Notoriously elusive and much sought after, the Oregon steelhead is the subject of many a tale about icy winter rivers, overcast skies and hours lost to exasperating and fruitless effort.
Here’s a morale booster: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) wants to remind us that steelhead run in the summer, too. “Summer steelhead fishing is the exact opposite of winter. It’s sunny, it’s warm, and you can hang out at the beach,” said David Lane, ODFW marketing coordinator.
Summer steelhead season opens on May 16 between Tongue Point and the I-5 bridge. Starting June 16, the Astoria-Megler bridge to the Oregon-Washington border is open for steelhead fishing. ODFW, which considers the summer steelhead a stable fishery, estimates that nearly 400,000 will swim up the lower Columbia River this summer. Travel Oregon and ODFW have put together a helpful website for regional anglers complete with maps, fish counts, tide tables and fishing conditions (www.steelheadsummer.com). The map recommends fishing spots from as far west as Jones Beach and as far east as the Deschutes River State Recreation Area. In the Portland Metro area you can cast from more than a dozen locations.
If you are new to steelhead fishing, Rick Sabol, owner of Deschutes Steelheader Co. and a fisherman since the age of four, said the best thing you can do is hire a guide. “There is so much to learn,” he said. After all, they call steelhead the fish of a thousand casts for a reason. “You will cut down on your time and make it more productive,” he said. Many guiding companies provide fishing gear, which is another plus.
Steelhead are born in freshwater, migrate to sea, and return to their birthplace to spawn. Only hatchery-raised steelhead may be kept, while wild fish must be released when caught. (You can tell a hatchery fish by its clipped adipose fin — the one on its back by the tail.)
Sabol agreed with Lane about the accessibility of summer time fishing. “If you have a spouse like mine who only likes fair weather fishing, summer steelhead is key,” he said.
To fish in Oregon’s rivers, you need a standard fishing license as well as a Combined Angling Tag. Check out the ODFW’swebsite SteelheadSummer.com for tips on cleaning, freezing and cooking steelhead and to purchase fishing licenses, find maps, weekly fishing reports and more.