Central Oregon Steelhead Slow to Start So Far

By: Kyle Buschelman

Winter steelhead season on the Oregon Coast is in full swing and we are catching fish daily. However, I don’t think we have a lot of fish in the systems right now. I’ve had to adjust my program and be flexible based on daily pressure and rapidly changing river levels. I’m hoping the recent rains bring in fresh fish.

With each day being a grind I’ve made a daily plan to separate myself from the other boats and pressure. For example, I’m fishing high in the system when conditions said to go low. We’re also launching at 10 am rather than at 7 am with the big clutter of boats and anglers. I believe this has helped us catch steelhead in particularly tough conditions and with low returns so far.


The Oregon Coast offers great fishing opportunities from The Coquille to Tillamook Bay Rivers. I personally focus on the Central Oregon Coast, namely the Siletz, Siuslaw and Umpqua River system and bounce from river to river based on conditions and the bite. With the current weather (the rivers are blown out today and will be for a few days) and river conditions I’m banking on the rest of January and February being prime. Wild and hatchery fish will be present.


Given the fewer fish in the systems it’s important to cast towards and present baits and gear in water you usually pass up. I recommend doing this because fishing pressure puts steelhead into areas that seem odd. When fishing is tough try running bait through areas you might not normally fish and risk getting snagged up. It may put a bonus fish in the box.


It’s also vital that you have good bait. This season I’ve been mixing BorX O Fire and Fire Dye to create a new egg that’s been working well for us. It has great UV color and doesn’t fade. The first day I tried it we landed a 39”x 22” beast.


I used to believe scent was most important when it came to steelhead baits. On the other hand lately I think presentation and color are more important. If you don’t believe that ask yourself why beads out produce in most cases?  I do know scent plays a huge role, but it’s over rated. Nevertheless, in some conditions you want all things in your favor: presentation, color and scent.


In general I side drift or bobber dog everyday. I’m running bait and bead droppers or bead and a bead dropper and am flexible to what I do in each new hole. Some runs require the bobber set up, but in dirtier, bigger water slowing down the presentation requires me to side drift.

As slow as the season has been I’m optimistic that more steelhead are on the way. On a positive note the weather has been much kinder this season and we have had better river conditions. Now we just need more fish.

Editor’s Note: Kyle Buschelman operates Willamette Valley Outdoors. For more information on his guided Oregon steelhead trips please visit https://www.facebook.com/WillametteValleyOutfitters/ or http://willamettevalleyoutfitters.com/.