Upper Columbia Steelies On The Chew

By Brad Wagner | 01/13/2014

In the winter when the air gets colder in North Central Washington the water temperatures take a dive in local rivers like the Methow and Wenatchee. Wintry conditions vary year to year, however, the mouth of these rivers tends to ice over in January and February. Water temperatures fall to just above freezing.

The ice pushes steelhead away from the Methow and Wenatchee and back out into the Columbia River. The steelhead normally mill around and wait for water temperatures to warm back up before they head back into the tributaries in February to spawn in April.

With that said, January is the best time to be fishing the mighty Columbia for steelhead from Wells to Chief Joseph dam. During this time period the fish destined for the above mentioned tributaries hang out in the warmer water. Finding these fish isn’t a challenge this time of year. They’ll be located above and below the dams, as well as off the mouths of the tributaries.


There isn’t much current in most places which forces us to use jigs tipped with Pautzke cured shrimp tails and also BorX O Fire cured eggs and coon shrimp dangling under a float. I’ll also troll plugs and divers and bait, with shrimp or small egg clusters to find pods of fish.

The weather is usually dry and cold with temps below freezing so a boat heater is nice to warm up. The fishery is fairly constant with no threat of the river blowing out because of weather, although sometimes it does get too cold to cast. Sometimes it gets so cold gear freezes quickly between casts. When that happens we troll.


Flows aren’t always meager. Current inspires feeding. If they are letting water out of the dams and you can get a nice drift the fishing is best. On the other hand, when they slow the current it can affect fishing in adverse ways and the fish can be more difficult to find.


Fortunately, this is a great winter fishery where you can catch good numbers of steelhead when conditions are right. Right now, as I type this, conditions are perfect and cold. Highs are flirting with freezing, yet water temperatures s in the Columbia are in the mid 40’s and the fish are still pretty active.


Editor’s Note: For more info on Wagner’s Upper Columbia steelhead trips please visit http://www.fishwenatchee.com/.