Winter Fishing on the South Coast
Travis Bowman still remembers every detail of his first catch. It was a winter steelhead, landed in the lashing rain at Kimball Creek Riffle on the Rogue River. Even though he was only seven years old at the time, he still remembers the fishing lure he used — a watermelon spin glow.
It’s those sorts of memories that Bowman is helping create today as a Gold Beach-based river guide. When the winter rains come to the South Coast, the rivers swell, drawing runs of dazzling coastal steelhead inland from the Pacific Ocean. For the hearty souls willing to brave the elements, there are numerous rewards, says Bowman, who leads winter fishing trips along the Chetco, Sixes, Elk and Rogue rivers.
“We’re prepared for any weather, but when people are fishing they aren’t really thinking about the cold,” he says. Instead, they are intent on landing a steelhead — one of Oregon’s prized game fish. During the winter months, he says, anglers can expect to find six- to eight-pound fish, with some weighing in as much as18 pounds.
Enlisting a guide has its advantages – Bowman provides all equipment as well as a heated drift boat that delivers you to fishing spots otherwise inaccessible. Anglers can also try to land a winter steelhead from the riverbanks. The Coos, Coquille and Umpqua rivers are other South Coast spots known for their tremendous winter steelhead runs.
Those seeking a lower-impact winter angling adventure might do well to pick up a crab trap and explore the South Coast’s tidal bays. It’s easy to get started, and something the whole family will enjoy. Rent or purchase equipment — a crab pot or trap — at any local sporting good shop along the coast, arm yourself with bait and a shellfish license, and head for one of the region’s crabbing hotspots. Dungeness crabs are less abundant after heavy rains, but Coos Bay, with its strong influx of saltier ocean water, can be reliable for winter crabbing.
Image credit: Justin Bailie