary. Anglers targeting adult hatchery steelhead near acclimation sites at Beaver Creek and Woodward Creek are very successful. Above Powers, most winter steelhead are wild, offering an excellent catch-and-release fishery for those anglers wanting to get away from the crowds. The river upstream of the Forest Service boundary is closed to all fishing to protect spawning and rearing steelhead. Drift boat launches are located at the mouth of Beaver Creek, at the confluence of the Middle and South forks, and several points in-between. Beaver Creek, Baker Creek, Myrtle Grove State Park and Powers Memorial State Park provide access to popular bank fishing holes for drifters or plunkers.
On the other forks of the Coquille River, most fishing is from the bank, although limited drift boating occurs in a few places. On the North Fork, the most popular steelhead holes are located in Laverne County Park. An acclimation site is located here, so hatchery returns to the area are plentiful. On the East Fork, acclimations occur near Frona County Park, and excellent fishing is also available here. Land ownership along the East Fork is a “checkerboard” pattern, with alternating sections of private lands and BLM-administered public lands. Upstream of Frona Park, to the deadline marker at the lower end of Brewster Gorge, the majority of fish will be wild steelhead providing for a catch-and-release fishery.
The Middle Fork Coquille River has no hatchery steelhead releases. This river, characterized by boulder and “pocket water”, is a spawning and rearing area for wild steelhead. The steelhead fishing here is primarily catch-and-release for unmarked fish, but definitely an area to leave the crowds behind. While their presence is very low, adipose fin-clipped steelhead are legal to harvest in the Middle Fork.
River gage information for the South Fork Coquille River at Powers is available at: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?14325000.
Tenmile Lakes Basin
Steelhead fishing access is available at the Forest Service’s Spinreel Park, just west of Highway 101. This area is popular for plunkers and drift anglers. The Forest Service charges a fee for day use in the park. Steelhead smolts are acclimated and released at the mouth of Saunders Creek in Spinreel Park, in Tenmile Creek near Highway 101, and at the outlet to Eel Lake. Adult hatchery steelhead are drawn back to these areas and provide for excellent catch rates. Steelhead fishing is open in Eel Creek (below Eel Lake) from Jan. 1 through April 30.
Lower Tenmile Creek is an interesting water body to fish for winter steelhead. Consisting of mostly sand bottom, it has a different “feel” than rivers with a gravel bottom. It can be difficult to locate holding fish in this creek, as it does not exhibit the typical pool-riffle pattern like other rivers. Fishing lower Tenmile Creek downstream of Spinreel Park presents a hike through the dunes, and offers a unique steelhead fishing experience. With the big lakes acting as a settling basin, Tenmile Creek is often fishable when other area rivers are muddy following heavy rainstorms.
The Tenmile Lakes and Eel Lake are open year-round for harvest of adipose fin-clipped steelhead. Anglers often troll the upper ends of the lake arms for steelhead. Many unmarked steelhead are destined for the tributary streams emptying into the lake arms; however, they must be released unharmed. Rainbow trout over 20 inches in Tenmile Lakes are considered steelhead from Nov. 1 through April 30. These fish may be harvested if they are adipose fin-clipped, and must be tagged as a steelhead. From May 1 to Oct. 31, rainbow trout over 20 inches will be considered trout, and may be harvested one fish per day, in accordance with Southwest Zone regulations. They do not need to be fin-clipped to harvest during this “trout” fishing period, nor do they need to be recorded on a tag. This regulation allows harvest of some large “holdover” rainbow trout from the ODFW stocking program. Anglers have reported rainbow of 17-inches in length or more, with a few exceeding 20 inches. These fish are an offshoot of the ODFW legal trout stocking program (stocked at 9 to 10 inches long) that survive and grow large due to the productivity of the Tenmile Lakes. During the period when wild steelhead are passing through the lakes on their way to spawning grounds, the regulations help protect these unmarked fish from harvest.
A special wild coho harvest season is open in North and South Tenmile Lakes from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2010 or until a quota of 500 fish is reached. This season allows for the harvest of one unmarked adult coho per day, and five per season. One unmarked jack may also be harvested per day. The five-fish seasonal bag limit is in aggregate with other rivers and lakes having a wild coho harvest, so the total number of wild coho any angler may harvest for this year is five fish. If the season remains open in December, anglers may have the opportunity to harvest both a coho and a steelhead from the Tenmile Lakes. Tenmile Creek below the lakes, the channel that connects the lakes, and all tributaries that enter the lake are closed to fishing for wild coho.
