Dedicated steelhead anglers face a strong steelhead run despite this winter’s high water, unfavorably cold water temperatures and poor water visibility.
“We do anticipate that the run will be similar to last year’s. This run has been consistent over time and is likely due to steelhead’s life history that allows them to be more adaptable to environmental factors such as ocean conditions and drought, particularly when compared to other salmonids such as coho,” said Greg Huchko, a biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Anglers that were frustrated by chinook this past fall are likely to be more successful fishing for steelhead this winter.
The state strongly suggests that anglers should be extra cautious this winter. Even though accessing gravel bars and riffles to reach steelhead is less risky for shore anglers than accessing the main river channel for chinook, Huchko stresses the importance of anglers maintaining an awareness of river levels, safety equipment and boating hazards. He also encourages anglers to “make sure they have a solid understanding of the regulations and know that they can call ODFW if they do not understand them.” The Roseburg office of the ODFW can be reached at 541-440-3353.
Water temperature, along with high water, have not helped local anglers this winter. “Temperatures have been a bit lower than average this winter, ranging in the upper-30s to mid-40s. This has seemed to have a negative effect on the ‘bite’ so far this year but I suspect once temperatures warm a little, the fish will become more receptive. Generally, there is no rule of thumb for the best temperature to fish for winter steelhead, but a slight (1-2 degree) increase can trigger fish to become more active,” said Huchko.
Although river conditions hamper some anglers, others have had notable success. Plunking for steelhead remains the best choice for results when dealing with high water and low water visibility. Lures and other common fishing methods tend to be ineffective in such conditions. The well-developed olfactory system of migrating salmonids is drawn to the smell of salmon roe, which is often accompanied by attractants, night crawlers or other pungent bait.
Huchko reiterated a well known, less practiced law as the basis for individual steelhead conservation. “The number one rule to remember for winter steelhead is that only hatchery fish may be harvested,” said Huchko.
Effective conservation of steelhead has taken long-term effort and cooperation from numerous parties. “ODFW’S Conservation Strategy and our Western Oregon Stream Restoration Program are great examples of effective conservation programs. Details of both of these can be found on our website and Facebook site (particularly the ODFW Conservation page), but the primary driver and reason these are successful is the partnerships between ODFW, other state and federal agencies, non-profit groups, private organizations and individuals,” said Huchko.
Concerning further conservation efforts anglers may want to take, Huchko said: “We always encourage anglers to release wild fish as quickly as possible and not leave them out of water any longer than absolutely necessary. In addition, joining local angling and/or conservation groups can be rewarding for both the fish and for anglers.”
This time of year, some anglers, hunters, and hikers may see coho in areas such as the North Umpqua tributaries. However, coho numbers are currently difficult to estimate when compared to last year’s coho numbers. “It is too early to predict. We should have a better idea of that sometime in April,” says Huchko
ODFW is using new counting methods at the local Winchester Dam. “Our counting methodology has changed recently. Due to budget limitations, the position has been reduced to half-time. This has led to changes in how the counts are generated. Counts are now estimates based on a sub-sampling of video counts at the dam instead of 24/7 counts. This has allowed us to maintain very accurate counts and work within the current budget constraints,” said Huchko.