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Steelhead Fisheries in Oregon and Washington

Steelhead fishing in the Pacific Northwest


Steelhead fisheries in Oregon and Washington: Written By Professional fishing guide: Dennis Hull (Meet Dennis )

    Steelhead fishing in Oregon and Washington is some of the finest fishing found anywhere in the world. With the abundant rivers and rainfall we have here in the pacific northwest it provides for ideal steelhead and salmon habitat. At virtually any time of year a steelhead fisherman can find an opportunity to pursue the most prized game fish here in the Northwest. We still have some excellent runs of native fish that fisherman can fish for on a catch and release basis only. Some of these natives can get quite large with fish in the 20 pound or larger class fairly common and an occasional 30 pound plus fish as well. The Northwest also has many hatchery steelhead programs designed to allow the fisherman to catch and keep some of these fine eating fish. The hatchery fish usually don't get as large as the natives but they still get over 20 lbs often. There are many volunteer organizations dedicated to improving salmon, trout and steelhead habitat as well as working to improve the fishing publics opportunity to catch them. One of these organizations is Northwest Steelheaders,  and many local organizations that do some fine work protecting and preserving this fabulous resource for all of us to enjoy. There are several "Brood stock Programs" in progress which are designed to allow the Steelhead in there native river to pass on there genes to the hatchery programs. These are very good programs and allow the native fish of a particular river to remain genetically pure without the influence of hatchery fish from another river to interbreed with them. This allow the steelhead fisherman to keep a hatchery fish that is actually from wild stock. I encourage you to support any and all of these efforts to preserve this very important fishing resource.

     Most rivers in Oregon and Washington have both Summer Steelhead and Winter Steelhead. The Summer run fish begin arriving in the Spring and stay in the rivers until the next winter when they spawn and head back to the ocean. These summer fish are very aggressive and will take lures, flies, bait and most anything that is presented to them. The summer steelhead when they come back into the rivers are aggressive feeders and they actually revert back to the behaviors of a big rainbow trout as they live in the rivers for many months before actually spawning. Fishing for these fish can be very exciting as they are very acrobatic and jump frequently and are very strong fighting fish. The summer run fish are very colorful fish with similar markings to a trout except for the metallic looking head and the big red stripe down the side, they are also much bigger than a trout. Winter Steelhead begin coming into the rivers in the late fall usually with the first good rainfall. The first to arrive are the hatchery fish which traditionally begin to show around thanksgiving on some rivers with the bulk of the runs occurring from Christmas to mid January. The native fish usually come in later beginning in February and continuing until April or so. These winter fish are chrome bright as they enter the rivers and will be a dark blue on the back with bright silver white sides. The winter steelhead are not as aggressive biters as the summer fish and can be quite challenging to catch. These fish are coming in to spawn and they usually do this fairly quickly after entering the fresh water. Because they do begin to discolor quickly and begin there spawning activity almost immediately after entering there home rivers it is very important to be on the river in the right spot at the right time with the right river conditions to be able to catch a beautiful chrome bright winter steelhead. For these reasons it is a very good idea to go with someone that knows the river well or hire a guide if you wish to have good success on the winter fish. 


    Steelhead is one of the most popular game fish in the world and for that reason when the fishing is good expect some company while fishing for them. In our other steelhead pages we will cover all of the details as far as fishing equipment and techniques for catching steelhead. 

Copyright 2003 []. All rights reserved.
Revised: April 24, 2012

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