UMPQUA RIVER BASIN
No wild steelhead can be harvested from the Umpqua Basin. There is year-round harvest on adipose fin-clipped steelhead in the main stem and North Umpqua. On the South Umpqua the winter steelhead season is open from Dec. 1, 2010 through April 30. Only adipose fin-clipped steelhead can be harvested. Even without a wild fish harvest, anglers should still enjoy good fishing and will be able to harvest some nice hatchery steelhead. Hatchery goals have been made since 2009, so more hatchery fish will be available for harvest. The wild run has been strong the last several years, so there are also good catch-and-release opportunities throughout the basin.
The Umpqua River Basin has an estimated population of 24,000 to 37,000 winter steelhead. Fishing opportunities within the basin are best from late January through March, with peak harvest from February through March. The Umpqua River main stem, the North Umpqua River to Soda Springs Dam, Smith River, South Umpqua River and Cow Creek are all open for adipose fin-clipped winter steelhead fishing. Good rainfall in December will get the fish moving and distributed throughout the system. Because the fish also move more during warmer water conditions, a cold snap can slow the bite.
The North Umpqua and Smith River are typically the first waters to come back into fishable shape after a storm. The main stem Umpqua and South Umpqua are best fished when water levels are rising or falling. Higher flows cause the migrating winter steelhead to travel closer to the banks making them easier for bank anglers to target. Many of the best plunking holes can only be fished at higher flows. Contact the District Office of ODFW at Roseburg, 541-440-3353, for more information on fishing techniques, and up-to -date fishing conditions.
Last winter (2009-2010) over 10,600 winter steelhead crossed Winchester Dam. This was the third largest count since 2000, exceeding the nine year average of 9,204 fish and indicating a healthy population. Last year most of the catch was wild fish with few hatchery fish, but anglers should see significantly more hatchery fish this year. In 2008 only 28,000 winter steelhead smolts were released, but in 2009 that number increased to nearly 91,000 smolts. Most of the fish that return come back in 2 years and will be a part of the 2011 return.
Winter steelhead fishing in the main stem Umpqua River begins just above tidal influence at Scottsburg. Bank fishing begins at Family Camp and continues upstream on the south side of the Umpqua River to Lutsinger Creek. Sawyer’s Rapids and Scotts Creek are just upstream and are popular bank and drift boat spots. Drift boaters can access the river at the Scotts Creek boat ramp and the Sawyer’s Rapids RV Park. Bank anglers can take advantage of the Bunch Bar wayside, which is owned by Douglas County. Boat fishing is also available at Elkton, Yellow Creek, Osprey, James Woods and Umpqua boat ramps. There is also access at Cleveland Rapids and River Forks Park boat ramps. Bank fishing can also be successful at Yellow Creek, Cleveland Rapids and River Forks Park. Anglers are reminded that 100 percent of the hatchery adult population passes through these fishing locations. Based on data collected, approximately 50% of the wild winter steelhead run use the main stem Umpqua and tributaries for spawning.
North Umpqua River
Boat access is readily available on the North Umpqua River. Hestness Landing provides access for anglers to the lower North Umpqua River, and Amacher Park boat ramp is located just below Winchester Dam. A drift from Amacher Park to Hestness Landing is often productive for winter steelhead anglers. Above Winchester Dam, boat access is available at Whistlers Bend Park, Gravel Pit boat ramp, Colliding Rivers boat ramp, and a drift boat slide on Lone Rock Road. A boat take-out-only is located on the south side of the river off of Page Road.
Bank fishing is limited to Amacher Park, Whistlers Bend Park, near Colliding Rivers, and just below Rock Creek. Winter steelhead fishing from the flies-only area to Soda Springs Dam is limited to bank fishing. Anglers need to remember that the North Umpqua no longer has a wild fish harvest. Only adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be kept in this area. Only about 5 percent of the winter steelhead in the North Umpqua are hatchery fish. However, with the strong wild population there is still a lot of catch and release opportunity in the North Umpqua. There is also good catch-and-release fishing with fly fishing gear above Rock Creek.
There is a summer steelhead hatchery program on the North Umpqua. The goal of the program is to release about 100,000 summer steelhead smolts each year. This provides a hatchery run that starts in March and continues through the fall. This program also had a good release in 2009 so anglers should enjoy a good return of hatchery fish in the winter of 2010- 2011. Winchester Dam counts are also posted on the ODFW website at http://www.dfw.state.or.us. The counts are not meant to be “real time” counts and are generally several weeks behind the actual date. They do show what percent of the run is generally past the dam in the different months.
