The Nestucca River may occupy a county with better-known Tillamook Bay-area rivers to the north, and it is well outside some of the North Coast’s larger towns. But with good runs of fall and spring chinook and winter and summer steelhead, this year-round stream between Tillamook and Lincoln City is far from undiscovered. In fact, the drive is just over an hour from Salem and about two hours from much of the Portland area, putting it within easy reach of many Oregon anglers.
Fall chinook angling is one of the bigger draws on the Big Nestucca, as it’s also known. Total catches here typically exceed the nearby Trask or Wilson rivers for the fall season, although the statistics for the Nestucca include catches in both the river and bay sections, unlike the tallies for Tillamook Bay’s tributaries.
By the Book – Angling Regulations
Open for fall chinook Sept. 16 to Dec. 31 from Cloverdale Bridge upriver to Moon Creek at Blaine. (Chinook fishing opens Aug. 1 below Cloverdale Bridge.) Limit is two adult chinook per day, four in any seven consecutive days and 10 per season in aggregate from all Nehalem, Tillamook and Nestucca bays and streams.
Check with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for updates to these rules. Special regulations can be enacted after publication of the annual Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet.
Timing Your Trip – River Levels Spell Success
If enough rain already has fallen to draw fish upstream, chinook fishing will be good above Cloverdale Bridge from opening day (Sept. 16). The river level should top about 4½ feet to bring big salmon into freshwater that early. Before then, most will linger in the bay and tidewater until significant rains arrive.
Subsequent rains will draw fresh fish into the river, and reliable salmon fishing can hold up until suddenly stopping, usually around Thanksgiving. “When it stops,” Barnett said, “it’s like somebody hit the light switch.”
The river is most fishable at 4 to 6½ feet, measured at a gauge near Beaver. When water levels are high, chinook will enter the river anytime. When the river is running at more moderate levels, more fish ride in with the high tide or at night. It takes about three hours for high tide at the gauge in the bay to reach Cloverdale, often bringing new salmon with it.
Fish Finder — Beaver to Cloverdale
For chinook, the bulk of anglers concentrate efforts below the small town of Beaver. Although the river is open to salmon fishing up to Moon Creek (at Blaine), many chinook turn off at Three Rivers or Beaver Creek. Those still in the Nestucca upriver from Beaver often are darker and lower quality for the table.
If the river level is near the high end of the fishable range, try fishing closer to Beaver. If it’s low, stay closer to Cloverdale. When the water level is ideal, try any spot between the two communities.
Bank access below Beaver is a little spotty because this section of the Nestucca runs largely through farmland and other private property. There is good but sometimes crowded public access at the Three Rivers launch site near Hebo. Also look for river access in rights-of-way at the Highway 101 bridges.
Drift boats should put in at First Bridge (Beaver), Farmer Creek or Three Rivers to reach good fishing sections. These lower drifts are considered safe for less-experienced boaters.
Secrets to Success — Top Methods for Nestucca Salmon
Large clusters of salmon eggs – blobs matching a 50-cent or even silver dollar in circumference – are the surest way to entice fall chinook.
From the bank or boat, try fishing with cluster eggs under a large (2- to 3-ounce) bobber in slow and deep water, though the method can also be used in modest current.
Besides bobber fishing, Barnett often back-bounces through holes, slowly leading a large cluster of eggs with the help of cannonball or bank sinkers sized for the current. This method is often more effective than bobber fishing during higher flows but also can be used in slow current.
Try different speeds and different approaches. “Sometimes they want it fast and sometimes they want it slow,” he said.
Drift fishing from a stationary position in a boat or on the bank or side drifting from a moving boat are other popular ways to fish with eggs.
Some anglers add sand shrimp to their offering, but Barnett doesn’t see better results from the added expense. He puts his money into keeping the eggs fresh with frequent bait changes. “Don’t beat a bait to death and keep fishing it,” said Barnett, who has a “secret marinade” for his favorite egg cure but also brings along eggs cured with a couple backup formulas. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket with one egg cure.”
Besides bait, Barnett said back-trolling a Luhr Jensen Kwikfish can be productive, particularly through relatively shallow and “flat” sections when the river is flowing a bit high and off-color but falling into shape. Use a Size 15 or 16 lure; popular colors include chromes and whites with some red, green or chartreuse. He further dresses the lure with a sardine wrap.
Throwing spinners can also catch chinook in the Nestucca. A Blue Fox in Size 5 or 6 is one good option; blue and chartreuse are popular spinner accent colors.
If All Else Fails
Stop bombarding the hole with big bobbers and hunks of lead and sit down for a sandwich or cup of coffee. “Give them 15 minutes and things will usually light back up.”
Tim Barnett started Barnett Guide Service in 2004, but the former timber faller had fished Oregon’s coastal rivers for salmon and steelhead for more than three decades. While the Nestucca is his home river, he also guides other waters in northwestern Oregon and spends part of each spring and summer guiding in Alaska.