Anglers Log: Steelheaders to take riverways 

It was a tough start for winter steelhead season this year in the Northwest. Snow and ice swept over large parts of the Willamette Valley, followed by a series of warm Pacific storms that accelerated the melt of much of the low-level frozen precipitation. The rapid runoff took rivers in western Oregon to near flood stage and kept about every top winter steelhead fishery running high and into the bank side shrubbery, nearly through the entire month of January. 

But as I prepare this week’s Angler’s Log, those conditions are quickly disappearing into the rear-view mirror. Rivers that a week ago were high and off-color have now turned over to a nice shade of green. Returns have been “good” but other conditions are now in play. Among them, “crowding” will likely be the most challenging thing you will encounter while steelhead fishing over the next few weeks. 

With close to a month of built-up angler energy, steelheaders flocked in droves to their nearest winter steelhead river last weekend in a bloom of river aluminum. Others were seen attempting to position their own rock along the river bank to make an unobstructed cast. Adding to the energy were reports that hundreds of hatchery steelhead had been showing up at hatcheries and other collation sites, all up and down the coast since the first week in January. The fish were taking advantage of the high water to head home to the hatchery from where they were released as smolts a couple of years ago. 

One example of the good return: On the Siuslaw, the all-volunteer STEP group (Salmon, Trout Enhancement Program) has spawned anywhere between 50 and 150 adult steelhead during their twice-weekly visits to the collection trap at Whittaker Creek, delighting the group’s members in what is a sizable turnaround from recent past seasons. Spawned fish are returned to the river and will have a hole punched into their left gill plate. A small percentage of spawned steelhead will head back out to sea and come back next year as  larger fish. Many will succumb from the river conditions but add valuable nutrients to the river on which other fish will survive. 

On Feb. 5, hatchery steelhead captured at Whittaker Creek have started to be recycled downriver to Linslaw Boat Ramp, giving anglers a second chance to catch the fish as they return upriver. In order to track the progress of the fish and the program’s success, the re-released fish will carry a “noodle tag” inserted into the base of their dorsal fin. At press time, the details of how those tags will be collected from anglers were a little unclear. But the hope is that few tagged fish will actually return to the trap and instead be collected by a persistent steelheader angler. Stay tuned for updates.

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