Winter Steelhead Season is Upon Us: Gear Up, Study Up, and Take a Guided Trip With the Caddis Fly!


To my mind, winter is the most interesting and dynamic season for the fly angler in Oregon. Nearly every stream that flows into the Pacific, from the small creeks to the big rivers, gets a run of returning adult winter steelhead. Unlike the fishing we encounter during the summer and fall seasons, with relatively stable weather and water conditions, winter conditions are always in flux. After each high water event, fresh fish will quickly move upstream towards their natal spawning gravels. It is our job to be in the right place at the right time to try to intercept them.


It used to be that anglers who would avidly pursue trout and summer steelhead throughout the rest of the season would either quit fishing entirely in the winter, or hang up their fly rods in favor of conventional tackle. Over the past decade or so, advances in tackle, fly design, and tactics have improved the odds for the fly angler, making it possible for us to fish effectively in conditions and water types that weren’t traditionally thought of as fly-fishable. The motivated fly angler needn’t turn to the dark side to catch winter steel, but it may take an investment in tackle, refinement of technique, and a measure of perseverance.


When it comes to swinging flies, you will need some sort of switch or spey rod, and a Skagit head to match. This will make it possible for you to cast and fish the bigger, more heavily weighted flies we typically fish in the winter, as well as the array of sink tips you will need to get your fly in the zone in various conditions.


Many of us, myself included, spend a lot less time swinging flies in the winter time than we do in the summer. For instance, many of the lies on our small and mid-sized central coast rivers are relatively narrow, bed-rock lined slots. This type of water is very difficult to swing effectively, and indicator fishing with an egg-like or jig-like fly is often much more effective here because the fly will descend into the spot quickly, and stay there for as long as you keep a good dead drift going. Also, when the water is very cold (well under 40 degrees) the fish will be less willing to chase and attack a swung fly, making dead-drift tactics more productive. A long single-handed fly rod (a 10 foot 7 or 8 weight), or a switch rod (something around 11 feet rated at a 5 to 7 weight), is ideal for nymphing winter steelhead.



So now you have the tackle and some likely flies, and you want to learn to use them more effectively. A good place to start is with some quality instruction. Take John Larison’s winter steelhead seminar. Watch technique-oriented videos like Scott Howell’s Skagit Master 2. Take a spey casting lesson from one of us at the fly shop (call anytime 541 342-7005). All these are great options, but the best way to improve your game is to go on a guided trip with one of us at the Caddis Fly. You will learn to implement the tactics appropriate for the day, and likely encounter some chrome at the end of your line. This is the best way to steepen your learning curve and to get you fishing more effectively.


Of course, winter weather and water levels can be volatile, and successful winter steelheading is often about striking while the iron is hot. If you have booked a day with us and all the rivers are in flood, we will happily reschedule the trip for a better time. We want your trip to be a successful one. Whether we are guiding or out fishing for research and development purposes, we are on these rivers on a daily basis, keeping our fingers on the pulse of Oregon’s winter steelhead fisheries.



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2 Responses to Winter Steelhead Season is Upon Us: Gear Up, Study Up, and Take a Guided Trip With the Caddis Fly!

  1. Sam W. says:

    Great looking fly. Hate to loose several of these though. How about a list of materials, or better yet a tying demo. Need something to do until we get some rain.

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