Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Umpqua Winter Steelhead

Posted by todblog on February 2, 2007

February 2, 2007

January and February are usually good months to find winter steelhead negotiating their way up rivers in Oregon making their journey to spawning grounds upstream. It is a cold time of year to be out fishing and the temperatures can dip down to below freezing at times. It’s not uncommon to see smokey columns rising out from river banks as bank fishermen (aka “bankies”) attempt to warm themselves with a crackling fire as they await fish to bite their anchored baits.

This past week I was blessed to be invited to go fishing with Jay Potter. Jay is a local boy who grew up on the Umpqua River spending a lot of time catching salmon and steelhead from the bank and boats. He has a great reputation of bringing home fish! If he blanks, there just ain’t no fish there. So, getting an invite from such a great angler was not something to turn down. What made it even sweeter was the fact we’d be fishing 1/2 mile down the street from our house at Cleveland Rapids on the Umpqua River.

The last couple of weeks have brought us high pressure weather which means clear and cold nights, foggy cold mornings, clearing in the mid afternoons. Not exactly ideal for steelhead fishing as they tend to be sluggish during cold weather periods and less apt to chase down a bait that’s not coming directly at them.

Jay and I employed a technique called side-drifting. It basically involves casting your bait slightly upriver at a 45 degree angle and letting it settle down to the bottom as you drift alongside in your boat. The lead weights used will vary with the amount of current you’re trying to fish. The weight should just bounce along the bottom as it drifts downriver. In front of the weight is the bait that flutters along the bottom hopefully finding its way into a fish’s mouth. Meanwhile, you need to keep your eye on the rod tip and be ready to set the hook as a fish takes the bait in its mouth.

We fished for a good 4 hours wondering if the weather would warm up. It didn’t. Would we get a strike at least? Nobody else was catching anything so, we didn’t feel too bad. Just before we were about to call it quits, Jay’s rod tip started to bounce! Hook-up! After a few minutes, I netted a nice 8 lb. hen steelhead for Jay. Here are some pics of our adventure…


No, it ain’t salt! These are cold weather rods with frost on them! We had to dip the rod tips in the water every now and then to remove the ice from the guides…

Jay Potter and his Umpqua River Steelhead

Jay with his 8 lb Umpqua River Steelhead

Yellow Yarn Ball

This steelhead fell for a yellow and pink yarn ball on 8 lb. test leader.


One Response to “Umpqua Winter Steelhead”

  1. Bonking Wonder said

    I hope you love steelhead as much as I do. If so, please consider letting the wild ones go to spawn a new generation for us to catch. The State of Oregon does a fine job of putting hatchery fish there for us to bonk (and smoke, in my case). If you haven’t caught enough fish yet in your life, I understand. But some day when you have, think about your grandkids, and showing them how to catch and release the run you saved.


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