WILD BLOG: Clearing weather + clearing rivers = steelhead time!
NEW Jan. 11, 2008 / 10:00 a.m
TILLAMOOK, Ore. - Water, water, water.
There’s water everywhere around my home in Tillamook County. Since the first of the year, we’ve had over 7 inches of rain in town, double that in the surrounding mountains. Not to mention 3 feet of snow up there, which is melting.
Early on we got just a little taste of winter steelhead with early reports of winters all up and down the coast through November, but we were dealt a dirty hand for December. The water was either flooded or it was so stinkin’ cold out, it was at the least very unpleasant. At worst it was downright dangerous getting to the river.
I only got out a couple days just before Christmas. These days had snow on the ground, clear skies and temps in the 30s. We managed a few nice little chromers but with water in the 30’s the bite was less than stellar.
Since Christmas we have been dealing with all this high water. But finally there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A solid week of dry weather!
This is just what the doctor ordered!
But first things first: Things have to clear. When they do, LOOK OUT!
Be ready!: Last year the Wilson was blown out for six solid weeks. When it finally came in on the 16th of January, fishing was the hottest I’ve ever seen it on that river. Sure, double-digit days can be pretty common, but for every single boat on the river to be hitting fish like that it’s not. And there were a lot of boats.
All day long there wasn’t boat or bank angler that you could see that didn’t have a fish on!
I had my dad out with me and just side drifting with his rod he landed eight fish in about four hours.
Rules of thumb: If you are going to hit the water anytime soon some good rules of thumb to remember are these (I know these have been repeated over and over again, but for those that are starting out, they'll come in handy):
n If the water is high, fish high. As the river drops and the volume decreases, steelhead will start to move into and through the system.
I believe they usually start doing this a couple days before the rivers are actually fishable. By the time there’s some good visibility fish will be spread throughout the system and they will be on the move.
n Of course, small streams clear first. Look to the tributaries or smaller forks of larger rivers to have the best water early on.
n If the snow level drops and your favorite stream originates at a higher elevation, get excited. This will lock up run-off and speed the process of clearing.
n When I’m going to fish high water I like to have two rods with me. One for drift fishing where I can use a lot of weight to get down, and the other is a float rod that I can fish inside seams and pockets and close to shore.
Years ago plunking was a popular technique and pastime during high and/or off color water, but it has lost it’s popularity. Some of this I’m sure is due to a smaller amount of hatchery plants on some of the rivers that this was most popular on.
If you must …: If you simply must fish and the conditions are less than optimal, go plunking. Fish inside seams, close to shore or, one of the most productive places to plunk, at the mouth of clear-running feeder streams.
Finding your water: Speaking of clear-running feeder streams, these are great starting points. Not only for plunking but also for drift fishing or float fishing.
Back eddies are also good places to look for fish that are trying to get out of the main, heavy flow. It might seem weird to fish a back eddy where your gear is actually drifting counter the main river but the fish don’t seem to mind.
I caught my very first steelhead in a spot such as this a couple of dozen years ago. I remember it vividly. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving and the Clackamas was really, really high. My dad and I found a small tributary high in the system that looked liked like dirty, pee soup. It was the best we could find so after traveling up it a few miles we found a hole (large for this creek) with a rapid plunging into it and a large eddy on the side that turned back up stream.
We fished it with drift gear, and after a while my dad called me over to the rock he was standing on and told me he had thought he had a couple bites on his eggs, but missed them. He then told me to make a few casts where he had been.
I was rigged up with a orange Corkie and a peeled prawn tail that I had cured up hot pink with some Pro Cure. Not too many casts later my line stopped, I pulled back and then the “snag” pulled back.
My first steelhead. One of the very best days of my life.
It turned out to be a native and although back then you could keep anything, I had read of the importance of wild fish, so I let her go.
I don’t get quite as excited about catching a fish now as I did back then, but I am getting excited to start fishing!
Just a few more days away and the small streams are going to be prime and a few more days after that so will the others. We have a week of dry weather and lower snow levels ahead of.
It’s almost time for FISH ON!