Winter Steelhead Fishing in Oregon

Some have called steelhead “the ultimate game fish” because they are elusive and challenging. Steelhead put up a spectacular fight with anglers, so catching one is often the prize for being patient and persistent. Many anglers who come to Oregon for fall fishing are drawn to the prospect of an exciting battle with a hard-fighting winter steelhead.

The two main steelhead runs, the summer run and the typically larger winter run, spawn in the spring, but enter the Oregon river waters at different times and at different stages of maturity. The type of run is determined by the time of year they enter freshwater. Steelhead do not die after spawning, like other salmonoids, and can spawn multiple times in their lifespan.

The transition from summer steelhead to winter steelhead begins in late fall, more commonly in rivers farther inland from the ocean. Winter steelhead fishing begins on some Oregon rivers around Thanksgiving. Fisheries near Portland, in the Willamette Valley, offer ample opportunities for great boat fishing of winter steelhead.

The winter run continues into early spring in Willamette River tributaries like the Clackamas River and the Sandy River, which is considered one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. Both will have good numbers of steelhead, and are great options close to Portland. When summer arrives, anglers target steelhead in the Columbia River before they can get to its tributaries, including the Willamette.

The Winter Steelhead Run

Winter steelhead migrate into freshwater in the late fall and early winter when they are close to reproductive maturity, and spawn shortly after entering their natal streams. Some winter steelhead will continue migrating well into spring.

The winter run, usually larger than that of their summer-run relatives, begins in late November on some rivers, with most fisheries getting to full speed after the first of the year.

In fall and winter, steelhead move when the sun is off the water, so the best time to fish for them is either early or later in the day.  Anglers usually catch Steelhead on salmon roe, various types of steelhead fishing beads, jigs, inline spinners and spoons or fly fishing gear.

Some of the best steelhead fishing is after a high-water event, when river water levels begin to drop. A stealth approach works best; low water conditions mean you’ll need to quietly place small flies and lures.

For the best guided fishing trips in the rivers near Portland, Oregon for steelhead, salmon and sturgeon, contact Buddy Dupell, owner and guide of Columbia River Fishing Adventures, at (503) 490-3099.  Have questions about steelhead or another species? Call or email Buddy at [email protected]

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