Barbara Norregaard of Lorane is a steelheader and a STEP volunteer; several times a week, she feeds steelhead smolts that are raised at a STEP hatchery on Letz Creek. Frank Armendariz/The Chronicle
The series of Pacific storms that began to sweep across our state and county late in December have continued and last week was exceptionally wet. So here in the middle of January, angling conditions are just about what you would expect – where the words ”harsh and limited” sum things up pretty completely.
For angling boaters the harsh news is that just about every winter steelhead stream in western Oregon, including those in Lane County, are running high and muddy this week.
More harshly, those conditions will likely last into late January – and if the current forecasts and predictions pan out, boaters may have to deal with high river conditions into early February. There is never certainty when it comes to the weather but things look dicey for the next week at best.
Also ”pretty harsh” has been the wind-driven rain. The storms that have passed have packed a pretty good punch, testing anglers’ best rain gear and endurance for standing on the bank or boat in the face of such challenging conditions.
So, even though there are ”limited” winter steelheading opportunities for bank fishermen, not many folks have been willing to brave the conditions to sample them.
But the very wet conditions will eventually break in what is a very predictable pattern along the central coast – a pattern you can count on after an extended period of widespread and heavy precipitation.
The North Fork of the Alsea in Benton County will drop into shape first, but there’s no boating on the North Fork; you have to bank-fish from Mill Park Landing (Pink House, for us oldtimers) upriver to the deadline at the North Fork Hatchery.
It can be a little crowded along the bank adjacent to the hatchery but if you opt for an access points downstream, the crowds thin.
I prefer the stretch along Clemons Park. A trail system allows easy access to more than a quarter-mile of quality steelhead water. If you are a good wader and use a wading staff you can cover about a mile of river beyond the park boundary too.
A day or two later, the main Alsea River below Mill Creek will also fall into shape. The North Fork Alsea with the main Alsea River in combination traditionally have one of the better runs of winter steelhead on the central coast.
A broodstock program has helped improve the hatchery fishery over the last several years and the river returns a decent number of wild steelhead too.
”Broodstock” steelhead are the offspring of hatchery and wild parents. Broodstock steelhead appear to survive better at sea, tend to be more robust and are better biting fish when they return to the river as adults.
About the same time as the North Fork Alsea comes into shape, Lake Creek here in Lane County will clear. Pouring directly from Triangle Lake and eventually joining the Siuslaw River, the stream’s flow is buffered by the lake. Consequently, it clears days before the Siuslaw does.
Lake Creek has both hatchery fish to harvest and plentiful numbers of wild steelhead. The bank access is fair along its entire length with the best bank access around the hamlet of Deadwood.
Lake Creek is a high-gradient stream with a number of rapids. You should be confident in your river-boating skills before launching a drift boat or other float craft on the creek.
The Siletz River up in Lincoln County will come into shape a couple of days after the Main Alsea.
The upper river around Moonshine Park will fish first, and over the next couple days the river downstream from Moonshine will also drop into shape. The Siletz is hands down the best winter steelhead stream on the central coast. It has the greatest number of hatchery steelhead to harvest and a long-running ”broodstock” fishery that peaks in late February.
The Siletz also has one of the better runs of late-returning wild winter steelhead in western Oregon. Wild steelhead are in the river all season, but the largest percentage always come home in March and early April.
The Siuslaw River, with certainty, will always be the last to clear. It is the biggest and the longest of the four streams, with a watershed that reaches through the coast mountains all the way into the Lorane Valley.
Better known as a chinook and silver salmon river, it once hosted a run of silver salmon that was annually only second to the Columbia River.
It is also known for not having much steelhead habitat and very few wild steelhead. But, mostly because of the work of a loyal group of volunteers, partnering with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP), they’ve kept a decent-sized run of hatchery steelhead returning to the Whittaker Creek collection site every year, where STEP volunteers maintain a weir and trap and collect returning adult fish to spawn for the following year’s release of juvenile steelhead.
I’ll have more about the Siuslaw STEP group and how you might get involved in upcoming reports.
Don’t forget, if you just need to wet a line for a bit, maybe get the kids out from in front of the TV for awhile and we get a short break in the rainy weather, our urban fisheries are all stocked and ready to go with nothing but ”trophy trout” this winter. It’s easy fishing for willing trout raised at Leaburg hatchery, that are good table fare.
I smoke most of the hatchery trout I retain; my wife uses the smoked fish to garnish salads, in omelets and mixed with cream cheese for dips. Row River Nature Park, Alton Baker Canal and Junction City Pond have been recently stocked with trout.
Lastly, I need to make a correction: in my last report I mentioned the need for boaters to have an ”Invasive Species Permit” which as a standalone permit was actually discontinued for 2020. For power boaters the ISP is now rolled into your registration and for non-motorized craft 10 feet or longer the ISP is now covered by the new ”Waterway Access Permit.”
I ran into a couple of Lane County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol deputies over the weekend who were checking boaters up on the Siuslaw.
Unfortunately they had to remind several boaters of the new permit requirements, which include drift boats. They were only issuing ”warnings” for now but explained to me that a second warning to any individual boater would result in a citation. So be safe out there.
Now go fishing, and take your wife and kids or a friend. Those days will become some of the best memories of your life …
Contact Frank and find the ”Perfect River Levels” at rivertrailoutfitters.com.