Winter Steelheading on Oregon’s North Coast

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The northern Oregon coast has some of the most popular winter steelheading in Oregon, thanks both to strong hatchery programs and being an easy drive from the Portland area.

Winter steelheading starts around Thanksgiving on the state’s north coast, although many of these rivers don’t peak until mid-winter.

Most native winter steelhead arrive after the holidays and their numbers often peak in February and March. Some of brood-stock efforts to spawn runs of hatchery fish (those with a clipped adipose fin) wild-run parent fish.

These runs tend to extend winter steelhead harvest through winter and sometimes into early spring.

The Guide’s Forecast is a weekly fishing report that keeps close tabs on north coast steelhead runs.

When conditions are right, the following rivers are tops on the northern coast.

Nestucca River

The “Big Nestucca” has year-round fishing with good populations of steelhead, salmon and cutthroat trout. It flows through southern Tillamook County and enters the ocean at Pacific City.

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 many of the really big ones are natives that must be released.

The Nestucca is ideal for drift-boat anglers, with launch and take-out locations at Rock Hole, Farmer Creek wayside, mouth of Three Rivers and Cloverdale.

Bank access is tougher, due to plentiful private property, especially on the lower river. The ramp sites are options down low.

Upstream, especially above Blaine, bank access is more plentiful but anglers are restricted to using flies and lures because most of the catch here is native fish.

The Nestucca and Three Rivers, a tributary stream with a state hatchery, have both early and late winter-run steelhead. Winter fish are generally caught from late fall through early spring, when summer steelhead start arriving to take their place.

The Nestucca and Three Rivers combined are capable of producing more than 2,000 winter steelhead in a season.

In some years, Three Rivers actually has higher catch than the larger river because it has the hatchery, good bank access near Hebo and also recovers fast after a heavy rainfall.

For more on steelhead fishing in this river:

Summer and Winter Steelhead Fishing on the Nestucca

Wilson River

It might be hard to pick a North Coast stream with the best fishing, but it’s easy to call this the one with the best access. Park spots are plentiful because the Wilson River Highway (Oregon 6) close follows the river.

The country highway links Tillamook to the Portland metropolitan area just an hour or so to the east.

As with the Nestucca system, anglers fishing the Wilson harvest more than 2,000 steelhead during better winter seasons, which also run long due to both early and late hatchery runs.

More than 100,000 fin-clipped steelhead smolts are released in the Wilson every year. The majority are planted below the launch at Siskeyville, some 11 miles above Tillamook Bay. That results in the highest catches in the river from the launch down to Tillamook.

Popular access points include Mills Bridge (behind the former Guide Shop), where there’s lots of open bank and easy boat access. Other lower river launches are available and easily located.

The upper river gets modest hatchery releases and lower catches, but it’s easy to find places to fish from the bank and there is less competition.

For more on steelhead fishing in this river:

Summer and Winter Steelhead Fishing on the Wilson

North Fork Nehalem

The North Fork joins the mainstem Nehalem River (a.k.a. South Fork) at tidewater and kicks out the majority of the river system’s hatchery winter steelhead. In fact, it often rivals the larger Wilson and Nestucca rivers for catch rates, even though its bank access is spotty and its boating conditions can be treacherous even for experts.

The North Fork is the place to go on the north Oregon coast for early winter steelhead, because catches start coming in before Thanksgiving most years and are going full bore by Christmas.

It also peaks earlier, so if keeping a hatchery fish is your goal after January, you’d likely fare better elsewhere.

The Nehalem Hatchery on Highway 53 offers the most popular bank fishing access in a few well-fished spots below the deadline.

Above the deadline, anglers with a disability and the proper permit can fish just below the hatchery intake – easily one of the best steelhead and coho salmon fishing spots in the state for qualified anglers.

For those who can get down rugged paths, a private timber company also has allowed access to the river just below the hatchery, although the road to it crosses the North Fork just upriver. The road in can be very rough.

For more on steelhead fishing in this river:

Winter Steelhead Fishing on the North Fork Nehalem

Also on this website, more articles about winter steelhead fishing:

Return to Oregon Steelhead Fishing page

Oregon Resources

ODFW Weekly Fishing Report
ODFW Trout Stocking Schedule
Oregon Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service