Steelheads are here, and plentiful; be safe, honest about boating skill

Lake Creek, looking down river from Deadwood Boat landing. Two days after I took this picture the Lake Creek rose a couple of feet but should be excellent for New Year’s weekend.

Happy New Year’s everyone … 

The beginning of winter ushered in a couple very powerful storms that brought a good dose of rainfall to most of western Oregon. The heavy precipitation blew out nearly all the coastal rivers and dampened efforts of most anglers for a few days. But as the river levels began to drop over the Christmas weekend, heading into the new year, many now gleam with the brightness of chrome as ocean-fresh steelhead have spread throughout most mid-coast river systems. 

The best of the early winter steelheading most often is in the North Fork of the Alsea River. Early reports suggest that is the case again this season. No boating is allowed on the North Fork but it has some of the best bank access of all the mid-coast streams. For drift boaters, the highest put-in is at Mill Creek, which also started to fish last week – with early season steelheaders finding fair-to-good success on the run down to Missouri Bend. 

Up on the Siletz, on Christmas weekend high water was still discouraging the efforts of most anglers. But at press time those high-water conditions had just begun to drop and going into the new year look promising. The best access for bank anglers is at Moonshine Park, which is located up river from the town of Siletz. 

I also suspect that it will be up at Moonshine where the first news of “good catching” will likely come from later this week. The Siletz has an aggressive steelhead stocking schedule and one of the best broodstock programs on the coast. The late-season wild run is still reasonably strong and the local watershed council has made remarkable habitat improvements. The boat landings are convenient and well spaced for a full- or half-day float. It is one of my favorite rivers to fish.

Closer to home, the Siuslaw also blew out before Christmas.with one of the largest drainages on the central coast, the river reaches far into the Lorain Valley and it is always the slowest to heal from a deluge. Rain over the Christmas weekend bumped it up again but now heading into new year the Siuslaw should be in fine shape. 

The Siuslaw has few wild steelhead but has been planted with hatchery steelhead for decades. Originally, with Alsea River stock, now with returning hatchery steelhead that are trapped at Whitaker Creek. A steel weir and cage at Whitaker prevents nearly all hatchery steelhead from continuing up river. Trapped steelhead are sorted weekly, any wild are released to continue up river. The hatchery steelhead are then transferred to be spawned and raised at the Alsea River Hatchery. The smolts are brought back in the spring for imprinting and release back to the river. Once the ODFW reaches its quota of fish for egg production, a lot of captured hatchery adults will get recycled down river, allowing anglers a second chance to catch one.

Lastly, Lake Creek, a tributary to the Siuslaw, has some of the same river bed characteristics of the main river but with a quarter of the volume. The upper drainage, buffered by Triangle Lake, is one of the fastest-clearing streams on the coast and my “go-to” stream when others are too high. 

Unlike the Siuslaw, Lake Creek has a good population of wild steelhead. Fisheries biologists suggest the wild population, from season to season, is about 2,000 to 3,000 winter steelhead. Which is good return for the small drainage.

Hatchery steelhead in Lake Creek are planted at Deadwood, Green Creek and a portion go directly into Green Creek a couple of miles up river from its confluence with Lake Creek. The best bank access to Lake Creek is in the lower river around the hamlet of Deadwood – above “The Horn Rapid” and at Konnie Park below The Horn. A word about boating: Lake Creek is relatively steep, and has many bolder strum rapids that are often continuous for long stretches. Before launching your drift boat, please be honest with the assessment of your personal boating skills and I strongly suggest people not attempt a float through the Horn. 


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