Steelhead Camp

Pull your waders off and prop your feet up by the fire. Steelhead Camp is a collection of adventures from across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Steelhead anglers are a special kind of crazy, but you already knew that.

Oregon Steelhead Marathon

Joel La Follette - Thursday, February 19, 2015

Having hosted three long-time friends and anglers on the river this past week, I thought I would have them relate the fishing conditions that we observed thus freeing me from writing the report myself. Due to the turmoil in Salem this past week, Mr. Atkinson was excused from this homework assignment, but made it in under the wire this morning for full credit, Mr Drew and Mr.Tritscher were less procrastic and offer here their timely submitted report. We shall start with Mr. Tritscher's account of the past week. The Editor

“Winter Steelhead?"

After 4 days of serious sleep deprivation and extensive casting exercises on 3 different rivers I came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “Winter Steelhead” in Oregon.

They just are a myth - a fictional creature like Big Foot or Sasquatch in the PNW, the Yeti in the Himalaya or the Wolpertinger in Bavaria. Actually, I came to believe that “Winter Steelhead” is just a scam - one big conspiracy by fishing guides and some fly shop owners who want to keep the myth alive in order to extend their season to the winter month. Sure, 15 minutes into our first day I saw what MIGHT have been a wild “Winter Steelhead”: Joel landed a fish that actually looked like a steelhead and we even got some pictures of it, but as we are talking about conspiracy here, I now think it just was a big hatchery rainbow which the guide has brought in a live-well and stuck to Joel’s hook when I was not watching - again fly shop owner and guide working together to keep the myth alive... You see - it all fits together.

Real(?) Fishing Report
Last Friday Joel and I floated the Sandy with Brian Silvey. Water was very clear with level ~10.5’. As hinted above, Joel got a nice fish of maybe 9-pound first thing in the morning - and yes, I actually did see him hook it. The weather was very nice - bright sunny and unusually warm - it felt more like May than mid-February. We didn’t have any more takes all day long, but nevertheless it was a very pleasant day on a very beautiful river with a good friend and a very nice and competent guide. We also saw some bald eagles and the first butterfly of the year and finally there were Kellie’s delicious cookies!

No fishing on Saturday as I joined Joel in the shop. Lots of fish talk with his customers and friends though and also a very fascinating presentation from Jay Nicholas about off-shore fly fishing in Oregon.

On Sunday we left Woodsprite Lodge at 4am to drive to Tillamook. I cannot believe how hard it was to get a coffee early in the morning it took us 4 attempts at different McDonalds to finally get me a coffee and that was not good at all (why can’t Starbuck’s open earlier???). We met Gil Muhleman at 6am on the Trask River. The water looked perfect, a light steelhead green, but plenty of visibility. Well, apparently many fellow fishermen also thought these were ideal conditions and despite the inhumanly early time there was quite some traffic. A lineup at the boat launch and boat after boat coming down the same drift Gil had chosen. Some of the operators also lacked basic etiquette as I literally had boats rowing over my line. We saw a few bright steelhead caught by gear fishermen, and watched a family of river otters, but found no fish interested in our flies. As the traffic got worse, Gil decided to end the drift early and do another drift higher up in the system. Here we had more room to ourselves and Gil put us on some we very fishy looking water. Joel got one very nice sea-run cutthroat and I had one good, heavy grab, but the fish would not come back on subsequent casts. The weather again was very nice and unusually warm. It also looks as if spring has already started on the coast - we saw rhododendrons and other flowers in full blossom. Again, Kellie’s cookies were one of the highlights of the day.

On Monday Joel’s good friends Jim and Jason joined us for a day on the Sandy with Marty Sheppard and Brian Silvey. Again, a bright sunny day with temperatures in the mid-60th. The river had dropped quite a bit since Friday and was crystal clear. We watches some wildlife - bald eagles, osprey, cormorants, saw a big 4’ sturgeon and even saw a few big steelhead when we pushed them out by floating over their holding stations. However, despite the concerted efforts of our guides who put us on very good looking spots, neither of us had any takes. Marty tried to drown me by having me wade down a huge rock pile in a place he appropriately called the “swimming hole” - well, I made it through without falling in, but only barely! BTW, coffee from McDonalds in Sandy is decent and the guides loved Kellie’s cookies...

On Tuesday we fished for half a day with Rob Crandall on the Clackamas. Rob took us to some very good looking spots with his jet boat. We fished classic steelhead runs and some little pockets and on every cast I expected us to have a grab, but the steelhead simply didn’t want to cooperate. Again the weather was really warm and sunny - not really what you would expect in Oregon in February. Oh before I forget - did I mention that Kellie makes very good cookies? Rob’s cinnamon rolls were delicious too!

So I fished for four days on some of the most beautiful rivers I have seen (amazing that you can find these within less than 2 hours from downtown Portland) and although I did not catch any of these mythical “Winter Steelhead”, I had a wonderful time with good friends, excellent guides and nice weather (probably a bit too nice for catching steelhead)!
By the way - Happy Birthday, Joel!!!
Humbly submitted by Stefan Tritscher, Munich, Germany  

My buddy, Jim Drew, also contributed to this week's report with this observation....

