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With river and lake fishing in short supply in Oregon, a trip to the coast can feed that winter fishing fix

KLAMATH FALLS — The other night, I finished working on rental renovations and went for a run. Admittedly, I hate running, but the basketball and indoor soccer leagues that usually fill my winter nights are on hold, and if I go too long without exercise, I can't sleep. So I ran.

It was only 7:30 p.m., but the night was a near-moonless black, and it was bitter cold, somewhere in the 20s according to cold air steadily gnawing on my exposed hands, legs and face.

COURTESY PHOTO - Luke OvgardI ran through the night for 15 minutes and then turned around, taking a slightly different route home, my fingers rejoicing at the end of their torment.

After making a quick dinner, I was still cold, so I drew a hot bath and slowly defrosted while listening to music and scrolling through my phone like a Millennial stereotype.

Just as Natalie Merchant's "Jealousy" rolled through on the shuffle, I came across the fishing post of a friend living in Orlando. Then one in Charlotte. They'd both spent the day fishing and absolutely cleaned up while I ran through the frigid night.

A song never felt more apropos.


Over the years, I've been fortunate to travel and meet anglers all over the world. Due to the rich fish diversity of the American Southeast, I've spent a lot of time in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Along the way, I have picked up a number of friends and connected with many of them on social media. Though parts of the Georgia and North Carolina highlands get comparably cold to the lower climes of Oregon in the winter, most of the Southeast is below the fall line and blessed with a mild winter.

Snow is fairly rare to begin with and when it does fall, it's light and short-lived. Cold, being a relative term, means highs in the 50s and 60s and the lowest lows just barely touching freezing.

Exasperated sigh.

Here in Klamath Falls winter fishing is limited. First of all, most rivers and streams close to protect spawning trout and salmon. The few flowing systems that remain open are either waters with migratory trout that just aren't present during the winter or salmon rivers more choked with shimmering metal and feathers than a roaring 20s drag show.

For someone who has an unhealthy level of self-identity tied up in fishing, this makes that Thanksgiving through Spring Break window a rough one.


So how do I get through? How do you, dear reader, get through? Well, limited though they may be, there are still fishing opportunities.

You can go to the coast. The saltwater doesn't freeze in Oregon, and surfperch fishing typically peaks November through January. Lingcod spawn in February and March, so that's the time to take a charter boat. For the most adventurous, tidepool fishing is a year-round pursuit.

Salmon and steelhead are always an option, though something I've never been able to get into. I cringe when I see one angler half a mile away on my local rivers, so being able to smell what the guy a few feet away ate for lunch is about as miserable as it gets. But, like the last guy or gal at the bar come closing time, it's there if you're desperate.

Sturgeon are a perennial favorite, too. The Columbia and Willamette are both primarily catch and release for these long-lived beasts, but you can easily hook into a dozen or more fish on a good day. Though the temperature is usually above freezing, the damp air and relentless winds will often make you miserable, so come prepared.

If the lockdown is lifted, California has a number of options. Close by, Shasta Lake will produce spotted bass all winter. Further down, the Delta and Bay Area can be productive for stripers, sturgeon and sharks during the winter if you can brave the traffic.

...Or don't

If you're not comfortable traveling during the Coronapocalypse and prefer a day trip, well, your options will be more limited. Bass, sunfish and bullheads pretty much shut down in the extreme cold, so you're left with trout. Wild trout populations are highly migratory, so you'll have to be patient and willing to freeze while waiting them out between snow storms, blown out rivers, poor visibility and the slowed metabolism they develop in colder water.

Too intense? Look to nearby lakes and ponds that don't freeze. Many receive hatchery trout that are just as stupid and easy to catch during the winter as they are during the summer. You know I'm desperate if I'm fishing for pus-gut planters, but I use the time to try new and outlandish techniques. Last year, my friend Alex Lindsey caught several hatchery trout on wacky-rigged 5-inch Senkos, and that was definitely the most shocking.

Whatever you decide, know that I feel your pain, and I'm already counting the days until April.

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