The weather on the coast has been spectacular this fall, but the lack of rain has many salmon and winter steelhead anglers strolling the beaches with an eye to the west, hoping for a major change. We need rain! FRANK ARMENDARIZ Photo/Frank Armendariz
I spoke with John Spangler and Jeff Ziller a couple of weeks back – district biologists for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Jeff manages the Southern Willamette district (I shared that conversation in my last report) and John is responsible for managing the fisheries of all the central coast's rivers, streams, bays and lakes from southern Lane County to northern Lincoln County (I'll share some of that conversation later in this report).
This week, the weather is at the top of the report again as it continues to drive angler expectations, success and opportunity across the county. In summary, after an unusually wet late summer and early fall – particularly in the western parts of Lane County – we may actually reach the end of November setting records for the lack of rainfall across our region.
It works to a few anglers' advantage, but the weather pattern over the past several weeks has been a disappointment to many others – particularly those hoping to catch one of our state's premier species, a fall salmon or a winter steelhead.
So it was timely that I spoke to Spangler – who saw these conditions coming several weeks ago. Spangler explained that ”the late summer and early fall rains encouraged fall salmon in the Siuslaw and most other rivers” in his central coast district to migrate upstream. It ended a pretty good season of bay salmon fishing a few weeks earlier than in most years.
The rain did give river anglers a couple of weeks of good conditions above tidewater and a few fish were caught. When the rain stopped, river levels and conditions quickly declined and there is little relief in the near future.
Winter steelhead are often in many coast rivers by Thanksgiving each year, too. But Spangler noted that the steelhead run would surely be delayed on the Siuslaw, Alsea and Siletz – all popular streams for local anglers, ”until we see some significant rainfall.” Likely five or six inches of rain across the region would be needed to turn this pattern and conditions around.
Spangler, in spite of the depressed current conditions and opportunities, was optimistic. Although the weather shortened the salmon season it was better than expected and he expects a ”decent” steelhead season, too. He noted that once the rains return we will see the last of the fall salmon push upriver and then the winter steelhead run for the season. For a short time both fish will be in the river, giving way to only steelhead as winter progresses.
With its longstanding ”broodstock program,” the Siletz River is Spangler's top producer, followed by the Alsea, which also has broodstock steelhead. Last but not least, the Siuslaw River, which only has hatchery fish released for anglers. Broodstock fish have a parent captured in the wild and hatchery raised. They tend to be much more resilient and a better-biting fish than steelhead propagated entirely from hatchery stocks. I'll have more on steelhead in an upcoming article.
Unlike over in the valley there are no trout stocked in the fall or winter on the coast.
But Spangler reminded me that the jetties on the banks of the lower Siuslaw River and the beaches that extend to the north and south are open year-round for perch fishing. It's all about how big the surf is in the winter, but perch feed in the surf zones and are present right off the beach and jetties year-round. The best surf fishing occurs when the waves are under three feet.
I use this website to help me plan my days on the beach:
http://www.oregonsurf.com/pages/forecast/forecast_landing.html. It is a site popular among Oregon surfers, but I find it to be an accurate report and forecast of surf-fishing conditions not only locally but from border to border.
The ocean crab season has ended for now but recreational crabbing is open in the bays up and down the coast. Crabbing is allowed 24/7, meaning you can set pots out overnight or crab with rings all night from any pier where recreational crabbers are allowed.
On the Siuslaw there is a very popular crabbing pier at the end of the south Siuslaw River jetty road. An Army Corps of Engineers facility has free parking. The parking area also allows access to the south jetty itself and beaches south of the jetty are popular for surf anglers. Please be careful on the jetty; do your homework, understand the conditions you might encounter and pass on the days with high surf.
Over in the valley, the persistent weather pattern, cold nights and cloudy mornings give way to sunny afternoons. It has encouraged folks, including this reporter, to take advantage of cool but dry weather to get in some later than usually expected trout fishing. The McKenzie and Willamette rivers are open for trout year-round and the midday bites have been pretty good. Bait fishing on both rivers is closed from Oct. 31 until April 30, 2020, but flies and lures are allowed year-round.
Don't forget that the ODFW will be planting thousands of trophy-size rainbow trout several times this winter in the Alton Baker Park canal, Junction City Pond and the Row River Nature Park, where bait fishing is allowed.
Now go fishing. Take your kids or a friend. Those will become some of the best memories of your life.
Contact Frank at rivertrailoutfitters.com.