Early November rains paying off for anglers

Early last spring we had no idea that the coming summer would be so hot – in fact, the hottest summer in Willamette Valley history. May and June were awfully wet and the late-season precipitation felt like an endurance contest for anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts. 

But coming behind a relatively dry winter and early spring, the wet spell came just in time to set up the mostly good fishing conditions that create the wonderful diversity of fishing we enjoyed through much of last summer. For bass, trout, salmon, steelhead, and any number of other species, looking into the rearview mirror, the 2022 angling season was a pretty good one. 

It was far different from the nearly disastrous drought along with higher-than-normal temperatures we experienced in 2021. Although it was historically hot this year, waterways all over western Oregon had plenty of spring runoff for boating on the lakes and reservoirs, for floating on the rivers, and fishing in the creeks than we had seen for several seasons.

And even though October, a month in which we generally see a fair amount of precipitation, turned out to be the driest and warmest October in Oregon history, it capped a season of historical markers. Spring rainfall had sufficiently fueled our waterways with H2O that we easily overcame the deficit and October fishing was, quite frankly, “awesome.”

On an October float through the wild and scenic Rogue River canyon our party enjoyed weather more like summer than fall with temperatures that hovered in mid-80s. Far above the average seasonal high of about 60 degrees. 

As a comparison, on a float through the Rogue canyon in 2021 on the same October week, in addition to being much cooler it was also damp on two of our four-day float trip. It never rained hard but a cold drizzle followed us down river and nighttime temps fell into the 30s each evening. 

This season, in spite of the summer-like conditions coming behind a wet spring, the river level on the Rogue was ideal and the fishing for both half-pounder steelhead and coho salmon – right up to the end of the float season, and in general – was “good.” 

The fish respond

The takeaway is when we get enough seasonal precipitation creating good conditions the fish respond.

Although the Siuslaw River is closed to fall salmon fishing and could be closed for a couple of more seasons. I hope for different news regarding the Siuslaw but when I ask fisheries management from the ODFW for their opinion, the answer I get appears to be one that was focus-group tested to be about as obscure and inoffensive as possible. 

On our other central coast fall fisheries, including Winchester and Coos Bay that had special retention regulations, the action was pretty good and the bay seasons produced plenty of daily and seasonal limits for local anglers. But the season ended at some locations and others when heavy rain in early November drew those salmon up into the rivers and on to their spawning beds.

Lake fishing is good

But in Oregon the “salmon fishing season” never really ends … it just shifts around a little.

In November the salmon trolling season moves from the river bays to the “dune lakes” and river fishing for salmon fires up on the far south coast. In both instances heavy early November rain has drawn solid numbers of late-running chinook to the south coast rivers and the last of the central coast’s fall coho into Siltcoos, Tahkenitch and Tenmile lakes. 

On the lakes it looks like one of the better seasons in years and the fishing has already been good.

All the dune lakes drain directly into the Pacific Ocean, stimulated by fall precipitation and with the rise in water levels the fish are drawn up short estuaries from the ocean. After a few days in the lake the fish will find their home creek, the exact one, among all the many small tributaries that make up the totality of the watershed where they will eventually spawn.

Dune lake options 

Unfortunately there is little bank access on the dune lake so it really is a troll fishery where some opt for flashers, or other traditional trolling rigs and have good success. But the dune lakes are all pretty shallow; the average depth of Siltcoos Lake is only 15 feet and others are not much deeper.

I prefer “flat line” weighted casting spinners or diving plugs like K13 or K14 Kwikfish with a wrap. Once the fish are up in the creek arms twitching jugs can also be effective and twitching for coho has become so popular in the last few years that around the pass time a whole line of specific tackle, twitching specific jigs have now been developed and available at your local tackle shop.

South coast rivers are chinook fisheries and you will find both hatchery and wild fish returning to the rivers in the far south zone starting in about November each fall season. The runs generally peak about Thanksgiving. But the rivers on the south coast will often be kicking out fresh salmon into January, when your chances of tying into a winter steelhead are better than good, too. 

There are plenty of streams in the region but the Sixess, Elk and Chetco all have decent bank access, well-placed boat landings, and hatchery salmon you can retain. Some also have a limited wild salmon retention regulation this season. 

Now there are few zone-wide regulations anymore; every stream is more often individually managed. So it is important to check the regulations specific to the river you plan to fish. As an example, there is no wild retention on the Elk River this season; you can only keep hatchery salmon. But on the Sixess, just a few miles to the north, you are allowed one wild salmon as part of your two-salmon daily limit. 

Rain in early November fired up the south coast salmon season, and more rain next week should put even more fish into these gorgeous rivers. Then on Nov. 22, a three-day cycle of king tides will flood the lower estuaries, carrying on the flood that  is often the peak of the south coast salmon run, “and it’s not over until it’s over.”



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