Siletz, OR: With 67 miles of seams and pocket water to fish from its headwaters to the ocean, the Siletz River offers anglers several opportunities to intercept Chrome this month during the Winter Steelhead migration. Although many coastal streams have seen their peak during January, the Siletz is in the middle of its healthy return of both Hatchery and Native runs. During this migration, Steelhead are found from the tidewaters of Strome Park all the way upriver to the reaches above Moonshine Park, near river mile 47. Finding these silver bullets in such an expanse of water is a daunting task for any steelheader. To better understand the Siletz, we will break down the three main sections of accessible water and discuss in detail the “where” and “how” of targeting these acrobatic coastal Steelhead. First, let’s take a look at the run size and timing.
The past several years have returned healthy numbers of Winter Steelhead to the traps on the Siletz River giving Hatchery managers a fantastic opportunity to ensure consistent runs. Along with the trapped steelhead, a strong Broodstock program is in place where a select number of anglers assist in the collection of 40 pairs of Native Steelhead. Because the fish are trapped and collected throughout the season on the Siletz, the Hatchery produces a winter run of Steelhead that arrives over a several month period, allowing ample opportunity for us anglers to entice these fish.
The targeted release of 50,000 Smolts each spring has been reached many years in succession according to Derek Wilson from ODFW. “We released a total of 52,000 Smolts for the run that is returning this year at a size of 6 fish per pound.” These numbers are quite encouraging to say the least. “Because we collect fish at a rate proportional to their return, Siletz Steelhead runs are consistent and strong,” in the month of February. “The Smolts are acclimated at Palmer Creek, near Moonshine Park,” adds Derek. Knowing where the fish are acclimated gives anglers a target point of where the fish will inevitably slow during their upstream migration. Now that we know how high in the system to begin our search for Steel, let’s begin to break the Siletz down into its three main sections.
Upper Siletz: Moonshine to Hee Hee Illahee
Ideal River level: 6.5-8.0
The stretch of river from Moonshine Park downriver to Hee Hee Illahee Park in the town of Siletz will hold Steelhead longer than any other portion of the river. This is because the stream gradient is increasing, forcing the fish to navigate more difficult rapids. It is also because they are becoming ever closer to the acclimation point at Palmer Creek. As the fish creep closer to Palmer Creek, they will slow to a halt, waiting for the perfect river conditions to finish their journey.
For the bank angler, the areas upstream of Moonshine down to the Park itself will be your best opportunities for easy public access. Moonshine Park offers a number of fantastic Steelhead holding water along the shores of its 18 acre property line. Successful bank anglers will employ a number of different techniques from plunking to fishing spoons and drift fishing. When the water level has crested after a rainfall and is beginning its initial drop, plunking will be the best technique when the river level gauge is between 7-8 feet in height. Fishing within the first 5-10 feet from shore is critical to a successful day of plunking. Once the waters recede to normal flows of 5.5-7 feet, revert back to the standby presentations of drift fishing, casting spinners or spoons as well as bobber and jig setups.
Drift boaters have two different floats to choose from in the upper Siletz: Moonshine Park to Twin Bridges and Twin Bridges to Hee Hee Illahee Park. The uppermost float beginning at Moonshine has access to some of the best water of the entire system. That being said, there are a couple of rapids that a novice on the sticks should avoid. The stretch from Twin Bridges to Hee Hee Illahee is less technical and still offers some great access to holed up Steelies. Pulling plugs and side drifting will reign supreme amongst most boaters in this stretch of river. However, drift fishing can be deadly when the Siletz has dropped down to around 6 feet.
Mid-Siletz River: Hee Hee Illahee to Ojalla Bridge
Ideal River level: 5.0-6.5
This section of river receives the most amount of boat pressure during the Winter Steelhead Season. Bank Anglers will be limited to the public parks for most access in this stretch due to much of the river being within city limits and local neighborhoods. The middle portion of the Siletz offers two separate floats to drift boaters.
Most commonly called The Town drift, the first option for drift boaters is from Hee Hee Illahee Park to Old Mill Park. The Town Drift is by far the most popular float on the Siletz River for Winter Steelhead. The reason is simple…No shuttle vehicle is required! The River makes a several mile long bend around the town of Siletz and ends a mere few blocks from the put-in. Expect to see competition along this float. However, don’t let that deter you from targeting moving Steelhead in the Town. Big numbers can be caught in this short drift during prime Steelhead migration.
