For the Oregon angler, there's an opportunity to fish for steelhead almost every day of the year, from the frigidly cold waters of a north Coast stream in January to a sun-baked desert river in Central Oregon in August.
In addition to a fishing license, steelhead anglers need to purchase a Combined Angling Tag (steelhead, salmon, sturgeon and Pacific halibut). Anglers also can purchase Hatchery Harvest Tags that authorize the harvest of additional hatchery fish.
There are two main runs of steelhead in Oregon, known as "summer" and "winter" runs. The type of steelhead run is determined by the season of the year the fish enter freshwater.
Some river systems have both types of runs while other streams may have one or the other. Both winter and summer run fish spawn in the spring, but they each enter the river at different times and at different stages of reproductive maturity.
As their name suggests, summer steelhead begin migrating to their natal streams as early as March in some streams near the Coast, and as late as October/ November in some rivers in Eastern Oregon. They will remain in the river for several months before spawning. All steelhead returning to rivers east of the Cascade Mountains are considered summer run fish.
Winter steelhead migrate into freshwater when they are closer to reproductive maturity and are generally larger than their summer-run cousins. Winter steelhead begin their migration in late fall and early winter, with some fish continuing to migrate well into spring.
Winter steelhead spawn shortly after entering their natal stream. Unlike the other salmonids, steelhead are not predetermined to die after spawning and may live to spawn multiple times. After the eggs have been deposited in the spring, the fry emerge in summer and may spend the next one to three years in fresh water prior to migrating to the ocean.
In addition, the ODFW weekly Recreation Report (www.dfw.state.or.us) describes the latest river and fishing conditions for dozens of steelhead rivers in Oregon. Anglers can choose is a variety of techniques when fishing for steelhead, but regardless of the type of gear used, there are three keys to catching a steelhead.
• Spend time on the water. Get to know a river and hone your technique and you will land more fish than if you chase after every "hot lead."
• Cover water efficiently. Keep your lure or bait near the bottom and methodically fish every part of a run or pool,
• Maintain a positive attitude. Have confidence in the water you're fishing and the lure/bait you're using. This can help you stay alert for possible strikes.
Using bobber and jig/bait is a good technique for both bank and beginning steelhead anglers. A weighted jig or bait is tied below a floating bobber and drifted in the current. When the bobber dives, stops or wobbles, set the hook.
Drift fishing is when the bait or lure is bounced along the bottom with the help of a significant weight. The key is to keep the bait near the bottom of the water and drifting along at the same speed as the current.
Getting a natural presentation and detecting the subtle takes of steelhead make this a difficult technique to master. But its effectiveness makes it one of the most widely used steelhead fishing techniques.
With plunking, a heavy weight holds bait or a spinner-type bobber stationary in the current near the bottom of a river. That is a great technique when water levels are very high and steelhead are holding or traveling in soft waters near the bank. It's good for beginners or anglers with limited mobility.
Spinners are used by many anglers who are familiar with the cast and retrieve method, but those that master the cast and swing presentation often have better luck with steelhead. This involves casting the spinner slightly upstream and letting if drift naturally in the current and then "swing" toward the bank.
Pulling plugs is a plastic lure designed to dive and wiggle in the current. While they are often pulled behind a boat, where they can move and wiggle in the water as the boat drifts downstream, plugs also can be cast from the bank and slowly swung in the current.
Fly fishing is challenging, but a rewarding technique for targeting steelhead. Anglers use single- or double-handed rods to swing flies through the current, or a nymph/ indicator rig to drift a nymph near the bottom.
Steelhead fishing is very popular in Oregon and chances are you're going to be sharing a run or pool with another angler. A certain steelhead fishing etiquette has evolved that helps create an enjoyable fishing experience for all.
If you're fishing from a boat, be sure to give bank anglers plenty of room. Don't anchor in the middle of a hole if there are people fishing it from the bank and leave plenty of room between you and your neighbor on the bank.
A good rule of thumb is to leave as much room as you would like another angler to leave you. A new angler typically steps into a pool or run upstream (or above) the other angler's position because most steelhead anglers gradually move downstream in order to cover the entire run.
If you're not sure what direction another angler is moving, ask them. Most anglers are happy to have you follow them through a run.
Not only are steelhead challenging and hard-fighting, they are good eating, too. In fact, many aficionados prefer fresh steelhead to salmon. There are many ways and hundreds of recipes to prepare fresh steelhead, such as baked, grilled, smoked and flavors like sweet, salty or spicy.
Your catch should be cleaned and gutted as soon as possible. After removing the guts and gills, cut the kidney membrane along the backbone and scrape away the blood using your thumbnail or a spoon. Removing the internal organs and gills promptly helps prevent bacteria and blood clots from tainting or discoloring the meat.
If you don't plan to eat your fish in a day or two, you'll want to freeze it. Most freezing methods work best if you quick freeze the fish first. Place uncovered fish on a sheet of aluminum foil in the freezer to freeze it as quickly as possible. The best method for keeping fish in the freezer is to vacuum seal it, which protects the fish from freezer burn. Quickly freeze the fish, then seal it in a vacuum seal bag. Vacuum-sealed frozen fish should be eaten within three or four months.
Another way to protect fish from freezer burn is to freeze it in a block of water. Quick freeze individual portions, place each in a freezer bag, fill with water and freeze.
Finally, if you're going to be eating the fish within two weeks, you can double wrap quick frozen fish tightly in plastic (squeeze out as much air as possible) and then in freezer paper.