Winter steelheading in Western Oregon

It’s been a cold, wet 2008 so far, but somehow The Mule keeps dragging me out to the swollen Alsea to dredge the river-bottom with rigs that would definitely get my membership revoked from the McKenzie Fly Fishers.

Oregon winter steelhead

On our most recent trip we drifted from Mill Creek to Campbell and the river was nearly at 8-feet, above optimum fishing range, but not out of control. The water had obviously been dropping since there were salmon carcasses four feet up the bank. Nonetheless, The Mule had to tie his two anchors together (total weight 50lbs) to hold us for any length of time.

Oregon winter steelhead

We started out the morning working pink plugs down the soft water out of the current. The Mule pulled hard on the oars to keep the plugs working and tried to steer them down the likely seams in the river, but nothing was taking. Then we switched to drift fishing — shrimp cocktails: a corkie or float, some salmon eggs, a piece of yarn and a shrimp chunk.

I couldn’t believe how much more confidence I had fishing with that giant hunk of bright pink protein. It made fly fishing seem like I was pissing in the ocean. I can’t say I’m converted to slapping native fish in the face with boraxed egg skeins on coastal streams, but I’m close. Especially if the fish are hatchery-bred and the water is high. There is something to be said for covering the water column.

Oregon winter steelhead

Unfortunately, when you cover the water and you still don’t catch any fish, it’s much more obvious that you suck. See photo above, The Mule realizing that we suck. Nonetheless we persevered through hail and downpour and sometimes the sun actually broke through the rain.

Oregon winter steelhead

The score on two drifts is four bites. But since none of those fish were actually on the line for any length of time, that figure is pretty generous.


About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
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