In many north and central coast rivers, January is at or near the peak for catch results. Topping that list many years in this zone is the Alsea River steelhead run, and the Siuslaw River and Lake Creek are good bets.
The North Fork Nehalem as well as smaller streams in the region tend to remain good at least through the first weeks of January and sometimes later.
Find the better little river and creek options at Northwest Oregon’s Best Small Streams for Steelhead Fishing.
Oregon Coast sturgeon fishing can be good for catch and release fishing in the winter. Tillamook Bay usually produces the most action, but Yaquina Bay and other lightly fished estuaries can be good as well.
A good month for winter steelheading in most rivers, with some big-time catches often coming from Coos/Millicoma and the forks of the Coquille River (especially the South Fork Coquille).
Lake Selmac, Applegate Lake, Lost Creek Lake and Cooper Creek Reservoir may be pleasant and productive during breaks in the weather, especially if they were stocked late in the season so the numbers of holdovers are good.
Potential free fishing days planned on New Year’s Eve and Day might result in additional trout plantings.
The hatchery steelhead run on Eagle Creek (on the lower Clackamas River system) typically peaks in January.
The Clackamas River itself picks up steam, particularly below the mouth of Eagle Creek, although this bigger river with a later broodstock run typically peaks in late winter.
The Sandy River also improves greatly in January but often peaks later.
The McKenzie River, this zone’s favorite fly stream, remains open below Leaburg Dam. Bait fishing is not allowed anywhere on the river this time of year.
Trout continue to be stocked during winter (possibly including January) in Walter Wirth Lake (Salem) and the following valley ponds: E.E. Wilson, Huddleston (Willamina), Junction City, Sheridan and Walling, among others. Fishing is best soon after plantings.
Check the ODFW Recreation Report or trout stocking schedule linked at the bottom of this article for details.
In the old days, sturgeon retention reopened in the lower Willamette River with the new year, but lately fishing has been restricted to catch and release. But it can be very good.
Check with ODFW for details and possible brief sturgeon harvest periods.
Blue-winged olives and midges likely will hatch, especially at prime winter fishing time in the early afternoon, and an egg pattern fished below spawning whitefish can be irresistible to trout on the Crooked.
The Deschutes is closed from Jan. 1 through late April from the northern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation upriver (southward) to Pelton Dam but is open all year below the reservation to the mouth.
It also is open upstream in the stretch from Lake Billy Chinook up to Benham Falls, where there are both brown and rainbow trout.
The Deschutes River remains open up to the downstream boundary of Warm Springs Indian Reservation, but the season winds down.
A better option might be Hood River, where there are new arrivals from its winter run.
Ice fishing can be good at Southeast Zone reservoirs including Thief Valley and Unity, but use extreme caution wherever you are as ice thickness varies greatly. Thief Valley may also have open water to fish on the south side near the dam.
Access to some waters throughout this vast region will be blocked by snow or mud for much of the winter.
Fishing can be good during warmer spells, particularly in the Grande Ronde River and the lower Wallowa River. Freezing conditions, including flowing ice, often put a damper on steelhead fisheries during the depths of winter.
The John Day, Umatilla and Imnaha rivers are other options, weather cooperating.
No stocking is likely in the zone in the dead of winter.
Willow Creek Reservoir can be an option for winter trouting for holdover fish.
Also, springs keep Trout Farm Pond clear of ice, but you’ll likely have to walk through snow to get to its year-round rainbow and brook trout populations.
Snake River Zone
You might do well fishing near creek mouths in Hells Canyon and Oxbow reservoirs.
When a good run allows it, surplus summer steelhead are stocked in Hells Canyon Reservoir and often gather up near Oxbow Dam. Trout regulations apply to these reservoir steelies, meaning you can only keep one over 20 inches.
Columbia River Zone
Sturgeon fishing has been very restricted, with lots of catch and release options but limited retention fisheries largely restricted to the pools behind Bonneville and upriver dams. Quota systems apply to those spots.
The Bonneville Pool has offered some fairly dependable sturgeon fishing in recent years when it’s open. It’s usually best in the lower pool around Cascade Locks and Hood River during winter and farther upriver closer to The Dalles is often better in warmer weather.
Lingcod and sea bass (rockfish) will bite well in the winter, but you’ll need a break between storms and rough seas to get out by boat.
Jetty fishing can also be good during calm weather, and even very large lingcod can be caught within a cast of shoreline structure as they often spawn close in.
Winter bay crabbing is best during prolonged dry spells that allow saltier water to fill bays. The ocean is usually open this month, if calm seas allow offshore trips.
Overall numbers of keeper crabs likely will be down, due to commercial catches.
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