We had worked the slot very carefully and picked up one nice steelhead about 8 pounds. We released it and Dave made a few more casts before we were going to head out. Dave’s line straightened in the sweet spot and he lifted his rod into a heavy fish. Huge head shakes were followed by a ballistic run upriver with a cartwheel on the surface throwing spray like a broken firehose. The bruiser was having none of what we wanted and pulled hard violently ripping line off the reel as it headed down river. Now in the tailout it was do or die. Dave pulled hard but this big guy was headed back to the sea. We had no choice but to commence chase in the boat. Downriver into the rapids below the surging steelhead muscled his way through the heavy current aiming towards a log jam. If he get’s in there he’s a goner -we all knew… Fighting a fish through a rapid and bouncing down river in the boat is challenging but Dave kept the line tight and the rod bent. Several times the fish made a mad dash under the boat. A quick spin on the oars helped keep us from a broken rod on the gunnel. Finally out of the rapids and into the next hole the big fish started to tire. Eventually we eased him into the catch and release net and admired a dandy steelhead by any measure. We estimated it at 17 pounds. A great battle and an epic fish. Steelhead- hard to beat!
Fishing for winter steelhead has been good this season. Oregon’s north coast is home to some of the best rivers in the region for winter steelhead. Rivers like the Wilson, Trask, Kilches, NF Nehalem and Necanicum Rivers have seen good returns of chrome steelhead. Winter steelhead fishing has it’s challenges. Water conditions and every changing weather are a big factor. Another variable especially telling for fly anglers is the water temperatures; cold water makes fishing tough. For a wide variety of river scenics and fishing variety Oregon’s north coast has a lot to offer.
Fly fishing the north coast focuses on two primary techniques; the swung fly strategy and nymph fishing approach. Both are deadly effective at the proper time and place. Swung flies are extremely effective when water temperatures are warmer. Coastal rivers tend to run warmer than inland rivers because of the marine influence and generally warmer temperatures. This plays into the favor of the swung fly angler. The cast is generally down and across alowing the fly to sweep across the current. Quickly covering a large area of water searching for aggressive steelhead. To get the fly down the swung fly approach requires a sink tip for the winter timeframe. Sink tips are often 10-12′ long and have varied sink rates. Sinking tips that drop at 6-8 inches per second are common for this time of year. T-11 and Type 8 sink tips are a favorite among many veteran anglers but lighter and heavier tips may be required depending on the wide swing in fishing conditions. While the take of the fly can vary when a fish grabs the swung fly an electrifying tug is often felt. This is where the expression: “The Tug is the Drug” comes from.
Nymph fishing strategies for steelhead allow for a dead drifted presentation and fishes the water much differently than the swung fly. With the dead drift approach getting the fly deep is the main objective. Indicators are placed on the leader allowing the angler to quickly detect a fish or rock that has stopped the fly. Split shot or weighted flies are utilized to anchor through the fast and heavy flows of winter and get down to where the fish are. These are varied depending on the flow of the river.
This year’s return of hatchery steelhead has been excellent. Great returns have been seen on many of our coastal rivers. Most notably the NF Nehalem has seen as many hatchery fish return in by Jan 1 as we had return in the entire season on 2014. Limits of fish each day for our guides have been the standard when good water conditions allowed in late December and early January.
For good bank accessible rivers, the Wilson River flowing into Tillamook and the Necanicum River flowing into the Oregon town of Seaside are favorites. Miles of easy access are found along HWY 6 on the Wilson and on HWY 26 for the Necanicum. The Wilson River has many great sections to float but the upper river has extreme hazards. The Kilches river is a beautiful gem which receives early hatchery steelhead and later run wild fish. This river has several good access points and can easily be floated in the lower river with a pontoon boat, raft or drift boat. The NF Nehalem is a dangerous river for floaters and only expert anglers should consider this float. Three water falls in a basalt cliff canyon are the legendary hallmarks of this river. Limited access is found along the bank near the hatchery where anglers have solid results during medium -high water conditions. The Nestucca River is another river just south of Tillamook that sees excellent returns of both hatchery and wild steelhead from December – March.
For the best view of the river join one of the Water Time Outfitters team of guides for a day float. Our guides are experienced oarsmen and expert anglers with a lifetime of experience on the north coast of Oregon. See more info at: www.watertimeoutfitters.com