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2014 Winter Steelhead Guide


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


Southwest Zone

SOUTH COAST

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.

Coos/Millicoma, Coquille, and Tenmile Lakes Basins

ODFW is anticipating a slightly above average run of winter steelhead in the Coos, Coquille and Tenmile Lakes basins. The winter steelhead season in the Coos and Coquille basins typically begins around Thanksgiving, and in some years steelhead can be available into April. This year a few steelhead have already shown up in the Coos Basin in late October. The peak harvest occurs from late December to late February. Steelhead usually arrive a month later in Tenmile Creek, often not making the first appearance until late-December.

These 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 may be retained.

In all three basins from Dec. 1, 2013 through April 30, 2014, steelhead anglers will be allowed to harvest 1 additional adipose fin-clipped steelhead for a total aggregate of 3 adult fish harvested daily. Unmarked steelhead are naturally produced, and must be released unharmed.

Most of the rivers open to steelhead fishing in the Coos-Coquille-Tenmile basins are open through April 30.

steelhead
Winter Steelhead
- Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

The hatchery programs in the Coos, Coquille and Tenmile use local stocks of fish for broodstock. 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. ODFW is evaluating and adjusting acclimation and release sites in order to increase survival and contribution to sport fisheries by returning adult steelhead.

Fishing Techniques

Novice anglers are encouraged to try drift-fishing roe and yarn or a corky 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.

During steelhead season, don’t discount periods when the rivers are low and clear. By scaling-down your bait or lure size, and toning-down the colors, steelhead can be enticed to bite in clear water. For the bobber and jig anglers, a small black jig often works when a neon-colored or pink jig will spook fish.

Flyfishing for steelhead is becoming more popular in the Coos, Coquille, and Tenmile basins. Drifting an egg fly pattern under a strike indicator is a very effective and simple technique to catch steelhead in the area rivers. Fly anglers can also catch steelhead by swinging flies through short to medium runs that have prime steelhead holding water.

Another tip is to try fishing in the late afternoon/evening hours. Many steelhead anglers are out early in the morning and quit by mid-day. After the fish have had a chance to settle-down, and with most anglers off the river, you can have sections of river almost to yourself.

Coos/Millicoma Basin

In the South Coos River, the best hatchery steelhead fishing is in the lowest five miles above the head of tidewater (located at Weyerhaeuser’s Dellwood Log Camp). 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 area where they were released as smolts. Above milepost 6, most winter steelhead hooked will be unmarked and must be released but you can occasionally find a fin-clipped steelhead for harvest. Access to the South Coos River above the Dellwood Gate is by permit from Weyerhaeuser Company, and is subject to their rules. Anglers should call the Weyerhaeuser hotline number at 1-888-741-5403 for recorded information on access and permits. Fishing access permits can be obtained at Weyerhaeuser’s Dellwood office.

Excellent steelhead bank 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.

steelhead
Summer Steelhead
- Photo by Ross Henshaw-

Limited boat fishing for steelhead occurs on the East and West Fork Millicoma. There are no developed ramps on either fork, but primitive slides do exist here. Both forks have bedrock and boulder areas that make for difficult boating when flows are low.

There are river gauging stations on the South Fork Coos along with the East and West Fork Millicoma rivers that steelhead anglers can use to look at river levels before they leave home. River levels are updated approximately every 15 minutes onto the Coos Watershed Association’s website.

Coquille River Basin

Prime steelhead fishing is available in the major forks of the Coquille River—namely the South, North and East forks. Hatchery steelhead smolts are acclimated and released in areas where angler access and harvest success is good. The South Fork of the Coquille River upstream of the Forest Service boundary is closed to all fishing to protect spawning and rearing steelhead.

The South Fork is the largest of the three forks, and provides good access for boat and bank fishing.

