Southwestern Oregon’s rivers are known for excellent fishing for winter steelhead, a rainbow trout that fattens in the ocean like a salmon before returning to rivers from late fall through winter to spawn.
The following rivers (listed north to south) are the best spots in Douglas and Coos counties in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Zone.
For rivers at the southern end of this zone, see Best Winter Steelhead Fishing on Oregon’s South Coast.
Also, for a look at some of the lesser-known and smaller winter steelhead fisheries in the zone, including some with wild fish harvest, try: Small Winter Steelhead Streams in Southwest Oregon.
The mainstem can produce huge catches, including years with harvests that have topped 4,000 hatchery winter steelhead.
But let’s be honest here to say most recent years have seen mainstem and the forks produce far fewer hatchery fish.
It should be noted that while the Umpqua has a hatchery run of winter steelhead available for harvest, the bulk of the run is made up of wild fish (with an intact adipose fin) that must be released unharmed.
These wild fish can run extremely large and offer one of Oregon’s great angling thrills, but not dinner.
The season gets under way in December below Elkton. Peak fishing usually occurs later in winter, often in February or March, when fish can be found anywhere in the mainstem.
Guide Todd Harrington of Living Waters Guide Service said timing your trips isn’t hard: “The easiest way to know if the Umpqua is in shape for winter steelheading is if all the other rivers are running low and clear, the Umpqua will be in prime shape; if the other rivers are in prime shape, the Umpqua will be too high.”
Family Camp, Sawyer’s Rapids, Scotts Creek and Bunch Bar are among places with bank access.
The South Umpqua can be quite good for hatchery winter steelhead, often a better bet than the main Umpqua, and it should come into shape ahead of the bigger river.
In decent years, anglers keep thousands of fin-clipped winter steelhead from this river that runs near Roseburg, which is a fairly easy drive from Eugene and Grants Pass as well.
Templin Beach Park, Myrtle Creek Bridge, Stanton County Park and Seven Feathers Casino are places to find bank fishing on the South Umpqua.
Boat launches are located at Templeton Beach in Roseburg, Douglas County Fairgrounds and Happy Valley, along with more unimproved launches elsewhere.
Most other tributaries have wild winter steelhead that must be released, along with the occasional hatchery stray.
The North Umpqua has a very nice wild run of winter steelhead, but harvests reported on this fork for winter fishing tend to number a couple hundred or so.
The North Umpqua is a better choice for fin-clipped hatchery summer steelhead.
Coos and Millicoma Rivers
The Coos River system, the major river that feed into Coos Bay, Oregon’s largest coastal estuary, offers some very good winter steelhead fishing.
The best fishing for fin-clipped hatchery steelhead on this system is found on the South Coos River and on the Millicoma River.
On the South Coos, most marked steelhead will be caught in the first five river miles above tidewater (tide heads near the log yard), because hatchery smolts are acclimated to the river near the Fivemile Hole at Milepost 5 on South Coos River Road.
Above Milepost 6 on the South Coos, most steelhead will have intact adipose fins and must be released, but there is some good primarily catch-and-release angling upstream, with much smaller crowds.
The Millicoma River joins with the South Coos River just east of the bay, and it further divides into two main forks at Allegany. Both forks can have fair to very good winter fishing for steelhead.
The West Fork can be particularly good from public access at the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Millicoma Interpretive Center about nine miles up from Allegany.
Smolts are acclimated in ponds at the MIC, so adult fish return in good numbers to this area. There also is good access for a few miles upriver from the MIC.
On the East Fork Millicoma, which also gets a pretty decent shot of hatchery winter fish, Coos County’s Nesika Park has public access to some excellent fishing spots.
The Coquille River enters the Pacific Ocean at Bandon. The main river and especially its tributaries produce well over 2,000 winter steelhead many seasons.
The South Fork is the top producer because it continues to get the most hatchery smolts and has plenty of angler access, both for bank and boat anglers. It joins the North Fork just downstream from Myrtle Point.
Some of the highest catches on the South Fork are near hatchery smolt acclimation sites at Beaver and Woodward creeks, and steelhead often return to the vicinity of their release, according to ODFW.
Definitely stick below Powers for hatchery fish, but catch-and-release fishing for mostly wild fish (and much less fishing pressure) is an option in the upper river.
The North Fork is the second biggest hatchery winter steelhead producer on the Coquille system, as it gets a good number of smolt releases, though not as many as the South Fork.
Your best bet for good bank fishing on the North Fork Coquille is on a few miles of public access is at Laverne County Park, where hatchery smolts are acclimated and tend to return as adults.
If you’ve been steelheading in the Coquille for a while, you likely remember when hatchery steelhead also had been planted in the East Fork, but those plantings have ended and largely shifted to the North Fork.
These days the East Fork is managed for wild steelhead and has opened for very modest harvests of these fish, but we’d note that steelhead harvests on this fork tend to number in the dozens rather than the multiple hundreds caught on the other forks.
Also: As with any steelhead fishery, check ODFW regulations and updates before fishing.
This river has a lot of private property along it, but there is good access and productive water at Frona County Park.
The Middle Fork Coquille, which enters the South Fork just upstream from Myrtle Point, is not stocked with hatchery winter steelhead.
It also has a wild run of these fish, but current rules only allow harvest of the rare fin-clipped steelhead that might stray here, and the numbers of winter steelhead harvested here could often be counted on your fingers and toes.
On top of that, access to the Middle Fork is limited due to private property.
Catch More Steelhead
Also on this website, more articles about steelhead fishing around Oregon:
- Best Winter Steelhead Rivers on Oregon’s North Coast
- Best Winter Steelhead Rivers on Oregon’s Central Coast
- Best Small Streams in Northwest Oregon for Winter Steelhead
- Best Winter Steelhead Fishing in the Rogue River and South Coast
- Best Small Streams in Southwest Oregon for Winter Steelhead
- Best Winter Steelhead Fishing Near Portland
- Best Summer Steelhead Fishing Rivers on the Oregon Coast
Return to Oregon Steelhead Fishing page
One source for this article was the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s steelhead fishing flyer.