Since the blog is located in Track Town USA, it is only fitting we begin the winter steelhead season with the sound of the starter’s gun. With the recent rains and a projected soaker (inches of rain!) for this Saturday, anglers should be ready for the formal start of our beloved winter steelhead season. There are confirmed reports of some catches (photo above) of metal heads being caught on the NF Alsea, Siletz and Northern coastal streams.
Reports from Northern coastal streams have indicated an early arrival of steelhead. With the increased river flow projections for the weekend, next week’s lower river levels should produce increased opportunities for anglers. As usual, anglers should be ready for with an assortment of steelhead patterns and appropriate winters wear (rain jackets, hats, and gloves) for the coming season.
The following is provided by ODFW from the online winter steelhead report (LV):
NORTH COAST 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. A fair number of hatchery steelhead also migrate up the Trask River, although none are planted there. The Wilson and Nestucca rivers, which have wild broodstock hatchery programs, will have hatchery steelhead available throughout the winter and early spring (generally through mid-April). Wild steelhead are available throughout the winter and the run generally peaks in March.
Nehalem River Basin The Nehalem basin offers a multitude of steelhead fishing opportunities. Hatchery steelhead (90,000 smolts) are released in the North Fork Nehalem at or below Nehalem Hatchery on Highway 53. The best fishing for hatchery steelhead is usually in December and January, with fish beginning to show in the catch by mid-November most years. Hatchery steelhead are recycled from Nehalem Hatchery regularly 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 is usually much less crowded.
Bank access on the North Fork is available near the hatchery and on neighboring industrial forestlands. The Nehalem Hatchery Barrier Free Fishing Platform allows increased access for anglers possessing the required 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 only be attempted by 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 (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 Slamonberry is currently very limited. The Port of Tillamook Bay has closed access to the Salmonberry in the railroad right of way due to safety concerns. The railroad tracks are still in disrepair following the storm of December 2007. Anglers are advised to check with the Port for current status of access restrictions. The road bridge over the Salmonberry River near the mouth was removed by the December 2007 flooding. The bridge will not be repaired until at least 2011.
Nestucca Basin Early-returning hatchery steelhead (40,000 smolts marked with an adipose and left maxillary fin clip) are available from late November into February, with a peak in early January. Wild broodstock hatchery steelhead (70,000 smolts; adipose and right maxillary clipped) are available in the Nestucca through the spring (recent creel surveys show the catch to be primarily January to early April).
Since 2008, hatchery winter steelhead smolt releases have been altered in the basin. Most of the early returning fish are now 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 primitive boat slide above the fifth bridge, and at the sixth bridge. 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 the Rock Hole, Farmer Creek wayside, the mouth of Three Rivers, and at Cloverdale. Bank access also is available at those sites.
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 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 are 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.
Siletz Basin The Siletz River offers anglers the opportunity to fish for wild and hatchery steelhead year round. Winter steelhead begin arriving in late November with a peak in January-March and extending into April. The winter steelhead hatchery program in the Siletz Basin, which uses wild fish as broodstock, can provide excellent fishing throughout the season. This program releases approximately 50,000 steelhead smolts each spring from the Palmer Creek acclimation facility located near Moonshine Park. During peak season drift boat fishing can be very good productive and many sections of the river are often busy when flow conditions are good. Bank fishing can also be very good in the upper river around Moonshine Park. 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. 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.
The Siletz River also has a native summer steelhead run, the only one in the Oregon Coast Range. A hatchery summer steelhead program with a target smolt release of 80,000 each spring offers anglers an excellent opportunity to harvest fresh steelhead by early summer. The summer steelhead start arriving in May with a peak in early July. A second push of summers arrive with the first fall rains. Most fishing is from the bank from Moonshine Park upstream
Alsea Basin The Alsea Basin provides good fishing opportunities for hatchery winter steelhead from December into March. The target release of 120,000 smolt into the Alsea are split between the traditional Alsea hatchery stock and a wild Alsea broodstock. 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 boat is prohibited above Mill Creek. Throughout the season a portion of hatchery steelhead captured at the Alsea hatchery traps are tagged and recycled downstream as far as the Blackberry Launch to provide for additional fishing opportunity.
Siuslaw Basin The Siuslaw winter steelhead tend to return later than traditional coastal hatchery stocks. Steelhead returns and the fishery typically peak from late January through February, though they can last well into March. There is also 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 site offers good boat and bank access and is where a target of 65,000 winter steelhead smolt are released each spring. This area can be heavily fished during the peak season, particularly on weekends.
Lake Creek and its major tributaries can be a productive catch-and-release fishery for wild steelhead and there is an additional opportunity to catch hatchery fish near the town of Deadwood where 15,000 hatchery winter steelhead are released into Green Creek. A portion of hatchery steelhead captured at trap sites are recycled to provide additional fishing opportunities.