Steelhead smolts are released from acclimation sites at the mouth of Beaver and Woodward creeks below Powers, so adult steelhead are attracted back to these spots. The South Fork between Myrtle Point and Powers is a great area to target these returning fish.

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.

On the North and East 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 China Creek below Brewster Gorge, 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.

Steelhead
Showing off a Nice Steelhead
-Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

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. While their presence is very low, adipose fin-clipped steelhead are legal to harvest in the Middle Fork. There are a few public sites along the Middle Fork because most land is privately owned.
River gage information for the South Fork Coquille River at Powers is available here.

River gage information for the South Fork Coquille River at Powers

Tenmile Lakes Basin

Steelhead fishing access is available at the Forest Service’s Spinreel Park, just west of Hwy 101. Spinreel Park has a small boat ramp where anglers can launch a drift boat or small boat with a motor. This area is popular with bank anglers that plunk or drift eggs. 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 Hwy 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.

Fishing lower Tenmile Creek downstream of Spinreel Park begins with 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.

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.

North and South Tenmile Lakes and Eel Lake are open from Nov. 1 through April 30 each year for harvest of adipose fin-clipped steelhead; however, steelhead are primarily in the lakes from January through April. Some anglers troll the upper ends of the lake arms for steelhead.

From May 1 to Oct. 31, rainbow trout over 20 inches are 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. 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.

Umpqua River Basin Overview and Mainstem

The 50 Places to go Fishing within 60 minutes of Roseburg publication features several steelhead fishing spots and is available on line, at the Roseburg Visitor Center, and the Roseburg ODFW office.

The Umpqua is famous for its steelhead fishing. There is year-round harvest of adipose fin-clipped steelhead in the Mainstem and North Umpqua, while the South Umpqua and Smith River are open for adipose clipped winter steelhead from Dec. 1, 2013 through April 30, 2014. The wild run has been strong the last several years, so there are good catch-and-release opportunities throughout the basin. Anglers should remember that no wild steelhead can be harvested in the Umpqua Basin.

The Umpqua River Basin has an estimated population of 30,000 to 40,000 winter steelhead. An estimated 7 to 11 percent of the winter steelhead that swim through the Mainstem are fin clipped. Thus anglers should anticipate hooking more wild fish than hatchery fish, particularly in the Mainstem, Smith and North Umpqua. The hatchery program is based in the South Umpqua so anglers wanting to harvest a steelhead should concentrate their efforts in the South Umpqua from Canyonville downstream. During the last couple of years 75,000 to 109,000 winter steelhead smolts have been released in the South Umpqua. Thus 3,000 to 5,000 fin clipped steelhead should be returning.

From December through mid-February all of the steelhead bound for the North and South Umpqua are still making their way through the Main Umpqua. This makes for an incredible catch-and-release fishery as up to 90 percent of the steelhead hooked will be wild fish and must be released unharmed.

The best fishing opportunities in the Mainstem begin after Thanksgiving and continue through early March. Winter steelhead fishing 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. There also is good bank access at Bunch Bar wayside, which is owned by Douglas County and at Yellow Creek, Cleveland Rapids and River Forks Park.

Drift boaters can access the river at the Scotts Creek boat ramp and the Sawyer’s Rapids RV Park. Boat fishing is also available at Elkton, Yellow Creek, Osprey, James Woods and Umpqua boat ramps. Boat fishing on the Mainstem tends to be best when water levels area between 8 and 10 feet. Low and cold water conditions can keg steelhead up. Anglers fishing under these conditions should be particularly mindful of practicing good ethical catch-and-release techniques and handle the wild fish as little as possible.

steelhead
Wilson River Winter Steelhead
-Photo by Ross Henshaw-

Fishing in the North and South Umpqua starts in late December, with peak catch rates in late February through March. Winchester Dam counts show that by Jan. 15 only about 11 percent of the run has crossed Winchester Dam. By Feb. 15 normally about 30 percent of the run has reached the dam while by the middle of March about 66 percent have crossed the dam. Assuming that the South Umpqua steelhead are traveling at the same speed, it means that the fishing in the South Umpqua will be most successful from late February on. Since the fish tend to move more with rising water temperatures, anglers should be aware that a cold snap can stop the migration and slow the bite. Steelhead fishing in April can be productive, but by then many anglers have shifted their interest to spring chinook.