South Umpqua River
The South Umpqua is the center of the Umpqua’s winter steelhead hatchery program. The goal of the hatchery program is to acclimate and release 80,000 –120,000 winter steelhead smolts per year. Acclimating the smolts helps ensure that they will return to the area thereby enhancing the fishery and reducing stray hatchery fish. To help maintain the best possible genetics for the hatchery program, about 70 percent or more of the fish used for the broodstock are wild fish. Some of these fish are provided to the program through guides who have received permits from the ODFW and Oregon State Police, while the rest of the fish are captured at various traps in the South Umpqua basin.
The South Umpqua winter steelhead program also provides a lot of public outreach. Volunteers from ODFW’s STEP program are an integral part of operating the acclimation sites and assisting with the broodstock collection. The ODFW also runs one acclimation site in cooperation with a school. The STEP program and volunteers provide a variety of tours and field events at the acclimation sites so visitors can learn about fish life-cycles, the needs of fish, and fish management techniques.
Hatchery adults returning to the South Umpqua are available to anglers in the main stem Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers, including Cow Creek. With the release of nearly 91,000 smolts in 2009, we are expecting a good hatchery return this year. These fish will provide harvest opportunity in the main stem and South Umpqua.
The South Umpqua River and Cow Creek provide an excellent opportunity to catch adipose fin-clipped steelhead. The Umpqua Fish District maintains two acclimation sites on Canyon Creek and one on Deer Creek. Adipose fin-clipped winter steelhead smolts are held at the sites for three weeks, and then are released each spring into the South Umpqua River. This provides hatchery fish that linger in the Canyonville and Roseburg areas. Both bank and boat access is available to anglers on the South Umpqua and Cow Creek. Boat ramps include Templeton Beach in Roseburg, Douglas County Fair Grounds and Happy Valley. Several unimproved boat ramps are located at Boomer Hill, Gazley Bar, Stanton Park and Canyonville County Park. These boat ramps tend to be in the portion of the South with the highest concentration of hatchery fish. Above Canyonville there are unimproved ramps at Days Creek, Lavadoure Creek, Milo and Tiller. Catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead is popular in this upper section of the South.
Bank fishing can be good at Templeton Beach, the Myrtle Creek Bridge and Stanton County Park. There is also bank fishing available behind Seven Feathers Casino. Cow Creek opportunities are limited to bank fishing, which is quite productive. Both Cow Creek and the South Umpqua River also provide above-average opportunities to catch and release large wild winter steelhead.
Smith River provides anglers an opportunity to catch and release wild winter steelhead. The regulations do allow harvest of adipose-clipped steelhead, but there is no hatchery program in the Smith River basin and stray hatchery fish are rare. Bank access below Smith River Falls is limited due to private landownership. Boat access below the falls is available at the Wasson Creek Bridge, a drift boat slide near Dailey Creek, a wayside just above Doe Creek, and an unimproved boat slide just below the falls. Bank fishing access improves above Smith River Falls, as landownership becomes BLM and private industrial. Several unimproved boat slides exist above the falls, with good boat access at Vincent Creek. Several good drifts are available in the Smith River basin.
Bank anglers on the main stem are successful plunking with a Spin-N-Glo, with or without prawns or roe, on a 20-24-inch leader rigged with appropriate weight from a three-way swivel. Bank anglers on the North and South Umpqua Rivers prefer drift fishing with a corky, yarn and roe rig. Most will use pencil lead or a slinky about 24 inches above the bait, with just enough weight to keep the bait near the bottom. Most boaters in the Umpqua basin prefer side drifting or pulling plugs.
ROGUE RIVER BASIN
The Rogue River offers steelhead fishing opportunities nearly every month of the year. Winter steelhead migrate up the Rogue from December through May, followed by summer steelhead May through November. A strong run of wild winter steelhead is supplemented by releases of hatchery fish in the Rogue and Applegate rivers. Returns are likely to be improved from the previous few years throughout the river basin.Steelhead provide a popular fishery on the Rogue River, but do not draw the huge crowds like spring chinook. Bait, lure and fly anglers all enjoy good success.
Several dam removals have occurred on the main stem Rogue over the past two years. Savage Rapids, Gold Hill and Gold Ray dams have all been removed. This has greatly improved conditions for all the Rogue’s native species, including winter steelhead. For anglers this means more fishable water. In the areas once impounded by the dams there are now new riffles and runs – prime fishing water for winter steelies. The dam removals also reduce migratory delay and stress on fish, thus improving chances of successful spawning and the likelihood of solid runs in years to come.
