Oregon is a world renowned Steelhead destination that offers access to incredible Summer and Winter Steelhead fisheries. We are well into Summer Steelhead season at this point, with numbers of fish arriving in the waters we fish most frequently from our Central Oregon base. The Lower Deschutes, North Umpqua, Rogue, and rivers of the Willamette basin are all within striking distance of Bend, and tend to be the focus of local Steelheaders and traveling anglers alike as we move into late summer. Excitement is building for Steelhead Anglers as locals and visitors make plans to get out on the water in pursuit of one of freshwater fly-fishing’s pinnacle species.
The Lower Deschutes is considered the “home water” for many anglers in Central Oregon, and offers incredible wading and boat access to pursue native Redside Rainbows and Wild Summer Steelhead. The Lower Deschutes also hosts a hatchery population of Steelhead, which are legal to take in compliance with ODFW fishing regulations.
Opportunity to pursue Summer Steelhead extends from the mouth of the river all the way up to the Warm Springs area below Lake Billy Chinook. We typically begin to see fish in the lower river as early as June, and continue to focus our efforts on Steelheading as fish increase in numbers and work their way into the upper stretches. Currently, dedicated anglers are finding fish through the lower stretches of the lower river up into the camp stretch above Maupin. The closest access point to Bend, the Warm Springs-Trout Creek stretch, typically begins to see fish in mid September with numbers and fishing success typically peaking in October and lasting through November.
The North Umpqua is one of the most storied and historically significant Steelhead fisheries in the World. With wild runs of both Summer and Winter Steelhead, and some numbers of hatchery fish the North Umpqua has earned its reputation as a Steelhead destination. Many anglers will be pulled to the river by the first fish which typically arrive in June, with good opportunity to chase Summer Steelhead through September and into October. The fishing on the North Umpqua tends to peak earlier than on rivers like the Rogue and the Lower Deschutes, with consistent numbers and chances for success typically trailing off by mid-October. The North Umpqua has an incredible number of beautiful runs ideal for swinging flies, and tests the wading ability of anglers with its large boulders, sudden drops, and slick bedrock that make up the river bottom.
Not only does the North Umpqua offer 30+ miles of fly only water, it also tends to produce some of the larger Steelhead available to Oregon anglers. Beautiful scenery, an abundance of hiking opportunities, and exceptional access show why the North Umpqua is near the top of any Steelhead angler’s list of must-fish destinations. For those who haven’t been, fishing and learning the history of fly fishing for North Umpqua Steelhead is something to explore.
The Rogue is the farthest river from the Bend area that we’ve included on this list. Those who are willing to make the drive to Southwest Oregon will find a setting unlike that found on the rivers closer to home. With good access to Steelhead water starting below Lost Creek Reservoir and extending to the coast, anglers can choose from an array of water types as they follow the Rogue through its various sections all the way to the wide open gravel bars near the coast. There are areas of heavy vegetation and runs that will reward those willing to do a little bushwacking, and typically a good number of fish that provide great opportunity for a run in with a beautiful wild Steelhead.
Home to runs of Wild Summer and Winter run fish, the Rogue also contains runs of hatchery fish and good numbers of “half pounders,” or juvenile Steelhead that average 12-18” and spend a short time in the ocean before returning the river. Good numbers of Summer run Steelhead typically reach the upper stretches of the Rogue in late July, and can be caught through the Fall. Fish on the Rogue average 4-7 pounds, with occasional two-salt fish reaching larger proportions.
The North Santiam and Willamette round out our list of favorite area Steelhead fisheries. Flowing from Detroit Reservoir West towards the Willamette, the North Santiam provides the first opportunity to Steelhead fish when heading towards Salem. Home to both Winter and Summer Steelhead, the fish in the Willamette basin are almost exclusively of hatchery origin, and maintain a put and take system which consistently produces fish in the 10-12lb range. Like the Rogue, much of the North Santiam and Willamette flow through heavily populated areas. The fishery may not provide the solitude and wild atmosphere that many of us cherish, but offers abundant access to beautiful water ideal for swinging flies. The summer run fish in the Willamette basin can be grabby and oftentimes provide some of the earliest opportunity for Central Oregon anglers to chase Steelhead. Summer fish begin to show in the Willamette in the spring, with numbers typically strong enough to offer substantial opportunity for success by June. Many anglers prefer to fish the smaller waters of the North Santiam, which is the destination for much of the run in the Willamette system. The South Santiam also holds fish but has less favorable water conditions and is not as sought after as a Steelhead fishery.
Encountering a wild Summer Steelhead on the fly is considered by many to be one of the pinnacles of freshwater angling, and we are fortunate to have opportunities to pursue these amazing creatures on a regular basis throughout the late Summer and Fall. These fish face a multitude of environmental challenges, and it is important for us as anglers to act as stewards for this precious resource. With the warm weather of late summer, keep in mind that angling pressure and water temperatures should be considered when grabbing the spey rod or single hander and heading out for a few days of Steelheading. Carry a water thermometer and check reports for updates on water temperatures and river closures. When water temperatures are warm, focus fishing efforts through the morning and give the fish a break when the water is at its warmest in the afternoons and evenings. These fish are not easy to find, and even the most experienced anglers can go days or weeks without finding success. The only way to encounter these amazing fish is to dedicate time and learn the waters in which fish are most frequently found. It’s an enjoyable challenge that does not have many parallels in the world of fly fishing, and the rewards can be truly incredible.