The North Umpqua and Smith River are typically the first waters to come back into fishable shape after a storm. The Mainstem 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 on the Mainstem can only be fished at higher flows.

Fishing Techniques

Bank anglers on the Mainstem 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 or egg 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. Anglers in the North Umpqua fly waters should double check the angling regulations since gear use varies by time. Most boaters throughout the Umpqua basin prefer side drifting with eggs or pulling plugs.

Contact the District Office of ODFW at Roseburg, 541-440-3353, for more information on fishing techniques, and up-to-date fishing conditions. Or check out the ODFW weekly Recreation Report for the latest on fishing conditions.

North Umpqua River

Anglers should 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.

Boat access is readily available on the lower 30 river miles of 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 Page Road. The best boat fishing occurs when the North is between 4 to 7 feet or 1,688 to 6,400 cfs. The North Umpqua can be difficult to float for inexperienced boaters and caution should be used when floating this river.

Bank fishing in the lower river can be found at River Forks Park, Amacher Park, Whistlers Bend Park, near Colliding Rivers, the Narrows and just below Rock Creek at Swiftwater. Winter steelhead fishing above Rock Creek to Soda Springs Dam is part of the fly water area and is limited to wading and bank fishing. Fishing in the fly water can be productive throughout the season depending on river conditions -- optimal flows are from 1,500 cfs to about 5,500 cfs. Successful fly anglers use 10 to 14-foot spey rods and sink tips to “swing” large weighted or unweighted flies in the winter.

Winchester Dam counts are also posted on the ODFW website. The counts are not meant to be “real time” counts but can provide a look back at what the run timing has been in recent years.

The best way to use the Winchester Dam counts is to click on the time frame you’re interested in from the previous year. Then you can view 10 years of data to see what percent of the run has normally reached Winchester Dam by that time. Run time is generally the same from year to year with some adjustments for flood events, or cold snaps that can slow the run down a little. By viewing 10 years of data by 2-week increments anglers can plan their trips accordingly.

South Umpqua River

steelhead trout
Steelhead
-Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

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. To help maintain the best possible genetics for the hatchery program, about 50 percent of the fish used for the broodstock are wild fish. Some of these fish are provided to the program through guides who have 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 has two acclimation sites on Canyon Creek, one operated by STEP volunteers and the other by the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians. The ODFW also runs one acclimation site in cooperation with Eastwood Elementary School. This provides steelhead that tend to linger in the Canyonville and Roseburg areas. 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.

With the release of nearly 94,000 smolts in 2011,109,000 in 2012, and about 75,000 in 2013 we are expecting a good hatchery return this year. Most of the fish that return come back in 2 years; therefore, fishing for hatchery fish is predicted to be good. Again, although these hatchery fish will be available in the Mainstem and North Umpqua, they will compose a small percentage of the steelhead in those basins.

Boat ramps include Templin Beach in Roseburg, Douglas County Fair Grounds and Happy Valley. The new Harold and Sid Nichols boat ramp in Winston opened in October 2012. It is off Highway 42 near Douglas High School.

The South Umpqua River provides the best opportunity to catch and keep adipose fin-clipped steelhead.

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. The best boat angling is when the water levels are between 7 to 9 feet or about 3,000 to 6,500 cfs.

Bank fishing can be good at Templin Beach, Happy Valley Boat Ramp, the Myrtle Creek Bridge and Stanton County Park. There is also bank fishing available behind Seven Feathers Casino. Cow Creek is open to Middle Creek for steelhead fishing. Both Cow Creek and the South Umpqua River also provide above-average opportunities to catch and release large wild winter steelhead.

