Oct 10th, 2017
Northern Oregon Coast
From January through April, the rivers surrounding the greater Tillamook Bay region on the Northern Oregon coast transform into some of the most productive and seductive winter steelhead rivers in North America. Structurally they are a “swing” fisherman’s paradise and the quarry is almost always sea-bright, wild, and willing to chase a well swung fly. To compliment these rivers and the hearty handsome steelhead they sustain, we have tracked down two of the finest winter steelhead guides in the West, namely Scott O’Donnell and Chris O’Donnell (no relation). Not only do they know the intricacies and moods of their local systems, they are also among the most sought after spey casting instructors in the nation.
For more information please contact David at 800.552.2729
Expert Q & A with Fly Water Travel’s Pacific Northwest destination manager, David Kalinowski
Top reasons to go.
1. To swing flies on some of the best winter steelhead rivers in the Pacific Northwest.
2. For a chance to connect with the brightest ocean-fresh steelhead one can encounter.
3. Learn how to become a better steelhead angler and spey caster.
4. Ease of travel and terrific value.
5. The opportunity to float and fish multiple rivers as conditions dictate, all with strong runs of winter steelhead.
How do I get there?
Guests fly into Portland OR, rent a car and make the two-hour drive to the coastal town of Manzanita, OR. There, guests check into their chosen accommodations. If guests are from the Pacific Northwest they can simply drive their own vehicle to Manzanita.
When should I go?
Winter steelhead arrive between January and April. While any of the dates in this window could offer great conditions and fishing, most would agree February and March are the most consistent months.
Where do they fish?
The guides fish many rivers on the northern Oregon coast but we prefer not to mention any names. With that said, there are small rivers, big rivers and everything in between. Some clear quickly and others, slowly after rains, so the guides will choose the best option at the time of your trip dates.
Where do we stay?
Guests stay in the many hotels or vacation rentals around Manzanita, OR. This is the “off-season” for coastal towns and there are some really nice places available during the winter months at fairly reasonable rates.
Who is best suited to this destination?
This is a great trip for steelhead anglers that have some experience swinging flies with two handed rods, as well as for anglers that want to improve there skills, especially with sink tips. Anglers need to understand the weather conditions in winter can change quickly and cold and wet days can be fairly common. Also water conditions are variable making winter steelhead a bit risky.
What are the meals like?
Lunch is provided on the river and can be a mix of soups, sandwiches and some side snacks. Nothing fancy, but hearty and quick, as winter fishing hours are short and the guides want to maximize the time spent angling, not eating. Guest are on their own for breakfast and dinner.
How would you describe the general vibe and atmosphere?
This is fairly advanced angling, so guests will get some great instruction if needed. The guides typically pull no punches in terms of how they want the fly to be presented so if you are not doing it correctly, they will tell you. Having a good attitude and being open to learning is important on these trips.
Is there internet and cell service?
Cell service is typically good on the coast, but service fades as you head up the rivers. On the water, you may not have service. Most accommodations have wi-fi.
How do they fish?
The guides we work with will be swinging flies with two handed rods. Skagit lines with sink tips, along with larger profile flies are the go to tactics. All fishing will be done by wading and the wading is moderately difficult.
How many fish will I catch?
With any steelhead fly angling, a fish a day is considered successful fishing. In the winter swinging up a single fish a day is actually considered good. There will be days that exceed this and days that will fall short. Its the nature of being a steelheader, the rewards are great, but typically you will work for your opportunities.
What are the guides like?
The guides are very experienced having spent decades exploring and guiding the Oregon coast in the winter. They certainly have fairly strong opinions on how to be successful here. They are all willing to share that knowledge and will have you coming home a better angler.
Will we see other anglers?
It is likely that you will see other anglers. With that said, there are some remote stretches of water on the Oregon coast where you may not see any other anglers.
Is there wade fishing?
All angling will be done while wading.
How far is it to the fishing grounds?
The town of Manzanita is centrally located from the rivers our guides fish. The drive times to the put ins can vary from 20 to 45 minutes depending on which system your are fishing that day.
Do the guides provide equipment?
The guides can provide the correct rod/reels and terminal tackle. If you would like to bring along some of your own gear, feel free. Guests will certainly need their own waders and boots. Studded felt soled boots are the best option for their superior traction.
What is your favorite rod(s) for the trip?
If you had to choose one spey rod, the 13 foot 7 weight is the SUV of the steelhead world. It can handle most of what is encountered on the Oregon coast. With that said, at times a heavier rod, say in the 8 weight class, can help on some of the larger waters and an 7 or 8 weight switch rod can be handy on the smaller rivers. I guess what I am saying is a good carpenter does not only have one hammer.
What are the top flies?
Intruder style flies are the go to these days, but bunny leeches, marabou tubes flies or any larger profile fly that has movement will work. Think about having several color variations, bright to dark. Bright colors like orange and pink, dark colors like black, blue or purple. It is also nice to have flies of various weights. Heavily weighted flies to sink quickly in current or deep pockets and lightly weighted flies for smooth tailouts or inside seams.
Are there other activities?
The coast offers some great beach combing and nature hiking, but winter conditions can make these activities a bit more extreme than in summer.
What is the cost?
Please see the Rates and Details section of our Northern Oregon Coast page for the current rates: https://www.flywatertravel.com/destination/NorthernOregonCoast
Does this trip combine well with other trips?
Guests could head north to the Olympic Peninsula or south to southern Oregon or northern California and continue targeting winter steelhead with our preferred guides.
Are there special skills required?
Just a good attitude to counteract the sometimes challenging conditions.
What are the physical demands?
There is wading and cold water. While not overly challenging, the cold and wet conditions can be physically challenging.
Dangers and annoyances?
The river conditions during the winter months can change drastically. There will be days where the rivers are unfishable due to high and off color water, so understanding that cancelled days can happen is important.
The rivers of the Oregon coast have sea-bright steelhead arriving January through April.
The rivers of the north Oregon coast are set up perfectly for swinging flies, especially with two handed rods.
Hooking, fighting and landing a winter steelhead on a swung fly is a highly rewarding experience.
Any of the rivers on the north Oregon coast can produce that fish of a lifetime.
Fresh steelhead can arrive with each tide. The strength and speed of these fish will leave a lasting impression on you.