The next six weeks is prime time on many of Oregon’s winter steelhead streams. A lot of our rivers have had good numbers of both wild and hatchery fish show up early, which is a good barometer of things to come. This week’s rains will bring river levels up again, which should bring more fish into the streams. We have had a remarkably mild winter thus far, which has made the on-stream conditions much more pleasant than they usually are in January. Though the light snow pack may lead to low water this summer, it is a rare pleasure to be able to feel one’s fingers and toes all day while chasing winter steelhead. Also, warmer water temperatures generally make the fish more responsive.
Though I spend the overwhelming majority of my time fishing for summer steelhead with a swung fly, it is often necessary to employ some different techniques in the winter time to be successful consistently. Nymphing with various egg patterns and a strike indicator is a very effective technique this time of year. Egg patterns (#4-#10) in various shades of orange, pink, and white, both weighted and unweighted, are a good bet. Here is a selection of eggs I fish regularly:
This perfect specimen fell for a weighted egg pattern fished about six feet below a strike indicator. This fish of 8 or 9 pounds, though not a giant, is about as beautiful as they come.
This fish fell for an identical fly on the same morning:
Though nymphing is often an effective way to go this time of year, the winter is not without its swing opportunities. The swing can be an effective way to go in the winter, but it often takes a somewhat different approach then one would employ in the summer or fall. In the winter I use heavier flies, on average, fished on heavier sink tips. I also try to fish my fly more slowly in the winter, as the fish are often more sluggish given the cooler water temperatures. Big intruders, tied in various color schemes, are a good bet. The bold silhouette of the intruder often gets attention even in winter’s colder, swifter flows. Here are a few that have recently come off my vise:
The next six weeks are the prime of Oregon’s winter steelheading. It’s time to wake up early, layer up, and make your way to the river to chase these amazing fish. It will be over soon, so now is the time to get out there and make some memories.
Tight lines, Ethan