Just when my winter steelhead season starts to get into a groove, it’s almost over. The water levels are reasonably stable, the wild fish are up in the rivers, and the bait-chucker armies have returned to their lairs to prep for springer season.
When I go out in March, I actually feel like I have a reasonable chance of catching a fish. The days are longer, warmer. It’s such a far cry from those dismal days in December on the Alsea, racing to get to the boat ramp before dark, hoping the road over Mary’s Peak isn’t covered in snow.
The March Browns hatch in the rivers, the sun shines in the Oregon Coast Range, and steelhead lurk behind every boulder.
These are the days that I carry in my mind the rest of the year, this bogus image of “winter steelheading” that drives me to be on the rivers in darkest days of the year.
Every year I try to learn something new, to make some kind of meaning of a winter on the water. Hard earned wisdom. And this year, the prevailing theme was “You don’t have to drive several hours to get skunked.”
There are just too many beautiful and productive rivers to get skunked on close to home.
I could drive six hours to the Olympic Peninsula or to the Steelhead Train in Minam, and have the same or worse odds of catching fish as I would 40 miles from Eugene.
In fact, you might argue that if I’d spent more time on a handful of home waters, I’d catch a lot more fish in the long run. But the lure of the road, the untrammeled wilds and freedom of the road-trip are hard to resist.
With some fishy friends and a gazetteer you can build a local steelhead circuit within just a couple hours of town, gorgeous uncrowded waters that fish well at various water levels.
My steelhead circuit is still forming, but I have a baseline to work from. So next year I won’t be buzzing around the Northwest, hoping to stumble onto the bonanza, but instead staying close to home, learning a few river sections like the back of my hand.