Best Fishing in Oregon
Nestucca River Steelhead Fishing
Photo courtesy of Barnett Guide Service
The “Big Nestucca” has nearly year-round steelhead fishing with a good run of large native winter steelhead and very nice returns of both winter and summer hatchery-reared steelhead open to harvest. (The river is also popular for fall and spring chinook fishing, as well as native cutthroat trout.)
The Nestucca River flows through southern Tillamook County, entering the Pacific Ocean at Pacific City. It is easily reached from both the Portland and Salem areas by a few different routes over the Coast Range. Highway 101 follows the lower river and Blaine Road offers access to the upper river east of Beaver. Highway 22, a major access route from McMinnville and Salem, follows Three Rivers, a popular tributary stream with a state hatchery near Hebo.
The Nestucca and Three Rivers have both early and late winter runs. That means winter fish can be caught from late fall through early spring.
The Nestucca and Three Rivers combined are capable of producing more than 2,000 winter steelhead in a season. While the bigger river often produces best over the course of a long season, at times Three Rivers will outfish the Nestucca. Its hatchery, good bank access near Hebo and fast recovery after a heavy rainfall put it on our list of Best Small Winter Steelhead Fishing Streams in Northwest Oregon.
The number of hatchery steelhead harvested varies widely by year, but a good year can see over 2,000 in the mainstem and up to a 1,000 or so in Three Rivers. Slower years will see less than 1,000 in the Nestucca plus a few hundred in the tributary.
The early returning strain of winter steelhead typically peaks in December and the first half of January. Most of the smolts from this run (75 percent) are released from the hatchery on Three Rivers, making the smaller stream and the lower main river below the confluence popular early bets. The remaining fourth of the early-returning smolts get planted at Farmer Creek, farther up the mainstem along Highway 101 roughly midway between Hebo and Beaver.
The later run, from wild broodstock parents, gets released in more locations. While some also go in at Three Rivers and Farmer Creek, they also get planted in similar numbers farther upriver at First Bridge (just east of Beaver) and at Bayes Creek (between the 5th and 6th bridges several miles below Blaine).
ODFW fish biologist Robert Bradley said past surveys found only a very few winter steelhead stray much upriver from the release spots, so anglers looking for keepers should try below Blaine, althought there are good numbers of wild fish in the upper stretches.
Tim Barnett of Barnett’s Guide Service said the Nestucca is one of the best places on the north coast to land steelhead over 20 pounds, although most of the really big ones are natives that must be released.
Look for the first arrivals in early spring, along with a run of spring chinook. Generally the best summer steelhead fishing is in the late spring (May and June), when the water level is still good and the numbers of fish are high.
Summer steelhead fishing continues throughout summer and into fall. In warmer, lower water, try smaller presentations of bait and smaller and duller colored lures such as jigs under a float, darker spinners and spoons or flies.
The first fall rains can spark a better steelhead bite in September and October, especially in the upper river, at a time when most anglers have turned their attention to salmon fishing farther downriver.
Some years the summer hatchery run can come close to rivaling the winter harvest, with about 1,000 fish in a pretty good season for the mainstem but significantly fewer in Three Rivers. A slower summer steelhead season will tally about 500 fish.
Summer steelhead smolts are planted from Three Rivers, Farmer Creek and First Bridge (Beaver area), but they tend to stray more than winter fish and can often be found up to the fishing deadline well upriver at Elk Creek. In fact, that upper river is probably your best bet once the water drops and warms by mid-summer.
(Note: At this writing the mainstem Nestucca is open all year for steelhead fishing below Moon Creek at Blaine, but has seasonal closures and artificial fly and lure requirements upriver from Blaine to Elk Creek near Elk Bend recreation site.)
Where and When to Fish
The lower Nestucca River is very good early on in steelhead runs and has limited bank access but is ideal for drift-boat anglers, with launch and take-out locations including First Bridge, Farmer Creek wayside, mouth of Three Rivers and Cloverdale.
Bank access is tougher on the lower river, due to plentiful private property. The ramp sites also are bank-fishing options, with the most popular at the mouth of Three Rivers. The Farmer Creek launch site has a little bank access, and you also can fish at the Rock Hole (below Beaver at the end of Bixby Road).
Upstream from Beaver, access is available at several bridges and near Wolf Creek. Above Blaine, much of the river flows through public forest land and the road closely follows the river, so bank access is far more plentiful. However, this area is closed from April 1 through late May and anglers are restricted to using flies and lures. Most of the winter catch up here is native fish, but hatchery summer steelhead commonly venture into this upper reach and sometimes give a thrill to trout anglers after the season reopens in late May, Bradley said.
The mainstem Nestucca typically is in ideal fishing shape when the river level gauge near Beaver reads between 4 and 5.5 feet. In fairly high flows, consider fishing higher on the main river or in Three Rivers for most methods. Plunking with bait is a good high-water choice, with the best fishing at river levels of 6 to 7 feet, although this has potential anywhere from about 5 to 7.75 feet.
For current regulations, consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual regulations booklet or website.