Rogue Steelhead Bite Just Getting Started

By Steven Theel | 03/12/2014

Whereas many Pacific Northwest rivers start to wind down for winter steelhead the Upper Rogue is just getting started in March. The Rogue does receive a few winter run fish as early as December, however, they don’t show up in force until the weather starts to warm. Thus far, I’ve had to spend most of my winter steelhead season to the north on the Umpqua River, which gets its returns much earlier. Now it’s finally time to start fishing in my backyard.

Here in Southern Oregon we’ve had extreme drought conditions in 2013. This left our rivers extremely low to start the winter, which didn’t help to draw the early fish upriver. Luckily, February brought the first major rainstorms since December of 2012, and as the rivers dropped, the winter steelhead have started to move up.

The Upper Rogue near Shady Cove is just starting to get underway for winter steelhead. This section of river receives one of the latest returns of hatchery winter steelhead in the Northwest. It starts to peak at the end of March and lasts through April. Most of our best days don’t occur until the first week or two of April, which is late compared to most rivers. We’re already starting to see a decent return as 350 fish had entered the hatchery by the first week of March.

When winter steelhead fishing on the Upper Rogue, side drifting small baits of BorX O Fire cured eggs is my go-to method. I will also pull plugs such as the Mag Lip 3.5 that I cover in red Nectar. As we start to get later in the run, the river temperature starts to warm up making the fish more aggressive. It isn’t uncommon to catch fish out of the same hole using both methods.

For the eggs I like to cure them with either Natural or Orange BorX O Fire, although I have also been finding red to be a deadly color on certain days. After curing for three days in the fridge, I take them out to air dry on paper towels for 2-3 hours. At this point I will cut them into bait size chunks, sprinkle a layer of Natural BorX O Fire and Fire Power (powdered krill) on top of them, and then roll them around in it to get nice even coverage. After letting them sit for another hour, I then place them in my Tupperware containers. They are ready to fish the next morning. This produces a durable egg that withstands multiple side drifting passes, while still milking out and providing plenty of scent.

As I write this, the Rogue is on the drop after another big rainstorm that hit us this weekend. While most of the river is blown out, there is one section that is always fishable. The Rogue is dam controlled which leaves the section from the hatchery to Casey State Park clear no matter the conditions. The clear water draws the fish into it, and we can have excellent fishing while everything else is too high and muddy.

Now that we’ve finally received enough rain, it’s go time on the Upper Rogue. Those of us in the Rogue Valley will finally be able to stay close to home to chase after winter steelhead, and for the salmon junkies, the springers won’t be far behind.

Editor’s Note: Steven Theel operates S.O. Chrome Guide Service. For information on his Rogue River steelhead trips please visit