To date, the Rogue basin has experienced early rain fall, which may help this year’s steelhead run get off to an early start. Even when winter freshets create high flows and turbid water, anglers can typically still find fishable water on the Rogue between Cole Rivers Hatchery and Big Butte Creek, where the reservoir outflow of clear water makes up most of the river flow. Following a freshet, the Illinois sub-basin clears more quickly than the remainder of the Rogue.
Lower Rogue River
Winter steelhead fishing kicks off around Thanksgiving, but really picks up in mid-December. Anglers fishing either off the bank or from a jet boat can do equally as well, depending on the flow. Bank anglers will do the best when flows are around 10,000 cfs and dropping, while boat anglers do best when flows get down around 7000-8000 cfs and dropping at Agness. (Rogue River flows) The steelhead run will usually peak sometime in late January, but steelhead fishing remains good thru March or early April.
Plunking a Spin-N-Glo is the technique of choice for bank anglers. Steelhead in the lower river all migrate on the inside bends of the river in about one to three feet of water. Anglers new to the fishery can easily get all the information they need to be successful from watching and talking to other anglers on the gravel bar. Public access is very good from the top of tide all the way to Quosatana Campground, approximately 15 miles.
Running plugs is the number one technique among boat anglers. The tough part for boat anglers new to the fishery is appreciating how close to the bank steelhead migrate. Usually, you want to anchor the boat about one boat width from the shore, unless the water is really clear. Boat anglers can launch at any of the gravel bars in the lower river, or boat ramps at the Port of Gold Beach, Lobster Creek Campground or Quosatana Campground.
Middle Rogue River
Winter steelhead normally start to arrive in the area around Grants Pass in late December, with the peak in February and March. There is plenty of good bank access along the middle Rogue. Between the city, county and state parks, and the federal recreational areas, there are over 20 developed access sites. In addition, much of the land along the river below Hellgate Canyon is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Some of the most productive sites include Valley of the Rogue State Park, Matson Park, Griffin Park and Robertson Bridge. Bank anglers drift bait, cast lures, plunk and fly fish.
This section of the river also offers good opportunities for fishing from both drift and motorized boats. With boats ramps distributed every three to five miles along the river, there are a lot of options. Boat anglers cast bait, lures and flies; back bounce and side drift bait; and back-troll plugs. The new boat ramp at Coyote-Evans Park in the city of Rogue River is now open. No ramps are available between Coyote-Evans and Savage Rapids Dam. For the section from Hog Creek (below Merlin) to the former Gold Ray Dam (near Gold Hill), anglers may keep non-adipose fin-clipped steelhead at least 24 inches in length, one per day and five per year, from Feb. 1 to April 30. Adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be kept the entire year.
Upper Rogue River
Winter steelhead are normally caught in the upper river above the former Gold Ray Dam (near Gold Hill) from February through mid-May, with peak fishing activity in March and early April. Bank fishing access in this stretch is good. Bank anglers can enjoy good success between the hatchery and the Highway 62 Bridge, and at public access points such as Casey State Park, Rogue Elk Park and Touvelle State Park. The river gets smaller in this section, with more defined holes. The area just below Cole Rivers Hatchery usually remains fishable when the rest of the river is not fishable because of storm events. Drifting bait, casting lures and back-trolling plugs are all popular techniques. Later in the season, fly fishing can be very productive.
In the reach from the former Gold Ray Dam to Cole Rivers Hatchery, anglers may keep non-adipose fin-clipped steelhead at least 24 inches in length, one per day and five per year, from Feb. 1- April 30. Adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be kept the entire year.
The Illinois River provides excellent fishing for winter steelhead in a remote and rugged setting. Winter steelhead are caught from December through March, with peak activity usually in January and February, depending on river conditions. A new opportunity for a limited harvest of naturally produced steelhead on the Illinois began in 2009 and continues in 2010 and 2011. Updated regulations, including the new harvest opportunity for the Illinois River are as follows:
Non-adipose fin-clipped rainbow trout and steelhead and all cutthroat trout must be released unharmed and should not be removed from the water, except in the main stem Illinois River from the confluence with Briggs Creek upstream to Pomeroy Dam, non-adipose fin clipped (wild) steelhead at least 24 inches in length may be kept; 1 per day, 5 per year, as part of the daily or annual steelhead/salmon catch limit.
