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2014 Winter Steelhead Guide

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

-Photo by Charlotte Ganskopp-

Northwest Zone

The Northwest Zone offers excellent fishing with easy access from Portland, Salem, Eugene and Corvallis. Whether you prefer fishing from the bank or a boat, with a fly or a spinner, on a small intimate stream or a large tidal river, Willamette Valley anglers can be on the water in no time.


The 2012-13 winter steelhead season was below average on the north coast. Catch rates were lower than seen in several years, although the average size of fish was larger as the 3-salt component of the run was higher. Signs point to better survival of smolts for the 2-salt steelhead for this year’s run. Given the lower return of 2-salt fish last year, it is likely that there will be fewer large fish this season; however the overall run size may be up. No matter the abundance, there will be plenty of opportunity for those who get out there and spend time on their favorite stretch of river.

All fishing techniques can be productive, especially if you’re flexible and adjust your gear to the water conditions.

Fishing conditions often depend on rain patterns and water levels. Water levels and turbidity can increase after heavy rains and some rivers will clear faster than others after rainstorms. Flooding waters can carry a lot of wood and debris, and anglers should always use caution when floating rivers as new hazards can appear throughout the season. Road access may also be blocked after severe storms so be sure to check road conditions before heading out.

All techniques can be productive. Side drifting is very popular with boaters, but pulling plugs or anchoring and casting can also be effective. Bobber and jig, drift fishing, or casting spinners or spoons are proven methods that work well for bank anglers (and boaters too). Fly anglers generally have better catches when flows are lower or in smaller streams.

Typically you will want to fish brighter offerings with a slower presentation when the water is higher and/or off color, and more subtle baits fished more quickly as the water clears. Various shades of red, pink or orange are effective colors, but don’t be afraid to experiment with white, chartreuse, black or other colors. Eggs and sand shrimp are always effective baits. Other baits that can be effective at times include prawn meat, crawdad tails and night crawlers.

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, and Big Creek, Gnat Creek, and the North Fork Klaskanine River in the Lower Columbia. Some stray hatchery steelhead also migrate up the Trask River, although none are planted there.

The Wilson and Nestucca rivers, which have wild broodstock programs in addition to early returning stocks, will have hatchery steelhead available throughout the winter and into early spring (generally through mid-April). Wild steelhead are available throughout the winter in all the streams open to fishing, with the run generally peaking 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 and for Big Creek at 503-458-6503.

Tillamook County has 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.

Lower Columbia

Several tributaries near the mouth of the lower Columbia offer winter fishing for both wild and hatchery steelhead.

Anglers may call 503-458-6529 for recorded Big Creek fishing information. Or, become a fan of the Big Creek Hatchery on Facebook.

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 late November, 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.

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.

Necanicum River

The Necanicum River offers excellent small-stream steelhead fishing throughout the winter. The river is stocked with 40,000 smolts at several locations up to Black’s Bridge. Hatchery steelhead are caught in the early winter months, with the peak of the run in late December/early January. Wild fish are more commonly caught later in the season. The Necanicum is open to steelhead fishing through March 31 downstream of the Hwy 53 Bridge at Necanicum Junction.

The Necanicum River is usually one of the first North Coast streams to clear following heavy rains. Boaters should keep a wary eye out, especially after storms when wood can move around.

Bank access is available along Hwy 26, especially at Klootchie Creek Park and around Black’s Bridge (about 1.5-2 miles above Klootchie Creek). Lower river access is available in the Peterson Point area. Boaters may launch at the park, and takeout at a site along Hwy 101 just south of Seaside.

Nehalem River Basin

The Nehalem basin offers abundant steelhead fishing opportunities. Hatchery steelhead (90,000 smolts) are released in the North Fork Nehalem at or below Nehalem Hatchery on Hwy 53. The best fishing for hatchery steelhead is usually in December and January, with the first fish appearing by mid-November most years. Hatchery steelhead are recycled regularly from Nehalem Hatchery 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 it’s usually much less crowded.

