Rogue Valley Seeing Early Influx of Big Steelhead

By Steven Theel | 01/30/2013

So far, 2013 has yielded big steelhead on the West Coast. I live in Southern Oregon, in the Rogue Valley, where we’ve anxiously been awaiting the arrival of our runs while watching large fish being caught on the coast. Typically, those bigger fish show in February when the bulk of the run makes its way upriver. Fortunately, a few of those large fish are here now.


Without having to drive to the coast, Rogue Valley anglers generally have four rivers to choose from: Middle & Upper Rogue, Applegate (a tributary of the Rogue) and South Umpqua. Our winter steelhead runs start to peak in the second half of February and continue into April.

This year, nevertheless, has been a bit different than normal. December brought high water to our region, which catapulted steelhead upriver earlier. Even though we endured harsh conditions, when conditions improved fishing has been good. We’re anticipating a normal to strong run of winter steelhead this year, but conditions will dictate which systems will produce fish. The Applegate is the fastest to drop and clear after a storm, but the Rogue will hold onto good conditions much longer during a dry streak. The South Umpqua is in between the two.


During winter we often experience long, cold, dry spells, which translates to extremely low, cold and clear river conditions. When faced with these conditions we like to downsize baits. Instead of using dime or nickel size egg clusters with yarn, we downsize. While some anglers might not think it’s enough, we opt for baits a mere two-or-three eggs in size. Sometimes we employ a small thread of yarn dipped in red Pautzke Nectar. This gives us small presentations packed with scent.


When downsizing bait’s don’t worry about not enticing large fish. This year we’ve already landed one of the largest steelhead I’ve personally seen in Southern Oregon in my young steelheading career. The fish measured 36 inches by 19 inches and was caught by my good friend and guide Phil Tripp. We were fishing with local guide Brady Rogers and caught it side drifting a downsized chunk of roe cured in orange BorX O Fire with a yarn ball.


Drifting cured eggs for winter steelhead is a standard technique in Southern Oregon. We
always use BorX O Fire. Meanwhile, color often depends on conditions and the system we’re fishing. Consequently, the Rogue and Applegate often remain clear due to water being released from Lost Creek Dam and Applegate Dam. Therefore, natural colored eggs work best because they aren’t too bright to spook the fish. However, the South Umpqua always has some color to it. Here we cast orange BorX O Fire cured eggs.


Following instructions from the bottle is pretty standard, but my guide friends and I add more salt to the BorX O Fire. When side drifting we’ve found that doing so gives us a little tougher egg that withstands multiple passes. With the tougher egg we aren’t forced to to re-bait constantly. You also don’t have to worry whether or not your eggs fell off somewhere along the drift. This allows maximum time for your offering in the water, which will often lead to an extra fish or two in a day.

As we move into February, and March things will really start to pick up. The peak of the run will be here, and hopefully more large fish will also be in the mix.


For more information on Theel and Southern Oregon steelhead fishing please visit