Oregon’s Main Stem Umpqua Heading Into Prime Steelhead Season

By Bret Stuart | 02/22/2013

There are a lot of options when it comes to winter steelhead fishing in Coastal Oregon. However, when we are going through a drought period I head to the main stem of the Umpqua. Normally, I focus on Oregon’s coastal systems in the winter, most notably, the Wilson, Siletz and South Fork of the Coquille River, meanwhile being eight inches behind our average rainfall has made those systems a challenge to fish.

Rather than fight through low water and having to drag my drift boat in places I relocate to the Umpqua. The Umpqua has more volume than the smaller coastal streams and remains floatable out of a drift boat when others aren’t. And, there’s lots of fish there this time of year. You aren’t going to get a lot of hatchery fish, but you will catch a lot of wild steelhead, which must be released.

I focus my efforts from the town to Umpqua to Elkton, which is roughly 50 miles of river. There’s an extensive amount of water to float, numerous boat ramps and an endless amount of steelhead.


This is prime winter steelhead season. Nevertheless, you have to start moving upriver this time of year. Early January I concentrate more toward Elkton, but as time progresses you have to start moving up the river because the steelhead are going up to the North and South Forks of the Umpqua.

While water clarity and volume can affect catch rates, expect 10 fish a day on a normal day, with a quality guide. Those fish are going to range anywhere from eight to 25 pounds. This system is the biggest drainage in the region and also has more wild steelhead than other nearby waters.

While many techniques are effective, I side drift eggs, yank balls dipped in Nectar and white food grade shrimp cured in red and orange Nectar. There’s a lot of bedrock shelves you need to get into and my best approach is side drifting them. However, if side drifting isn’t working it’s time to switch to plug fishing or using bobbers and bait.

This time of year steelhead tend to be up tight into the shoots, in fast moving water and along shelves. This is a fairly wide river and it’s important to focus on the main channels rather than going off to the sides and fishing water that might hold far fewer fish.

When it comes to bait I give the fish several options. First thing in the morning I use shrimp that are cured in Pautzke red and orange Nectar. To achieve perfect bait that steelhead love, I first peel the food grade shrimp prior to putting them in a jar. I then pour in the Pautzke Nectar (normally I make one jar with red and another with orange Nectar) and then add ½ cup of pure sugar and ¼ cup of sea salt. Then, I stir it and seal the jar. After letting it sit overnight, I’ll drain the liquid and they are ready to fish. I do this for the color and scent.


Oftentimes, I’ll use one rig with shrimp and another eggs. When I cure my eggs I do six skeins at a time. I cure my eggs different than most. I use a quarter cup of natural BorX O Fire and two bottles of red Nectar. I’ll pour both into a container, stir them and let the skein sit anywhere from a day and a half to two days. Then, I’ll remove the eggs, place them on a paper towel to dry and they are ready to fish.


Special Note: Prior to floating the Umpqua it’s important to be confident in knowing the river and your navigation skills in a drift boat. The Umpqua has bedrock shelves that make currents go crazy. They can throw your boat around in an instant. Please be careful. Call me in advance and I’ll be happy to discuss current conditions and what hazards to avoid.


To learn more about Stuart’s Umpqua steelhead trips please call 541-521-4694