The first month of winter steelhead season here in Oregon has been both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging because early returns of wild fish on many of our coastal rivers have exceeded expectations, and frustrating because the weather has been even more volatile than usual for this time of year.
The weather is the single most influential variable to winter steelheading success. We have had such a wet December that most of the medium-sized and larger coastal winter steelhead streams have come into fishable shape only for very brief periods. Deciding exactly where and when to fish this time of year is a challenge. Throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall I watch the weather and water conditions closely to keep tabs on conditions, but in the Winter, I watch the river levels, hydrologic predictions, and weather forecast like a hawk in an effort to be in the right place at the right time.
As of this writing, rivers and creeks up and down the coast are in flood, and every stream besides the smallest creeks are unfishable. However, this is the exception rather than the rule in the winter time. Being able to fish successfully throughout the winter months requires being familiar with a number of creeks and river systems within striking distance of your home base. As a storm passes and high water begins to recede, there are many small rivers and creeks that will drop into shape within 24 hours. With the passing of a couple more days, the medium-sized systems will begin to clear, while it might take a couple weeks of dry weather before the larger rivers will become fly fishable.
Weather not withstanding, 2011 looks like it will be a great winter steelhead season. Thus far, I have had the bulk of my success fishing various egg patterns under an indicator. The bigger rivers, however, have more of the broader runs, pools, and tailouts that fish better with a swung fly. As the weather dries out and the larger rivers begin to drop into shape, there will be more opportunities to swing for these spectacular fish.