Winter Steelhead season is upon us. Most of our major river systems in the Pacific Northwest have experienced high water in the last few weeks and are currently dropping into shape. The early rains served as a “green light” for winter steelhead to ascend rivers from northern California to Washington. With the beginning of winter steelhead season it is time for steelhead anglers to make plans for fishing some of the most beautiful and magical rivers the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Following is an overview of your winter steelhead fishing opportunities with Fly Water Travel.
Northern Oregon Coast
From mid February through early May the rivers surrounding the greater Tillamook Bay region on the Northern Oregon coast transform into some of the most productive and seductive winter steelhead rivers in North America. Structurally they are a “swing” fisherman’s paradise and the quarry is almost always sea bright, wild and willing to chase a well swung fly. There are a number of excellent rivers in the greater Tillamook Bay region. Our guides, headed by veteran spey guru Scott O’Donnell, fly fish all of these systems depending of flows, time of year and preferences. All are floated and all fly fishing is done while wading. The guides greatly prefer swinging flies with spey rods and are excellent instructors.
Clackamas and Sandy Rivers
The Clackamas and Sandy Rivers, both within 30 minutes of downtown Portland, offer steelheaders the opportunity to fish for wild winter steelhead without large amounts of travel time. On the Sandy River we’ve enlisted the local guides from Northwest Fly Fishing Outfitters. Their proximity to the river (5 minutes) and years of guiding experience ensure you the best possible shot at bright winter fish that can reach 15+ pounds. Sandy River trips will use a raft for transportation from run to run.
We’ve recently begun offering Clackamas River trips with local guide Jeff Hickman. Jeff not only grew up on the “Clack” but currently lives on the river, steps away from productive swing water. Jeff uses a 20ft. jet boat to move you around the river. All fishing will be done while wading and Jeff is happy to show you the intricacies of swinging a fly for fish that average 6-10 pounds. The Clackamas and Sandy River will produce steelhead through May.
The North Umpqua
Oregon’s North Umpqua River is the quintessential Cascadian river – steep, swift, crystal clear, and incredibly beautiful. It is also an iconic American classic that has captured the souls of countless anglers and drawn them back year after year to test their skills against one of the most challenging and rewarding races of steelhead in the world. Winter fishing on the North Umpqua will continue through April. These are almost all walk-and-wade trips where your guide will move you from run to run in the car. This gives the guides maximum flexibility in dealing with ever-changing water conditions.
Southern Oregon Coast
There are a number of excellent rivers in the greater Gold Beach region including the Rogue, Chetco, Elk and Sixes. The guides at Confluence Outfitters fly fish all of these systems depending of flows, time of year and preferences. Jet boats are used for transportation on the larger systems while the smaller rivers are accessed by raft or on foot. Fishing techniques include the wet fly swing with spey rods and dead-drift techniques, depending on water conditions and rivers fished. Our guides will be fishing the southern Oregon coast through the beginning of March when they move inland to guide on the Rogue and Applegate Rivers.
Rogue and Applegate Rivers
The months of March and April are prime time for the Applegate River and Rogue River above Grants Pass. The Applegate is a little-known tributary to the Rogue that provides an intimate setting. Limited access on the Applegate ensures you will not see many other anglers. Applegate days incorporate a combination of swung fly and dead-drift techniques. All trips will use a boat for transportation but there is no fishing from the boat on the Applegate. As the season winds down on the Applegate our guides move onto the Rogue River and continue fishing through the month of April.
What To Expect
This is true winter steelhead fishing and as such challenging weather conditions and relatively low catch rates are the norm. Under good conditions two “pulls” or takes per person per day would be considered very acceptable. On the bright side, the wild coastal steelhead in the region are typically very bright and often large. Additionally, the rivers are very well suited to the fly and a great pleasure to fish.
River conditions tend to vary wildly in the wintertime. All of our winter steelhead guides work on multiple rivers so that they have the flexibility to move around according to conditions. As we’re booking your steelhead trip we will be sure to make you aware of the options available to you and your guide. If conditions take a turn for the worse on your chosen river, be prepared for your guide to take you to another river the next day.
What’s In Store
Aside from my usual winter fishing I am looking forward to visiting some new areas this winter. In April I will be exploring the various rivers of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with Dave McCoy and his group of guides at Emerald Water Anglers. I am also excited to visit Jerry French (founding member of the Intruder cult) in Northwest Washington and learn about his guiding program on the Skagit and Sauk Rivers.
I look forward to discussing these options with you. This is an exciting time year for northwest steelheaders and is not to be missed! Give me a call at 800-552-2729.