The Illinois River flows out of California into the Illinois Valley, before entering a long canyon leading to the Rogue River at Agness. In the Illinois Valley, private land limits access to the river. In the canyon, most of the land is in public ownership. A lack of developed access points and technical whitewater limits fishing opportunities from a boat. In addition, topography in the canyon makes access to the river difficult in most places, but this also keeps the fishing pressure down. Anglers willing to make the effort can have a beautiful section of river to themselves. With clear water, outstanding scenery, and big fish, the Illinois River is a good destination for a quality fishing experience. The river is full of boulders that make drift fishing difficult in most places, so casting flies and lures are popular fishing methods. Due to the local geology, the flow in the Illinois can increase rapidly during a storm; however, the river drops and clears quickly afterward.
The river is closed to salmon fishing.
The Applegate River is smaller than the neighboring rivers, and offers good opportunities for wading anglers due to well-defined holes and runs, and a gravel bottom that makes it easier to fish. Winter steelhead are usually caught in the lower river starting in mid-January, with the fishery peaking from mid-February through the end of the season on March 31. Fishing in March can be excellent.
Drifting bait works well, and casting spoons is popular. The river also offers one of the best opportunities in the area to catch a winter steelhead on a fly. Traditional steelhead flies and nymphs both work well. Fly anglers will find the best conditions when flows out of Applegate Dam are below 800 cfs, but the river is fishable at higher flows as well. Reservoir outflows can be monitored at the Copper USGS stream flow gauge (#14362000) at http://waterdata.usgs.gov.
No fishing is allowed from a floating device. Much of the river is in private ownership, so anglers must use caution and always avoid trespassing. Cantrall Buckley Park and Fish Hatchery Park are prime fishing sites. The main stem Applegate upstream to Applegate Dam is open to fishing for adipose fin-clipped steelhead from Jan. 1 through March 31. Use of bait is allowed. All non-adipose fin-clipped rainbow trout, steelhead, and cutthroat trout must be released unharmed.
Portland area anglers should have plenty of opportunities to land a beautiful winter steelhead in 2011 as ocean survival continues to be good and management changes geared at expanding opportunities appear to be taking hold. Winter steelhead begin moving through the Willamette system during winter months, with the lower river fishery beginning in late November and early December. The native late-run winter steelhead start migrating upstream during the latter part of February and continue into early May.
Wild steelhead returns for the last five years averaged 5,329 fish over Willamette Falls in Oregon City with 7,337 returning last year. A record number of wild winter steelhead (2,174) passed North Fork Dam on the Clackamas in 2010. Hatchery returns to the Clackamas and Sandy rivers have been increasing in recent years with Clackamas Hatchery collecting a record number (1,600) of returning adult in 2010 after shifting to wild broodstock. Coho returns to the Upper Willamette and Sandy rivers were very good this fall and the fourth highest return of summer steelhead passed Willamette Falls in 2010. All indications are that opportunities should be plentiful in the Willamette Zone for the dedicated angler.
For more information on steelhead fishing in the Lower Willamette, Clackamas, Sandy, or Molalla rivers, contact the North Willamette Watershed District office at (971) 673-6011. For information on Upper Willamette tributaries, call the ODFW South Willamette Watershed District office at (541) 757-4186 x 249 or the ODFW Springfield Field office at (541) 726-3515.
The fishery for winter steelhead in the lower Willamette River (below Willamette Falls in Oregon City) usually begins in early December, although by Nov. 15, 2010 there already have been reports of winter steelhead being caught at Meldrum Bar and over 150 wild winter steelhead passing Willamette Falls. A dry spell followed by a high flow event in late November/early December typically brings the first flush of winter steelhead into the Willamette. With the change to a native broodstock in the Clackamas River, winter steelhead should be available in the lower Willamette from November through the early part of the spring chinook season. Steelhead caught in the lower Willamette River are headed for the Clackamas River and tributaries above the falls including the Molalla, Tualatin, Santiam and McKenzie rivers.
The most popular and accessible bank-angling site in the lower Willamette is located at Meldrum Bar in Gladstone. Many long-time Meldrum Bar anglers are successful in high, muddy water when fishing close to the bank (within 15 feet) using brightly colored gear such as a Spin-N-Glo or spinner. The Meldrum Bar fishery can be a little different than most bank fishing so a good tip is to spend some time on the bank watching other anglers to see how it’s done.
