Winter steelhead, free fishing highlight the outdoors calendar

In decades past, it was about Thanksgiving of each year that hatchery winter steelhead would begin to quietly slip into our coastal rivers and by the middle of December we would be well into a season that still runs into the spring of each year.  

It was pretty common back then to also encounter a bright fall chinook or coho and, of course, there would also be plenty of spawning salmon around.

The downside was that even the most-conscientious angler would inadvertently stumble onto a salmon spawning bed – sometimes interrupting the spawning process. That was not necessarily the best thing for the fish.  

Today you may still find a few winter steelhead in some winter steelhead streams, at any time by mid-November.  But the bulk of the run will start to show up closer to New Year’s and that has been by design.  Locally, the Siuslaw River and its major tributary, Lake Creek, opens for winter steelhead fishing Dec. 1. 

Consequently in late November, winter steelhead are about a month out.  Also, the Cascade lake and stream fisheries are now closed. Local reservoirs are drawn down to levels that are difficult for both bank and boating anglers to access. … I don’t recall exactly what year the Friday and Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend were added to the Free Fishing schedule. But it fills a bit of a void in the fishing season and no matter where you travel in Oregon for Thanksgiving you will find an easy-to-access water body to harvest a few fresh trout.  “Free Fishing” means you don’t need a license but you still must observe all the other regulations related to size, location and limits – and you can only fish in fisheries open to year-round angling. 

Locally, and at the top of my list of free fishing destinations, is Alton Baker Canoe Canal (ABCC), a two-mile-long side channel of the Willamette River located in downtown Eugene. The ABCC is open year-round and in preparation for the free fishing event will be stocked with about 1,750 “keeper-sized” rainbow trout. Of course this time of year we have wonderful water quality and those fish should be feisty and hard fighting, which generally characterizes the quality product the ODFW stocks into our local rivers and ponds.

Also on the list to be stocked is the Junction City Pond that will temporarily open leading up to the Free Fishing weekend.  The Pond will get 1,000 keepers during the week of Nov. 13 and another thousand during the week of Nov. 20. Then on Dec. 11 the Junction City Pond will close for about two months at which time the very popular urban water body, according to a recent ODFW news release, will undergo a number “major improvements.” The news release also stated that the archery practice facility will be closed during the construction. 

Row River Nature Park is generally on the list of Free Fishing sites; unfortunately at press time the City of Cottage Grove had removed the fishing dock and the pond had been dewatered. The ODFW states they are “in negotiation” with the city to hopefully make the facility available for the free fishing weekend, or at least sometime soon thereafter. 

Out west, the ocean, beaches, and river jetties are all open for year-round fishing. A bit of a warning here: This year’s Free Fishing dates happen to coincide with the annual celestial alignment of the moon and sun that creates the King Tides. Beginning on Nov. 24-27 we will see a tidal exchange that could reach 9-10 feet. At those levels the jetties will have waves washing over them and the beaches will be covered over by sea water.  That could be made worse if the King Tides come in conjunction with a Pacific storm. The King Tides are incredible phenomena to observe, but if you’re out on the coast during Thanksgiving weekend to fish or just visit, make sure you observe the ocean from a spot high above the water.

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