ODFW will be conducting a radio telemetry study of steelhead migration patterns beginning in December 2013. Anglers may catch steelhead with a radio tag antenna protruding from the mouth. A temporary rule for this winter allows anglers to keep hatchery steelhead that have been radio tagged. Anglers are asked to return the radio tag to ODFW (drop off at Nehalem Hatchery or other ODFW office) so that it can be re-used. Do not remove radio tags from steelhead that are released. Anglers may also encounter steelhead with Floy tags inserted near the dorsal fin. Please report these fish to ODFW, including any numbers on the tags (if present).

Bank access on the North Fork is available near the hatchery and on neighboring industrial forestlands. The Nehalem Hatchery Barrier Free Fishing Platform offers additional access to anglers with a 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 be attempted by only 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 (occasionally 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 Salmonberry remains limited. The Nehalem River Road bridge over the Salmonberry has been rebuilt and is now open; however, the railroad right of way remains closed to public access. Anglers are advised to check with the Port for current status of access restrictions.

Tillamook Bay Streams: Wilson, Kilchis and Trask rivers

The Wilson, Kilchis and Trask rivers offer good access to some great wild winter steelhead fishing, which peaks in March.

The Wilson, Kilchis and Trask rivers offer excellent winter steelhead 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 (25 percent) 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.

Hwy 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.

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.

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.

Nestucca Basin: Nestucca, Little Nestucca and Three Rivers

Fishing the Nestucca River
-Photo by Kathy Munsel-

Early-returning hatchery steelhead (40,000 smolts marked with an adipose and left maxillary fin clip) are available from late November through January, with a peak in late December/early January. Wild broodstock hatchery steelhead (70,000 smolts; adipose only clipped) are available in the Nestucca through the spring. Past creel surveys show most fish are caught January to early April.

Since 2008, most of the early returning hatchery smolts have been 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 boat slide above the fifth bridge (a new wooden boat slide was constructed in 2011, with concrete steps added last year to make access down the bank easier)and at the sixth bridge. The launch site at sixth bridge is located on private property, and anglers are asked to be courteous and pack out their trash in order to insure access in the future. 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 First Bridge, the Rock Hole (end of Bixby Road), Farmer Creek wayside, the mouth of Three Rivers and Cloverdale. Bank access also is available at those sites. A separate fee (not the county pass) is required at Cloverdale to cover the cost to lease access from the Sanitary District. Day passes are available at the launch, or season passes are available from the sporting goods store in Hebo. Repairs to the lower end of the Cloverdale launch were completed recently. Use caution as there is a drop off at the end of the concrete, although this should not be an issue at normal winter flows.

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 on Three Rivers 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 may be 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 periodically receive excess adult hatchery steelhead. Check the weekly Recreation Report on the ODFW website for updated information on fish releases.

Other lakes may also receive fish when available. 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 retained. If you do catch a wild steelhead, please handle carefully and try to keep the fish in the water while unhooking. For in-season updates of winter steelhead fishing along the mid coast check the weekly Recreation Report or 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.

Salmon River (located north of Lincoln City along Hwy 18) offers fair-to-good catch-and-release fishing for wild winter steelhead, 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.

Winter steelhead caught on the Siletz
-Photo by Derek Wilson-

Siletz Basin

The Siletz River offers anglers the opportunity to fish for steelhead year-round. The Siletz has both summer and winter steelhead native runs as well as summer and winter steelhead hatchery programs. Anglers are reminded that only hatchery fish can be retained.

Winter steelhead begin arriving in late November with a peak in January-March. The winter steelhead hatchery program in the Siletz Basin utilizes a wild broodstock and can provide excellent fishing throughout the season. This program has a target release of 50,000 steelhead smolts each spring from the Palmer Creek acclimation facility located across from Moonshine Park.

