December through March is winter steelhead season here in Oregon. To my mind, this is the most exciting and challenging season for the flyfisher. Nearly every river and creek along the Oregon coast gets returning adult steelhead. With the arrival of winter rains, a stream that in the drier months is nothing more than a trickle will become big enough to drift boat, with bright fish moving into the system after each high water event. Successful fishing is often about being in the right place at the right time, but never more so than for winter steelhead. Water conditions change very quickly based on the weather, and the fish migrate upstream quickly.
Unlike summer steelhead fishing, where the river levels are relatively predictable, winter water conditions are always in flux. Each river or stream will generally fish best when the water is neither very high, nor very low. Smaller rivers and streams will start to fish well within a couple days of a major rainfall as the water clears from a mocha color to the magical shade of green anglers dream about. Within another couple days, however, the water on these smaller creeks will become too low for navigation and good fishing. If conditions remain dry, most fishermen and guides will start to fish the larger rivers. Some of the biggest rivers, like the main-stem Umpqua, need as much as two weeks without heavy rains before they will clear enough to have a good shot with a fly rod. Being consistently successful flyfishing for winter fish involves being intimately familiar with a number of different streams so you can move to find the right conditions and some fish.
Whether guiding or fishing recreationally I am out fishing on a daily basis during the winter season, keeping a finger on the pulse of Oregon’s winter steelhead streams. I fish these rivers often, and pay very close attention to the weather and water conditions in order to target my efforts more effectively. The pursuit of winter steelhead can be tough, demanding patience and perseverence from both guide and angler, but it is indisputable that the rewards can be huge.
Of course, winter weather and water levels can be volatile, and successful winter steelheading is often about striking while the iron is hot. If you have booked a day with me and and the conditions are not conducive to a successful trip, I will happily reschedule the trip for a better time.
The two most common ways to fly fish for winter steel is either by swinging flies or by dead-drifting a nymph or egg pattern under an indicator. Each method lends itself to different water types and situations. Most of the swinging I do in the winter involves the use of a spey or switch rod. These two handed rods are effective tools to cast and fish the heavier sink tips and larger flies I often use in the this time of year. I am a good teacher and coach, and an expert instructor for all types of fly casting. I also have a lot of high quality fishing tackle that you are welcome to use on guided trips if you don’t have your own.