Winter steelhead are known to hold in shallow margins of the Willamette below the mouth of the Clackamas River, waiting for higher flows and warmer water temperature. Steelhead in the Willamette can be very lethargic and less prone to taking the bait during low, cold winter flows. Look for river flows ranging from 12,500 – 20,000 cfs and water temperatures from 45-55 degrees for the best opportunities. Willamette River flows, temperatures, and Willamette Falls fish counts. Keep in mind while viewing the fish counts that steelhead passing the falls after May 15 are all considered summer steelhead.
The Clackamas River provides a highly-valued fishery near the Portland metropolitan area. In fact, it is the leader in recreational catch for the Columbia River tributaries. The hatchery winter steelhead program on the Clackamas is comprised of two stocks of fish, Eagle Creek stock and Clackamas stock (a local stock that incorporates wild returning fish). Long-time anglers should be aware that with the discontinuation of Big Creek stock releases in 2001, the run timing of winter steelhead in the Clackamas is now later than they may remember. Winter steelhead fishing usually begins slowly in December, but noticeable numbers of fish do not enter the system until high water events occur in January. Eagle Creek stock usually returns from late December through March, with a peak from mid-January to mid-February. The first Clackamas River stock show up as early as Jan. 1 and continue through May. This run usually peaks in March and April. Even though these fish peak in the Clackamas River they are often caught in the lower river and even in the Willamette during late winter. Also, summer steelhead are released into the Clackamas River and return from March through October (peaking in late spring and early fall). Counts of fish passing North Fork Dam on the Clackamas River..
Hatchery fish are acclimated and released from the Clackamas Fish Hatchery at McIver State Park, Cassidy Pond near river mile 11 (just above the confluence of Foster Creek), the mouth of Foster Creek, and the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery on Eagle Creek. When these fish return as adults many of them will hold at or below these release points.
CLACKAMAS RIVER STEELHEAD, KEEVIN COLLIER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)
The Clackamas River typically fishes best at flows with a gage reading of 10-13 feet, although anglers have been known to catch fish at levels up to 14.5 feet (measured at Rivermill Dam;
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/or/nwis/uv/?site_no=14210000&agency_cd=USGS). When the river is high and off color, anglers should concentrate their efforts at the mouths of tributary streams such as Clear Creek, Eagle Creek, or Dog Creek (at the hatchery outlet). The best fishing is two to three days after a high water event, when the river has dropped and fish start to hold in pools or pool tail-outs.
Bank anglers can find access to the Clackamas River in the High Rocks/Cross Park area in Gladstone, Riverside Park in Clackamas, in Carver near the mouth of Clear Creek, Barton Park, McIver Park near Dog Creek, and near River Mill Dam. Easy access to Eagle Creek can be found at Bonnie Lure State Park and Eagle Fern Park. Anglers can also walk down Eagle Creek to its confluence with the main stem Clackamas to find good bank fishing on the Clackamas River. Boat anglers can find ramps at McIver Park (note: upper ramp should only be used by experienced boaters due to hazardous whitewater), Feldheimer’s Road, Barton Park, Carver Park, Riverside Park, or Clackamette Park. The Clackamas River above North Fork Reservoir is managed as a “wild fish sanctuary” and is closed to angling for steelhead and salmon.
Eagle Creek, a tributary of the lower Clackamas River, offers a popular winter steelhead fishery with easy access for the bank angler. The first steelhead of the season will typically start showing up in the creek right after Thanksgiving, but it is usually late December before anglers will find significant numbers of fish in the creek. Quality winter steelhead fishing can be expected in Eagle Creek from January on into March. Many of the steelhead caught at Meldrum Bar and in the lower Clackamas are actually destined for Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.
Fishing conditions on Eagle Creek are dependent on precipitation and its flows can change dramatically after a good rainfall. Often it will blow out quickly and be unfishable in a matter of hours. On the flip side, it also clears very quickly. It doesn’t take long for the water color to improve, even though the flows may be somewhat high. If there is a long period of cold, dry weather it can get very low and clear, making steelhead fishing a bit more of a challenge. In the past few years, the number of smolts released in Eagle Creek has been reduced from 150,000 to 100,00 – anglers will start seeing this reflected in the number of returning adults.
Many different types of gear can be successful on the creek, with color often dictated by water clarity. Try brighter colors during the murky water conditions and darker, less flamboyant colors during times when the creek is crystal clear. Types of gear that have consistently proven successful include bobber and jig, sand shrimp, corkies and yarn, and small egg clusters with yarn. The skilled fly angler can do very well using steelhead flies.
