General Steelhead Fishing Tips
Perhaps the most effective way to become a successful steelhead angler is to know a river
well, and have confidence in your tactics and technique. Don’t waste your time randomly
chasing down rumors of hot fishing. Instead, learn where the steelhead are by getting to
know one or two rivers well. This can involve visiting the river in the summer and other
seasons to observe holes, resting places, riffles, and other habitat features that add to your
knowledge of where to fish effectively. It is often said that 90 percent of the fish are
caught by 10 percent of the fishermen, and this is probably truer with steelhead than any
other fish. Many of the world’s best steelhead anglers call Oregon home and they tend to
focus on four major elements: When, Where, What and How.
When are steelhead running?
Winter steelhead generally return to rivers from November through May, depending on
the river. Steelhead anglers need to learn the run timing of the rivers they fish, watch for
concentrations of other anglers, contact local hatcheries for return information, read
fishing articles, and check several Websites for updated information on steelhead returns.
Also, successful winter steelhead angling depends primarily on water temperature, river
levels or flow rates, and water clarity.
Before you go out learn current river flows and water temperatures. Local sporting good stores are also an excellent source of information on the current local river conditions and steelhead angling techniques.
Where are the steelhead located?
Steelhead are not evenly distributed throughout a river and knowing where they tend to
hold up or congregate is key to fishing success. In general, ODFW has reduced or
eliminated “scatter planting” of steelhead to avoid straying and possible spawning by
hatchery fish. This means that most of the better fishing for hatchery fish will be at or
below the fish hatchery or a single release location.
Within the river, steelhead typically prefer some type of holding water. While this varies
with water conditions, anglers should generally focus their effort on runs or glides of
moderate depth and current. Many experienced steelhead anglers concentrate on learning
the rivers they fish.
How are steelhead caught?
There are many steelhead fishing techniques, from fishing a bright pink worm under a
bobber to swinging a small nymph on a fly line. Whatever the technique there are three
keys to catching steelhead: putting the bait, lure or fly in front of as many fish as
possible; being able to detect the often subtle strike of a steelhead and setting the hook;
and being able to fight and land a large aggressive fish. The best way to learn these skills
is to spend time on the water. The more you practice your technique and learn how to
focus on subtleties, the more steelhead you will hook. Often it is the simple things —
slack line, dull hooks, wind knots, and lack of concentration – that cause an angler to
miss a strike or lose a fish.
What do I use to catch steelhead?
If you’ve seen the variety of gear for sale in the local sporting good stores, you may think
that a steelhead will bite almost anything. There are, however, some tried-and-true
techniques for catching steelhead.
• Drift-fishing small, buoyant lures, with or without bait, along the bottom.
• Fishing with a float/bobber with a jig or bait under it. (Popular baits include cured
eggs, sand shrimp, worms, crayfish tails and prawns.)
• Casting spinners and spoons.
• Fly-fishing, often with a sinking line and large, mobile fly.
• Backtrolling plugs or diver/bait combinations from a boat.
With all these methods to choose from, the best approach is to master one and fish what
you know most of the time. After you feel that you have mastered the basic technique,
start trying out new gear or methods. Remember, if you are consistently pulling your line
out of the water to change your lure, it is not fishing and you are not catching anything!
Surplus hatchery steelhead returning to ODFW hatcheries are often stocked into local
lakes to provide additional angling opportunities. Casting lures or flies from the shore or
a boat are the most common technique for catching steelhead released in lakes. We hope
you get the opportunity to feel the fight of the steelhead on your line; it is definitely a
We hope you enjoy the experience of fishing some of the nation’s most beautiful
steelhead waters. Please help us keep them beautiful. We ask that you be courteous and
respectful to other fishermen—there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy themselves.
When boat fishing, it is considered poor angler ethics to cast into holes that bank anglers
In order to preserve Oregon’s wild stocks of steelhead, many of Oregon’s wild steelhead
are catch-and-release only. Please use the following techniques to help increase survival
of and minimize fishing impacts on wild fish.
• Use barbless hooks. While barbless hooks are not mandatory on most of Oregon’s
fisheries, they can be easier to remove from fish and anglers (this reducing stress
• Land your fish quickly to help increase survival rates.
• Use needle nose pliers to remove deeply imbedded hooks. If you can’t remove
the hook without harming the fish, cut the leader. The hook will rust out after a
few days in the water.
• Keep your fish in at least six inches of water while releasing it. Fish can be
injured if allowed to flop on shore. Grasp fish by the tail and place your other
hand under the belly, lifting slightly. If you plan to take a photograph of the fish,
make sure that you have framed the picture and focused the camera before taking
the fish out of water, and then only hold the fish out of water (preferably only
partly out of water) for one or two seconds.
• Revive the fish before release. Keep the fish upright facing into the current. If
current is slow, move fish back and forth slowly to help oxygenate the gills.