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2014 Winter Steelhead Guide


General Overview | Northwest Zone | Southwest Zone | Willamette Zone | Central Zone & Northeast Zones | Oregon Fishing Regulations


General Steelhead Fishing Tips

Steelhead
Steelhead
-Photo by Charlotte Ganskopp-

Perhaps the most effective way to become a successful steelhead angler is to know a river well, and have confidence in your tactics and technique. Don’t waste your time randomly chasing down rumors of hot fishing. Instead, learn where the steelhead are by getting to know one or two rivers well. This can involve visiting the river in the summer and other seasons to observe holes, resting places, riffles, and other habitat features that add to your knowledge of where to fish effectively. It is often said that 90 percent of the fish are caught by 10 percent of the fishermen, and this is probably truer with steelhead than any other fish. Many of the world’s best steelhead anglers call Oregon home and they tend to focus on four major elements: When, Where, What and How.

When are there steelhead in the river?

Winter steelhead generally return to rivers from November through May, depending on the river. Steelhead anglers need to learn the run timing of the rivers they fish, watch for concentrations of other anglers, contact local hatcheries for return information, read fishing articles, and check several Websites for updated information on steelhead returns. The ODFW Recreation Report provides weekly updates on fish returns and angling conditions on many rivers and streams with winter steelhead populations.

Also, successful winter steelhead angling depends primarily on water temperature, river levels or flow rates, and water clarity.

Current river flows and water temperatures

Contact local ODFW offices for current water conditions as well. Local sporting good stores are also an excellent source of information on the current local river conditions and steelhead angling techniques.

Where are the steelhead in the river?

Steelhead are not evenly distributed throughout a river and knowing where they tend to hold up or congregate is key to fishing success. In general, ODFW has reduced or eliminated “scatter planting” of steelhead to avoid straying and possible spawning by hatchery fish. This means that most of the better fishing for hatchery fish will be at or below the fish hatchery or a single release location.

Within the river, steelhead typically prefer some type of holding water. While this varies with water conditions, anglers should generally focus their effort on runs or glides of moderate depth and current. Many experienced steelhead anglers concentrate on learning the rivers they fish.

How are the steelhead caught?

There are many steelhead fishing techniques, from fishing a bright pink worm under a bobber to swinging a small nymph on a fly line. Whatever the technique there are three keys to catching steelhead: putting the bait, lure or fly in front of as many fish as possible; being able to detect the often subtle strike of a steelhead and setting the hook; and being able to fight and land a large aggressive fish. The best way to learn these skills is to spend time on the water. The more you practice your technique and learn how to focus on subtleties, the more steelhead you will hook. Often it is the simple things -- slack line, dull hooks, wind knots, and lack of concentration – that cause an angler to miss a strike or lose a fish.

What do I use to catch steelhead?

If you’ve seen the variety of gear for sale in the local sporting good stores, you may think that a steelhead will bite almost anything. There are, however, some tried-and-true techniques for catching steelhead.

  • Drift-fishing small, buoyant lures, with or without bait, along the bottom.
  • Fishing with a float/bobber with a jig or bait under it. (Popular baits include cured eggs, sand shrimp, worms, crayfish tails and prawns.)
  • Casting spinners and spoons.
  • Fly-fishing, often with a sinking line and large, mobile fly.
  • Backtrolling plugs or diver/bait combinations from a boat.

With all these methods to choose from, the best approach is to master one and fish what you know most of the time. After you feel that you have mastered the basic technique, start trying out new gear or methods. Remember, if you are consistently pulling your line out of the water to change your lure, it is not fishing and you are not catching anything!

Surplus hatchery steelhead returning to ODFW hatcheries are often stocked into local lakes to provide additional angling opportunities. Casting lures or flies from the shore or a boat are the most common technique for catching steelhead released in lakes. We hope you get the opportunity to feel the fight of the steelhead on your line; it is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.

Angling Ethics

We hope you enjoy the experience of fishing some of the nation’s most beautiful steelhead waters. Please help us keep them beautiful. We ask that you be courteous and respectful to other fishermen—there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy themselves. When boat fishing, it is considered poor angler ethics to cast into holes that bank anglers are fishing.

In order to preserve Oregon’s wild stocks of steelhead, many of Oregon’s wild steelhead are catch-and-release only. Please use the following techniques to help increase survival of and minimize fishing impacts on wild fish.

  • Use barbless hooks. While barbless hooks are not mandatory on most of Oregon’s fisheries, they can be easier to remove from fish and anglers (this reducing stress to both.)
  • Land your fish quickly to help increase survival rates.
  • Use needle nose pliers to remove deeply imbedded hooks. If you can’t remove the hook without harming the fish, cut the leader. The hook will rust out after a few days in the water.
  • Keep your fish in at least six inches of water while releasing it. Fish can be injured if allowed to flop on shore. Grasp fish by the tail and place your other hand under the belly, lifting slightly. If you plan to take a photograph of the fish, make sure that you have framed the picture and focused the camera before taking the fish out of water, and then only hold the fish out of water (preferably only partly out of water) for one or two seconds.
  • Revive the fish before release. Keep the fish upright facing into the current. If current is slow, move fish back and forth slowly to help oxygenate the gills.
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