Summer Steelhead on the Oregon Coast

It’s been a wild spring for this chinook bum, quite literally. The only two chinook I’ve seen were both McKenzie River natives, and they put on quite a show. But mostly I’ve had a spring full of unicorn hunts, swinging flies against all odds, exploring new waters and soaking in my new Upper Willamette Valley surroundings. More on that in a future post!

Coastal salmon are still my favorite, even though they are insanely elusive. Talk about unicorn hunting…I can’t possibly recall all the fruitless days spent chasing coastal spring chinook. But I keep going back for a reason. Just the chance of seeing a fresh coastal springer is enough to roll me out of bed at 2:30am.

So far this season I have consistently missed the handful of passing salmon that have pushed into North Coast rivers. We’ve encountered late winter steelhead on every trip, which is always life-affirming. It’s amazing to see these beautiful fish slipping in and out under the radar, long after the throngs of rabid steelheaders have evaporated. Their presence has convinced me to eliminate bait from my program completely. That has raised the bar considerably, but has also added to the anticipation, making each trip all the more interesting.

Last weekend I made my second spring foray into Tillamook County, knowing I was pushing the calendar a little. The pull of coastal chrome was too much to bear, even with the thousands salmon and steelhead coursing through Eugene. Our first day ended with two grabs, but no fished solidly hooked. We didn’t see a single moving fish all day, and by afternoon the wind was howling. Every bone in my body said to go home and sleep, but after dinner at the Pelican Brew Pub, sleep caught me early. I ended up sleeping in my rig on the beach near Pacific City.

Crying seagulls woke me up around 6am, picking through my boat, fighting over soggy potato chips. The salty air was a tonic, and the promise of morning got the best of me. Rather than winding my way back to the Willamette, I decided to give Tillamook County one more try. And there, in one of my favorite salmon pools, I received a mighty yank. A heavy fish ran to the next pool, jumping as she went. She stopped under a submerged tree and quietly wrapped the leader around a branch. Pandemonium ensued, but luck won the day. A spectacular summer steelhead came to rest in the shallows, showing off a tail so perfect it had to be recorded for posterity. I hope you enjoy it!–RR


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2 Responses to Summer Steelhead on the Oregon Coast

  1. Jay Nicholas says:

    Rob. You have the rivers of Tillamook in your blood. Howling wind, sun in your face all afternoon, soggy chips for breakfast are all part of the ambiance, yes. Thanks for allowing us all to live the adventure with you. I think that was my 4-runner about 50 yds. away in the parking lot at Pacific City. Gonna meet you on the river soon, one boat only. You and me, and fish galore, maybe. JN

  2. Mike says:

    Rob.I am new to the fly fishing for steelhead and salmon and your stories inspire me.I often question my decision to use( only) my fly rod now and stories like the one you describe here give me inspiration to keep up with the quest i am on.For a short read this is a great and descriptive explanation of why i am doing what i am doing.Thanks.

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