Smith River

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.

Rogue River Basin

Anglers will find some of the best fishing spots, including many favorite steelhead fishing areas, in 50 Places to go fishing within 60 minutes of Medford. The publication is available on-line and at ODFW offices. An associated Google map with locations and directions also is available on-line.

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 from May through November. A strong run of wild winter steelhead is supplemented by releases of hatchery fish in the Rogue and Applegate rivers. Winter steelhead provide a popular fishery on the Rogue River, but do not draw the huge crowds like spring chinook; therefore, anglers can enjoy a little more elbow room. Given the diversity of the rivers within the Rogue Basin, anglers can find water suitable for whatever fishing technique they enjoy.

Returns of winter steelhead to the Rogue River and its tributaries are expected to be near average this winter. With favorable river conditions, anglers should experience good fishing throughout the basin.

Several dams have been removed within the Rogue Basin over the last several years. Savage Rapids, Gold Hill and Gold Ray dams were taken out of the main stem Rogue River. This has greatly improved conditions for all of 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 steelhead. The dam removals also have reduced migratory delay and stress on fish, and improved chances for successful spawning and the likelihood of solid runs in years to come.

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 clear outflow from Lost Creek Reservoir makes up most of the river’s flow. Following a freshet, the Illinois River clears more quickly than the Rogue or Applegate Rivers.

Lower Rogue River

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)

Winter steelhead fishing kicks off around Thanksgiving, but really picks up in mid-December. The steelhead run will usually peak sometime in late January, but steelhead fishing remains good thru March or early April. Regulations for the lower Rogue River change on Jan. 1 each year and anglers should review the regulations before heading out.

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.

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.

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. 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 peak fishing 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 can enjoy success by drifting bait, casting lures, plunking, and fly fishing.

The removal of Savage Rapids and Gold Ray Dams has opened up new floats for boat anglers; however, boaters should be aware that there are several difficult rapids between the Fishers Ferry and Gold Hill boat ramps. The Rogue River Water Trail brochure provides an excellent description of this reach as part of its map of the middle and upper Rogue between Grave Creek and William Jess Dam.

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. Techniques favored by boat anglers include drifting bait, casting
lures and flies, back bouncing bait and lures, and back-trolling plugs. Side-drifting bait is becoming increasingly popular in the long, slow runs below Grants Pass.

Above the Hog Creek Boat Landing (below Merlin), anglers may keep non-adipose fin-clipped (wild) steelhead at least 24 inches in length, one per day and five per year, from Feb. 1 to April 30. Adipose fin-clipped (hatchery) 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. Because hatchery steelhead returning to Cole River Hatchery supplement a healthy population of wild steelhead, there are a lot of winter steelhead in this section of the river.

Access for bank fishing is plentiful in this stretch. Bank anglers can enjoy good success between the hatchery and the Hwy 62 Bridge, and at public access points such as Casey State Park, Rogue Elk Park, Takelma Park, Denman Wildlife Management Area and Tou Velle State Park.

Drifting bait, casting lures, and back-trolling plugs are all popular techniques. Later in the season, fly fishing can be very productive. Fly anglers can find good water for swinging flies with two-handed rods, as well as places to dead-drift nymph patterns..

Numerous boat ramps allow boat anglers to choose from a variety of popular drifts. The river gets smaller in this upper section, with more defined holes. The area from Cole Rivers Hatchery downstream to Big Butte Creek usually remains fishable when the rest of the river is out of shape due to storm events.

Anglers may keep non-adipose fin-clipped (wild) steelhead at least 24 inches in length, one per day and five per year, from Feb. 1- April 30. Adipose fin-clipped (hatchery) steelhead may be kept the entire year.

Illinois River

The Illinois River provides an excellent opportunity to fish for wild winter steelhead in a remote and rugged setting. Winter steelhead are available from December through March, with activity usually peaking in January and February.