It is not very often in our lives when we get perfect weather days in February to fish NW rivers, but it paled in comparison to the day on the Sandy with best friends and great guides. The setting for the West's premier fly shop owner's birthday trip was a cool and clear launch at Dodge Park at 6:30-ish. Marty Sheppard and Brian Silvey were the hosts for an honored world traveling German, a respected movie making former state senator, myself and the above mentioned Fly Shop Guru. 

 Despite losing 2 feet off  the tip of my switch rod after two casts, the backup spey rod with an updated Skagit setup proved to be perfect and offered a great opportunity to learn to throw the new line. Even being a holiday the river was surprisingly absent of the endless flotillas that were expected with only two others seen all day. We were put on great water, very clear great water after days of nice weather, and felt no pressure to move rapidly to find fish. The early hours didn't produce any grabs, but the anticipation of an imminent hookup kept my interest level high. Occasional warm upstream breezes seemed as though the heat pump had been turned on and soon the outer layers were being stored. 

I had not met Stefan, Joel's long time fishing buddy from Germany. Knowing him only by reputation I got the opportunity to jump in the boat after lunch with he and Marty. What a gentlemen and steelhead enthusiast! Fishing was slow, I only caught one foul hooked sucker fish all day, but the time with new and old friends, and a great stream-side lunch was worth the drive and early hour. The switch rod will be back, repaired in a few weeks. It's return will remind me of this and other Birthday trips with a best friend, and a couple of new friends. Thanks Joel, Marty and Brian!!
Submitted for publication by Jim Drew, AKA WaterDog

Mr. Atkinson was more into a freestyle report and provided this recollection of the day.

Heard but not seen

The following are excerpts from Joel’s birthday float:

Marty: “Hey, want coffee and a cookie while Stefan fishes this bucket?”
JAA: “Ya….these taste familiar”
Marty: “Kellie made um.”
JAA: “Does Stefan know about these?”
Marty: “No”
JAA: “Then I’ll have two more and carry the rest in my waders.”

Brian: “See that sturgeon?”
Joel: “Yes”
JAA: “Give you a dollar if you jump in after it.”

Marty: “What are you fish'n”
JAA: “This orange Silvenator”
Marty: “that won't work.”

Joel: “ I want a team photo”
Everyone: “Smile or Simms guide cool”
Joel: “guide cool”
Then Joel smiles in his own picture.

The only thing that wasn’t heard was because of what wasn’t seen.
“Fish on.”

To round out this week's report and to drive home the fact that there are winter Steelhead, I offer this short email received from Gil just a few minutes ago...

Oregon's North Coast Rivers are becoming low and clear. This past week has been magical with fantastic weather and lots of fish around. Boat pressure on the common drifts were as crowded as I have ever seen them though fish were found by nearly all. I preach knowing when and where to be in these rivers and now is the time folks. Great tides are still bringing sea lice fish daily regardless of the low water. The good news for us fly anglers is that many of these fish have moved rapidly into the upper reaches and away from the crowds. Yesterday we found excellent fishing and solitude up near Jones Creek on the Wilson. These fish were predominately chrome bright with just a couple fish showing color. On sunny days (unusually common this year) look for shaded runs. In low water most fish are found at the head of runs with appropriate flow or in longer runs with plenty of large rock structure. Good luck out there!!!  Gil Muhleman, Water Time Outfitters

State of Jefferson Road Trip

Joel La Follette - Wednesday, February 04, 2015
I've asked my good friend, Jason Atkinson, to write a guest post for the Steelhead Camp blog this week after our visit to a river that is near and dear to his heart. I have refrained from expounding on the fishery in an attempt to secure an invite back to this little slice of Steelhead heaven and leave the telling of the adventure to him. If it seems generalized and cryptic it is for a reason known only to Steelhead anglers. 

You can tell a lot about the character of a person by how they describe the weather. If it needs to be sunny and warm they fall into one camp. If the threat of rain causes concern or a frost warning changes travel plans, then another. If winter weather causes you to pick up your smart phone every 30 minutes to check the river level and you own more GoreTex than neckties, you my friend are probably a Steelheader. 

It’s a small family, we who like bad weather and the thousand casts between stone cold Steelhead who don’t want to move to a perfectly presented wad of feather offerings, but then again most cousins all stem from the same DNA.

This time of year, the wiles of Northern California’s classic Steelhead waters call for the strong willed and cold blooded Spey chuckers who can’t think of anything they’d rather do. I’ve had the sickness a very long time, and last weekend I enjoyed spreading the germs to Joel.

For mid-winter between rains, we did well. Fish down there are shorter and more shouldery than their North Umpqua and Deschutes cousins that make for electric experiences. Certainly, Joel connected with nearly every sliver of silver and red that graced the runs as you might expect. However, unlike so many other tales ours also involved lunch at a yacht club, landing the largest fish at dusk with a mile of river and a class three rapid yet to float, and the hindsight knowledge that seven spey rods, 50 mph, and magnets don’t really do well in the same committee.

All aside, its winter and time to download and study your river levels. There is no better way to catch winter Steelhead than to know your home water- or call a cousin.

Jason A. Atkinson served 14 years in the Oregon Legislature and has just produced the national documentary “A River Between Us” and the book Inside Out (available at Royal Treatment). He is a Rodel Fellow with the Aspen Institute, a commentator and speaker on a wide range of issues. For more: and

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