During peak season drift boat fishing can be very productive but many sections of the river can be busy during favorable flow conditions. Popular techniques used from a drift boat include side drifting, pulling plugs or drifting a bobber and jig. Bank fishing can also be very good in the upper river around Moonshine Park. Effective bank fishing techniques are flow dependent but include swinging spinners and spoons across riffles, drifting a bobber and bait or jig, plunking, and bouncing a corky and bait along the bottom.

The Siletz River also has a native summer steelhead run, the only one in the Oregon Coast Range.

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, especially when river conditions are high with poor visibility. 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. Anglers are encouraged to report these tagged recycled fish so that the benefit of the recycling program can be assessed.

A hatchery summer steelhead program with a target smolt release of up to 80,000 fish each spring offers anglers an excellent opportunity to harvest fresh steelhead by early summer. Summer steelhead start arriving in May with a peak in mid-July. A second push of summers arrive with the first fall rains. Most summer steelhead fishing is from the bank starting around Moonshine Park on up to the deadline below Siletz Falls. During the summer flows, fly fishing the gorge area can be very productive by swinging flies across riffles in the early mornings. Other techniques such as casting lures or using a bobber and bait/jig can also produce good results.

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.

Yaquina Basin

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.

Alsea Basin

This winter, the Alsea Basin will be the focus of a steelhead “harvest vulnerability” study. This study will help determine potential hatchery production and release strategies that will maximize angler harvest and minimize excessive straying.

The Alsea Basin provides good fishing opportunities for hatchery winter steelhead from December into March. The target release of 120,000 smolts into the Alsea are split between the traditional Alsea hatchery broodstock and wild Alsea broodstock.

The data from this study will be used to test for a difference in catchability or “harvest vulnerability” of steelhead produced from wild parents that were harvested by anglers vs. steelhead produced from wild parents that returned to the hatchery. Harvest will be evaluated with a statistical creel survey, conducted by ODFW surveyors and straying will be assessed by monitoring adult collection sites in the basin. Anglers wishing to participate in the program by contributing wild-caught fish for broodstock to the Alsea hatchery are encouraged to coordinate with the hatchery (Matt Frank, 541-487-7240). Additional information is available by contacting staff at the Mid-Coast District office of ODFW (Derek Wilson, 541-265-8306, ext. 236).

The 2012 release of winter steelhead smolts was the second year of a new release point down river. Approximately 40,000 smolts of the traditional hatchery stocks were released near Blackberry Park. This release group will return this winter and should hold up in the lower river longer than in fish in previous years.

The Alsea contains a lot of bedrock shelves and deep slots that make side drifting difficult. Popular tactics include pulling plugs or divers with bait, drifting bobbers with bait or jigs, and swinging spoons across riffles.

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.

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 floating device is prohibited above Mill Creek. Throughout the season a portion of hatchery steelhead captured at the Alsea hatchery traps are recycled downstream as far as the Blackberry Launch to provide additional fishing opportunity.

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.

-Photo by Charlotte Ganskopp-

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 provide 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.

Siuslaw Basin

The Siuslaw winter steelhead broodstock incorporates wild winter steelhead and thus tends to return later than traditional coastal hatchery stocks.

Steelhead returns, and hence the fishery, typically peak from late January through February and last well into March. There also is 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 offers good boat and bank access and is where a target of 70,000 winter steelhead smolts are released each spring. A good portion of the returning hatchery fish collected at this site is released back into the fishery. This area can be heavily fished during the peak season by boat and bank anglers, particularly on weekends.

Lake Creek and its major tributaries can be a productive catch-and-release fishery for wild steelhead, and provide opportunities to catch hatchery steelhead near the town of Deadwood, where 15,000 hatchery winter steelhead smolts are released into Green Creek.

Popular techniques used from a drift boat include side drifting, pulling plugs or drifting a bobber and jig. Effective bank fishing techniques are flow dependent but include swinging spinners and spoons across riffles, drifting a bobber and bait or jig, plunking, and bouncing a corky and bait along the bottom. Some early season scouting during lower flows to learn which technique will work for an area can pay off.


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