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 7 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, the owner of Travis Bowman Rogue River Guide Service. When the winter rains come to Oregon’s 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. A number of private guides also offer expert-led fishing trips, including South Coast Tours, which takes visitors ocean kayak fishing (weather-dependent; call for availability).

Oregon’s Ultimate Game Fish

“We’re prepared for any weather, but when people are fishing, they aren’t really thinking about the cold,” Bowman says. Instead they are intent on landing what’s considered to be Oregon’s ultimate game fish. Having started their migration in late fall and early winter, they are larger and closer to maturity in the winter months, and spawn shortly after returning to their birthplace. Bowman says anglers can expect to find 6- to 8-pound fish, with some weighing in at as much as 18 pounds.

How to Get Started

Enlisting a guide has its advantages — Bowman provides all equipment as well as a heated drift boat that delivers visitors to fishing spots otherwise inaccessible. Anglers can also try to land a winter steelhead from the riverbanks. The Coos, Coquille and Umpqua rivers are spots on Oregon’s South Coast known for their tremendous winter steelhead runs. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife makes it supremely easy for anyone to learn how with a How to Fish for Steelhead guide, including license requirements, top locations, fishing techniques, equipment and a primer on fishing etiquette.

Winter Crabbing Galore

Those seeking a lower-impact winter angling adventure might do well to pick up a crab trap and explore the region’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-goods shop along the Coast, arm yourself with bait and a shellfish license, and head for one of the region’s crabbing hot spots. 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. Check out the state’s official primers on How and When to Crab.

If You Go:

Find more information on fishing seasons, limits and licenses at Check road and weather conditions before heading out in wintry weather, and practice Leave No Trace principles when adventuring: Pack everything out; respect wildlife; come prepared with plenty of water, waterproof clothing layers and other 10 Essentials; and leave Oregon’s natural areas cleaner than you found them for generations to come.

Photo by Erik Urdahl