Starting from the mouth of the creek, the first place to try would be Bonnie Lure Park, which is off of Dowty Road. Take a right from Hwy 224 in the community of Eagle Creek to find the park area. From Bonnie Lure Park you can also access nearly a half-mile of the Clackamas River for bank fishing. The creek passes under Hwy 224 just past Eagle Creek Store and there is also some bank access there. Very close to this highway crossing is Wildcat Mountain Road. Go left towards the hatchery, then follow the hatchery signs on Eagle Fern Road, you will soon encounter several pull-offs on the right that provide great access to the creek. A short way up from there is Eagle Fern Park that has many good holes. This access area runs for about a half mile on up to Snuffin Road Bridge. From Snuffin Road you can continue up Eagle Fern Road (also called George Road), and after about three miles, turn right down Rainbow Road to Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery. Fishing can be very good below the hatchery if you are willing to make the hike. Much of Eagle Creek flows through private property. Longview Fiber and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the largest landowners along the creek and they are not usually concerned about anglers for most of the year. However, it is advisable that you get permission before accessing Eagle Creek on individual private landowner’s property.
The Sandy River provides a highly-valued fishery near the Portland metropolitan area. In fact, it is the second highest in recreational catch for Columbia River tributaries. The localized hatchery program is comprised of a native broodstock, meaning that the hatchery fish are derived from a portion of wild fish returning to the river. Since the Big Creek stock is no longer released into the river, the hatchery run timing has become more like the wild returns. This results in a later run than most anglers are used to in the Sandy River. Winter steelhead begin returning to the river in December, but larger numbers do not start showing up in the catch until early February. The fishery usually runs from January through April. It is important to note that summer steelhead are also released into the Sandy River, and return from March through September.
WINTER STEELHEAD, SANDY RIVER, GUIDES BRANDON AND JACK GLASS. (TEAM HOOK UP GUIDE SERVICE)
All Sandy River winter steelhead are released from the Sandy Fish Hatchery on Cedar Creek, so anglers should focus their efforts from Cedar Creek downstream. There also are good opportunities for catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead, as well as hatchery strays, past Cedar Creek in the gorge above and below the former Marmot Dam site. The Sandy River is a glacier-fed system that typically runs very muddy when warm winter rains melt the glaciers on Mt. Hood. The river will clear up within 3-4 days after high water if the snow level drops below 4,000 feet and the rain stops or slows to showers. The Sandy fishes best at gage readings of 8-11 feet (measured below the Bull Run; http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?14142500).
Of special note is the recent removal of Marmot Dam at river mile 30. The river became free-flowing again in mid-October 2007, providing fish unimpeded passage to the upper basin. With removal of the dam, river flows and patterns will likely continue to change. It may take several years for the sediment to leave the system, possibly altering your favorite fishing hole in the meantime. In addition, the angling deadline, which was located at Marmot Dam, was relocated to the mouth of the Salmon River beginning Jan. 1, 2008. The former dam site is now managed by BLM and is open for foot traffic only. Plans are being made to develop a boat access point below the old dam site.
Anglers can access the Sandy River from many parks including Lewis and Clark, Dabney, Oxbow and Dodge. Access is also available at the mouth of Cedar Creek near the Sandy Fish Hatchery. Boat anglers access the river at Dodge Park (recommended only for expert boat operators due to hazardous rapids), Oxbow Park, Dabney Park and Lewis and Clark Park near Troutdale. Jet boats are allowed downstream from Dabney Park. Also, fishing from a floating device is only allowed starting from a point that is 200 feet downstream of the Oxbow Park boat ramp.
There are several miles of open beach suitable for steelhead fishing on the Columbia River at the Sauvie Island Wildlife Refuge just north of Portland. The best public access to the Columbia River from Sauvie Island is on NW Reeder Road, which runs from south to north along the western side of the Island. Getting to Sauvie Island is easy. Just take Highway 30 out of Portland and head north toward Scappoose. Look for the bridge crossing onto the island about two miles north of Linnton. After crossing the bridge, drive north on Sauvie Island Road to Reeder Road. Take Reeder Road west across the island about 6 miles to NW Reeder Road where it runs north along the Columbia for several miles. There are several points to find parking in easy walking distance of the river.
NOTE: Once on the island, you will need a parking permit. Daily permits are $7 and can be purchased at Sam’s Cracker Barrel, Reeder Beach RV Park, Island Cove Café and the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area headquarters (during regular business hours). Permits also can be purchased in advance of your visit on the ODFW website.
