Lake Creek, a tributary of the Siuslaw River, was low and clear and cold last weekend – a scenario that is being repeated up and down the Oregon Coast. Frank Armendariz/For The Chronicle
The fact of the matter is, fish like stability. They thrive within a narrow range of water temperatures and oxygen content, and are easily affected by barometric pressure and other conditions – conditions that either limit or enhance their propagation, feeding patterns and tendency to ”bite” when lured.
The unfortunate fact is that the historic stretch of dry fall weather – which saw 23 rainless, cold days in November, ending in what meteorologists called a ”bomb cyclone” (also historic) – brought the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded for a November storm in Oregon.
The cyclone’s associated cold front swept across our state and county, bringing freezing temperatures, snow, strong wind and a little rain.
It was not the kind of disruption fish respond well to. It was disappointing; the storm packed a big, very cold punch that shut down most fishing, but the ”cyclone” only generated about three quarters of an inch of precipitation along our coast and across our county, leaving most fall salmon and winter steelhead fisheries no better off once it passed.
There was a glimmer of silver in the storm: the little bit of rain that the cyclone ushered in was enough to raise the flow in the Siuslaw and the Siletz River to our north in Lincoln County. The bump was enough to encourage the first of the winter steelhead run to move into the lower parts of these and likely other coast rivers.
That news spread quickly, and last weekend a fair number of bank anglers and several pontoon anglers hit the lower Siuslaw. The river between Swisshome and Mapleton has decent bank access and at 3.5 feet on the Mapleton gauge, the river was okay for floating in a pontoon or other small raft. The winter run has begun but will limp along in the low, clear and cold water until we get a lot more rain.
Many Northwest Zone steelhead headrivers are open year-round; others have established openings in October. The Siuslaw and its main tributary, Lake Creek have been open for steelhead for several weeks. The balance of streams in both the Northwest and Southwest zones opened on Dec. 1, including the North Fork Alsea in Linn County, and Deadwood and Indian Creeks (tributaries of Lake Creek) in Lane County.
Draining directly into the Pacific Ocean just north of Florence, Cape Creek, Big Creek and Tenmile Creek are now also open. A few hatchery steelhead wander into these little gems, but it is mostly a catch-and-release experience on streams that flow out of some of the deepest coastal wildernesses Oregon has to offer.
Through these last couple of weeks, ocean conditions have also been pretty rough, with some of the highest tides seen in a decade. The ”king tides” wiped out any beach fishing for several days, as daytime tides along the entire Oregon coast covered beaches, making it extremely dangerous to be near the water. The king tides were part of a worldwide phenomenon in the Earth’s northern hemisphere that flooded coastal towns around the world.
The good news is, the extraordinarily high tides have passed and over the last couple of days the surf and jetty fishing for perch has been good. I will be offering a free surf fishing clinic in the early spring on one of the Florence beaches, covering everything you will need to know to be successful on what is likely Lane County’s most dependable year-round fishery. (I’ll have more specific information about the clinic in February.)
I was recently contacted by Emma Garner and Christine Clapper, STEP (Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program) biologists for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Emma is the Southern Willamette Valley biologist and works out of the Springfield office. Christine is the Mid-Coast biologist and works out of the Newport office.
Their primary responsibility is to work with the many citizen volunteers that the fish division relies on to keep salmon, steelhead and trout swimming in our local rivers. In Lane County, STEP volunteers man a hatchery on Letz Creek, manage steelhead traps on the Siuslaw River and fin-clip trout at Leaburg. They also teach classes on how to catch the fish they help nurture, and provide assistance at ODFW-sponsored events. If you are comfortable waist-deep in a river spawning steelhead or standing in a classroom teaching parents and their children, I encourage you to ”pay it forward” and get involved.
You can reach Emma at the Springfield office: [email protected] or 541-726-2539, ext. 28; and Christine at the Newport office: [email protected] or 541-265-8306, ext. 253.
Now, go fishing. Take your kids or a friend; those will become your best memories.
You can reach Frank by visiting rivertrailoutfitters.com.