Captain Andy Martin will tell you that Oregon’s South Coast is home to some of the best fishing in the West. The Brookings native started Wild Rivers Fishing many years ago to share his passion for Oregon’s wild rivers, gorgeous coastlines and remote canyons. In wintertime, Andy guides fishing trips on the Chetco, Elk and Sixes rivers as well as the Coquille and Umpqua rivers. We asked Andy to talk about the unique experience of winter fishing on the Oregon Coast.
What makes winter fishing in Oregon special?
Oregon’s best river fishing takes place in the winter, when the small rivers along the Coast receive enough rain for the steelhead to migrate in from the ocean. It’s the best time of year to catch trophy-size salmon and steelhead. The Coast also has mild weather in winter, so even though it’s wet, it’s often much warmer than other areas of the state. The rivers are beautiful during the winter when everything is green and, except for a few other anglers, nobody else is out there. Winter-run steelhead are the main attraction because of their size and extremely hard fight. They average 8 to 12 pounds, but fish as big as 20 pounds are caught each year. King salmon season runs through December, and they can sometimes top 50 pounds.
What do you love most about this season in Oregon?
These fish don’t enter Oregon coastal rivers until late fall and winter. They can’t get upriver until we get heavy rain. During the winter we fish from drift boats, so along with world-class fishing, people get to enjoy floats down some of the most scenic rivers anywhere. Many people who visit in summer don’t realize that the no-hurry pace here during the winter makes it a great time to visit.
What do visitors enjoy most about winter fishing?
People come to the South Coast to get away from the crowds and catch big fish on scenic, forested rivers. The Chetco is one of the most beautiful rivers anywhere, and the fish are plentiful and big. Hooking a large fish is a big draw, but floating down a remote river in rural Oregon is also an unforgettable experience. Visiting anglers also like the uncrowded restaurants and breweries along the Coast during the winter, which remain open year round. That bowl of local clam chowder or glass of locally brewed beer is especially good after a day on the river fishing.
What’s the view from the boat like on typical day out?
The rivers we fish all originate deep in wilderness areas and national forest lands. They are fast, free-flowing waters that wind through steep canyons into coastal valleys. Big trees hang over the river and clean gravel bars line the shore. These rivers look the same today as they did hundreds of years ago. A lot of customers are amazed at how quickly the river banks have recovered from major wildfires a few years ago. Everything is green again — ferns once again line the river canyons, new trees are quickly growing and birds and wildlife are everywhere.
Why is Brookings such a draw for anglers?
Besides being located near the Chetco, Smith and Rogue rivers, there’s great ocean fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. Brookings has some of the nicest weather on the Oregon Coast, too. The Oregon Coast Trail has several access points between Brookings and Gold Beach, and the scenic viewpoints along Highway 101 are ideal for winter whale watching and storm watching.
For more information about fishing with Andy, visit WildRiversFishing.com. For more fishing inspiration, consider A Winter Fish Story or a trip Chasing Winter Steelhead. Check out the U.S. Forest Service website for information about winter fishing in other parts of Oregon, Wherever you fish in Oregon, remember to follow Leave No Trace guidelines.