The best time of the year to fish for winter steelhead at Sauvie Island is from December to March as steelhead bound for tributaries upstream move past the Island. Many of the fish hug the shoreline in six to 15 feet of water. The most popular method is to plunk using a weight or sinker heavy enough so it doesn’t move with the current. The preferred lure is a Spin-N-Glo. Some anglers also attach salmon eggs or sand shrimp to the back of the lure for added attraction. Use 15 pound test line or heavier to adequately hold your gear in place and to fight fish in the strong current. Watch other experienced anglers and ask questions about best rigging methods. Be courteous to other anglers and give lots of space so you don’t crowd in on other’s space. This area is also intertidal, and depth will change 3-5 feet with the tide.
The Molalla River in the upper Willamette is becoming increasingly popular for catch-and-release fishing for wild winter steelhead. The Molalla River is no longer stocked with hatchery winter steelhead, but good numbers of wild winter steelhead are present and offer the adventurous angler an opportunity to catch this majestic fish in relative solitude. Limited numbers of naturally produced and stray summer steelhead may be present in the system in many of the same areas where winter steelhead are typically found.
Harvest opportunity was expanded in 2009, and anglers can now harvest non-adipose fin-clipped summer steelhead from July 1 through Aug. 31. The use of single barbless hooks is encouraged. Please note that beginning Jan. 1, 2009, there also was a change in the angling deadline, moving it approximately six miles downstream to protect important spawning areas. The river is now open to fishing year-round for coho and adipose fin clipped chinook and steelhead up to the Pine Creek Bridge located on BLM land in the upper basin. The use of bait is allowed only from May 15 to July 15 in order to provide opportunities for spring chinook harvest while minimizing impacts to native winter steelhead and juvenile salmonids.
Keep an eye on Willamette Falls fish counts as approximately 1/3 of the total number of steelhead passing the Falls are destined for the Molalla River. Head for the Mo’ when daily counts pick up to over 50 fish per day or total count exceeds 1,000 fish. If you would like more information about steelhead fishing opportunities or about native fish conservation efforts in the Molalla, contact the Native Fish Society/Molalla River Alliance office at (503) 829-6211.
There are no longer any hatchery winter steelhead programs in place for the upper Willamette, so virtually all returning adult winter steelhead are unmarked and must be released unharmed. Early in the season, anglers can target steelhead in the main stem Willamette River between San Salvador, near St. Paul and the mouth of the Santiam River. One popular and successful method is to plunk near the bank, either from shore at numerous greenway access points or from a boat that can be launched at one of the four public ramps in this stretch of river. About 70-80 percent of the winter steelhead ascending Willamette Falls are destined for the Santiam River system, and about two-thirds of these fish are headed into the North Santiam. Winter steelhead are available in the Santiam as early as late February and contribute significantly to the fishery through April. By then, summer run steelhead, most of which are marked (adipose fin-clipped) hatchery fish, have moved in and become the target catch. Winter steelhead typically are fished with a variety of steelhead lures, Spin-n-Glo with bait, or bobber and jig. The North Santiam River is generally preferred by anglers over the South Santiam because water clarity is better during the winter and spring months, and both bank and boat access are better.
Both the North and South Santiam rivers are stocked with summer steelhead smolts that return to the rivers after spending two or three years in the ocean. They begin to show up in the Santiam in mid-April with the run peaking from May through July. Anglers typically fish low in the system early in the season and move up the streams along with the fish. Summer steelhead are collected through the summer months at ODFW trapping facilities near the dams and transported back down the river to be fished on again. A significant portion of these “recycled” fish end up being caught by fishermen on their second run up the river. Boaters do well on both forks, but bank access is more plentiful on the North Santiam. Anglers can receive recorded updates on Foster trap (South Santiam) counts and recycling activities by calling 541-367-3437 or by going to http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/fish_counts/ and clicking on Foster Dam. Anglers are allowed to retain unmarked adult steelhead during the months of July and August in those areas open to steelhead fishing. A late spurt of fish destined for the Little North Santiam can provide good opportunities for steelheading October through December.
Water conditions in the North and South Santiam Rivers varies. Typically, flows are relatively high in November and early December as the Corps of Engineers draws the reservoirs down to accommodate flood waters. After that, flows are driven by precipitation until reservoir refilling begins in February. A good site for up-to-date flow information is at the USGS website: