ROGUE - Winter steelhead fishing should get the pick-me-up everyone has been looking for Sunday when a storm system is forecast to move into the region packing a decent amount of rain and snow. Until then, the best bet will remain the Galice area, where anglers will be hitting moving fish now.
The culprit continues to be low and clear water. Flows through Grants Pass were down to 1,646 cubic feet per second Wednesday, and that made for difficult winter steelhead fishing. A few fish were picked up here and there in the Galice area by anglers fishing worms and corkies or yarn balls scented with roe. Plug fishing was fair, with various-colored K-11 Kwikfish the most popular lure of the season.
Look for things to change. Sunday's rain is forecast to bring the river up to 4,200 cfs Tuesday, then blast it up past 9,000 cfs at Grants Pass by the end of next week. That's the system-jarring kind of freshet that will jump-start a late-season winter steelhead fishery and likely draw the first spring chinook of the season into the lower river.
Until then, the lower river remains slow for steelhead. Clear and low water conditions make for a half-dozen fish caught from Agness to Huntley Park each day, at best. Anglers report seeing schools of fish swim by without biting.
The upper Rogue remains slow for winter steelhead. Flows out of Lost Creek Lake were down to 879 cfs to keep chinook eggs watered in the far upper stretches. That's bad water for driftboating. Bank fishermen have not fared well, in part because there were only 782 winter steelhead counted so far over Gold Ray Dam, and they're not really moving.
Halfpounder fishing remains very good to excellent in the Agness area, thanks to low water flows. Twitching streamer flies has worked well in the riffles. Small spinners also work well. These fish are around 15 inches long and quite tasty. Only fin-clipped hatchery fish can be kept. Next week's freshet should start pushing those fish to the ocean.
About three out of four steelhead are wild fish, and only one a day over 24 inches can be kept from Cole Rivers Hatchery downstream to the ocean.
ILLINOIS - Winter steelhead fishing has been slow amid poor water conditions, but the flows at Kerby should pick up significantly next week, and that should draw fresh steelhead to the Briggs Creek area. A few steelhead have been caught on spoons. No bait is allowed.
UMPQUA - Winter steelhead fishing has been good in the lower sections of both the North and South Umpquas, with primarily wild fish caught in both systems. Flows on the South were dropping but still should be good for side-drifting roe for steelhead through the weekend.
In the mainstem Umpqua, plunking around Elkton should be fair this weekend with Spin-Glo's and sandshrimp, if you can find live ones. Because of smolt loss in the 2007 releases, this year's returns of hatchery winter steelhead will be light basin-wide. All wild steelhead throughout the system must be released unharmed. The estuary has been slow for sturgeon.
COQUILLE - Winter steelhead fishing has slowed way down as the water has dropped and cleared. Steelhead are holding in deeper holes, where they are wary of even the lightest of gear.
State fish biologists have begun a steelhead radio-telemetry project and will be tagging both hatchery and wild steelhead for the next four months. All radio-tagged steelhead must be released alive.
ELK/SIXES - Both systems were fishing fairly well for winter steelhead last weekend, but water conditions began to drop and clear to where catches have tapered off. Fly-fishermen and those using bobbers and jigs should be able to scratch up a few fish on the Elk each day. Look for improved catches after next week's rains. Anglers can telephone the hatchery at 541-332-7025 for daily river heights and water color.
APPLEGATE - The river is open to steelhead fishing. Flows are low and clear. Just one winter steelhead has reached the Applegate trap near the dam. Most activity is along the lower section downstream of Fish Hatchery Park. This week's rains mean a return to night crawlers and watermelon corkies, a good bait for the river during rain.
CHETCO - The river was low and cold, but a few spawned-out winter steelhead were caught this week as they headed toward the ocean. Look for at least one late shot of winter steelhead after next week's storms, then fish for them as the river drops quickly. Plug fishermen and plunkers should do well during the fast drop late next week.
HUNTER CREEK - The flows are extremely low but a few winter steelhead were caught there earlier this week on small egg clusters.