The second option for drift boaters is from the Old mill Park to Ojalla Bridge. This is a fantastic side drifting stretch with beautiful long holes with a consistent flow. If you hit this stretch at just the right time, double digit days are the norm. For the bobber and jig angler or plug puller, this drift has great small slots that the fish will hold. Yet, with all of the positive aspects to this float, there is one word of caution. Ojalla Bridge is a VERY difficult slide to use as a ramp. At least 100 feet of line is necessary to drag your boat in or out of the water.
The best techniques to use in the middle section of the Siletz are, without question, either back trolling or side drifting. When the water is in the neighborhood of 6.4-7.0 feet, back trolling will be your go-to technique. This is because the heightened flow of the river will push you downriver quickly. If you hook a fish try to stay in the same area. Slow down your presentation and pound the hole the fish was caught in as well as the next two holes downstream. These fish will congregate together in groups of a few, to dozens of fish! The best way to find these pods of Chrome is to side drift. This technique is productive at normal to high flows because it increases the number of fish your presentation is in front of. Clearly, the more fish you offer your bait to, the more fish you have an opportunity to get to bite!
Lower Siletz River: Ojalla to Strome
Ideal River level: 3.5-5.0
With such a strange beginning to our Winter Steelhead season this year with the dry December, we need to be prepared for low water conditions. The drifts to target when the water level is between 3.0 feet to 5.0 feet are from Ojalla Bridge downstream to Strome Park. Most anglers will not fish these stretches of river because they do not contain typical steelhead holding water. However, when low water and a strong tide series coincide, these two drifts can be downright incredible and kick out big numbers of steelhead.
The first drift is from Ojalla Bridge to Jack Morgan Park. This stretch will have some interesting pockets for drift fishing and great side drifting water. Again, remember that Ojalla Bridge is a slide ramp and requires a lot of rope and appropriate retrieval equipment. The next float is from Jack Morgan Park to Strome Park. This stretch is practically untouched by Winter Steelhead anglers. The reason is because it is tidally influenced and does not fit the mold for typical steelhead water. Yet, if an angler is committed to learning Steelhead patterns of movement in tidal stretches during low water conditions, they can become the most successful anglers on the coast. These Chromers will hold on the small patches of cobble stone during the outgoing tide. Side drifting should be done 90% of the time in the tidally influenced stretches of the Siletz. It is absolutely a searching game, but once the pod is found, several fish can be caught in a short period of time. The nice part about the lower Siletz is that you are allowed to use a jet pump motor below Jack Morgan Park. This opens up a fantastic Steelhead fishery for the guys with sleds as well!
Because this system is so expansive, pay close attention to the reports that you hear from local tackle shops, guides, internet forums and your fellow anglers. If the bite is hot in one section of the Siletz, target the next couple of stretches higher in the river to get in front of the same pod of fish moving through during their winter migration. Also, if you have the available time and funds, a guide’s knowledge is unmatched. One day on the water with an expert is equivalent to a season’s worth of trial and error.
Always Remember: As the primary users of our wilderness in the great Northwest, we are the primary benefactors. Because of this, we need to become its primary stewards. Respect our resources.
For current info and reports, contact the Newport ODFW office: (541) 265-8306 ext. 236 or 224
For current Siletz River levels online, go to: http://water.weather.gov/
-Click the map near the Oregon coast, then click the gauge labeled “Siletz”
Back Trolling – Fish both diver and bait rigs as well as a myriad of different plugs. On the coastal fisheries, some will claim that color matters. Many guides swear up and down that having a black bill on your plug is the only way to go. The bottom line is this, fish the plugs you are confident with. Consistently putting proven fish catching plugs in the strike zone will get you bit, regardless of the color. That being said, darker water or low light conditions call for UV high contrasting colored plugs while clearer water or high light penetration conditions is a perfect situation for your metallic plugs.
Pulling a diver and bait setup can be the best presentation on any given day. Winter Steelhead will react very well to eggs when the water is at its coldest. As the water warms here in February or after a warm rainy stretch of days, lean more towards fishing sand shrimp behind your diver. In clearer water, fish longer leaders up to 6 feet behind your diver. Conversely, off colored water conditions call for shorter 3-4 foot long leaders. Spin Glo’s or corkies in smaller sizes used for added floatation and attractant on your diver setups are best used in watermelon, greens or pinks.
One final back trolling tip: Put your plug rod up tight against the shore and your bait rod on the inside seam rod holder of your drift boat. Having a reaction bait in the faster water and a more natural bait presentation in the slower water will increase your catch percentage greatly!