With its clear water, outstanding scenery, and big fish, the Illinois River is a good destination for anglers seeking a quality fishing experience.

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 publicly-owned. Except for the lower three miles, between Oak Flat and the mouth, a lack of developed access points and technical whitewater limit 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.

steelhead trout
Steelhead
-Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

Anglers willing to make the effort can usually have a beautiful section of river to themselves. The river is full of boulders and ledges that make drift fishing difficult in many 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.

Fishing in the Illinois River is restricted to artificial flies and lures. Above Klondike Creek anglers may harvest non-adipose fin-clipped (wild) steelhead at least 24 inches in length, one per day and five per year, as part of the steelhead/salmon catch limit. Below Klondike Creek anglers may only keep adipose fin-clipped (hatchery) steelhead, which occasionally stray into the Illinois River from the Rogue. The river above Pomeroy Dam (near Cave Junction) and all tributaries are closed to fishing to protect spawning salmon and steelhead.

Applegate River

The Applegate River is smaller than neighboring rivers, and offers good opportunities for wading anglers. Well-defined holes and runs, and a gravel bottom make it easier to fish. The first winter steelhead are typically caught 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. 

The river also offers one of the best opportunities in the area to catch winter steelhead on a fly. Swinging traditional steelhead flies and dead-drifting nymph patterns both work well. Fly anglers will find the best conditions when flows are below 800 cfs, but the river can be fishable at higher flows as well. Flow information can be obtained online at the USGS Wilderville Gauge.

Drifting bait works well, and casting spoons is popular.

No fishing is allowed from a floating device, but anglers can us small rafts or pontoon boats to access more water. Much of the river is in private ownership, so anglers must use caution and always avoid trespassing. The National Forest lands on the upper river, 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 (hatchery) steelhead from Jan. 1 through March 31. All non-adipose fin-clipped (wild) rainbow trout and steelhead, and all cutthroat trout must be released unharmed..

Winchuck River

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. Fishing from a boat is prohibited.

Chetco River

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 Hwy 101. In 2011 and 2012, the ODFW Restoration and Enhancement Program funded a two year steelhead creel on the Chetco River with an average catch of 3,800 steelhead for those years. It is a great fishery, but can be crowed at times.

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 online.

steelhead
Steelhead
-Photo by Derek Wilson-

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. In addition to broodstock collection, ODFW will be conducting a steelhead angler creel from December to March. Please be courteous to all ODFW personnel and volunteers.

Pistol River

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

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. Boat anglers might try running plugs, while bank anglers prefer bobber and jigs, spinners, flies or drifting eggs. Hunter Creek is closed to steelhead fishing until Jan. 1 each year in order to protect spawning fall chinook..

Euchre Creek

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.

Steelhead
Steelhead
-Photo by Charlotte Ganskopp-

Brush Creek

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

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 does not have a steelhead hatchery program, but anglers can expect to catch some stray adipose fin-clipped steelhead. Elk River fishes best at 5.0 feet and dropping. Anglers can call (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. Boat anglers side drift eggs, fly fish or run plugs. Chinook are in the system thru February, so anglers may want to run a little heavier line.

Recent improvements at the Ironhead boat ramp offer better boat launching and retrieval, and better bank fishing opportunities. Please park only in the parking lot, pack out all garbage and respect adjacent property owners.

Sixes River

Sixes River muddies quickly, clears slowly, and boasts an excellent steelhead run. Bank fishing and boat access are at Cape Blanco State Park, Hwy 101 bridge, and at ODFW and BLM properties. Boat anglers can find easy floats that range from two to 12 miles. Most anglers fish roe, spinners, run plugs or fly fish.

Floras Creek

Floras Creek muddies quickly, clears slowly, and has an excellent steelhead run. Bank is very limited. Boat access is very limited and mostly on private lands.

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