Late rain heralds in fresh incoming steel - Lower Rogue River

John Anderson has been putting his clients on winter steelhead like this one all year. Photo by John Anderson, Memory Makers Rogue River Guide Service.

by Larry Ellis

There is no doubt that the unseasonable variability of rainfall this year has affected the intensity of angling and fishing methods regarding winter steelhead. In a rainforest such as the Pacific Northwest, a steelheader does not usually expect to go more than a week before he or she is able to deploy steelhead techniques from the bank or from a boat.

Without getting into the footnote criteria required in some scientific and journal articles, a person can determine with rationality that there have been several drought periods that have occurred in January and February. These are months where anglers can typically expect to see a variability in river heights on a regular basis. They are also months when most rivers usually are in peak-season performance for winter steelhead action.

So when storms pummel the Curry County vicinity, a person can only hope that local-area rivers do not rise so much as to create a seasonable blowout, yet subside enough to allow angling opportunities as soon as possible.

So far, the latter of the two aforementioned scenarios have created conditions on the Chetco and lower Rogue Rivers where anglers have been able to anticipate having enough steelhead action to keep a bend in their rods and hope in their hearts for several weeks to come.

March is a great month to be a steelheader.  You still have fresh incoming chrome missiles entering the lower stretches of the rivers, and you also have spawned-out down-backs heading back to sea.  Either way, the steelhead are not only biters but they are fighters.

A local angler on the lower Rogue has an optimistic outlook for a late run of winter steelhead. In addition, the possibility of hooking into an early spring Chinook is definitely a reality.  The possibility of hooking into a Rogue springer is giving me a severe case of 'It's just around the corner and half way 'round the bend spring Chinook fishing blues.

"I've got winter steelhead trips starting Sunday, Monday and one on Wednesday," says John Anderson of Memory Makers Rogue River Guide Service. "But there's also been three spring Chinook caught so far."

At this point in time, all wild Chinook caught on the lower Rogue must be released, but hatchery springers are fair game.  Two out of the three springers that were caught last week were wild boys, and one was of hatchery origin.

"The hatchery springer was between 8 to 10 pounds but the wild springers were 18- to 19-pound fatties," added Anderson.

As of this writing, the Rogue was flowing at approximately 5,000 cfs, or 4-1/2 feet, but Anderson was saying that the river could afford to come up another foot or so to make a good launching at the mill site.

Anderson might get his wish.  The National Weather Service was predicting that the Rogue could come up to almost 6-1/2 feet by this weekend. Translated into flows, that equates to around 7,800 cubic feet per second, and the river should bounce back and forth this week between 4,800 and 6,400 cfs.

Now those flows are for early spring Chinook.  Winter steelhead require less flows to make it over the riffles and Anderson has been putting the pedal to the metalheads whenever he has taken clients out on the water.

"I can catch winter steelhead right now," emphasized Anderson on Thursday. "Steve and Tanya Hathaway were down there just above John's Hole with only 3,800 cfs. "They hooked 7 and landed 3, and all 3 that they landed were hatchery fish."

Almost all the fish that Anderson has been hooking have been on the Mag Lip 3.5, and in one particular color.

"The Mag Lip has an extra shake on the tail," describes Anderson of the plug's skip-beat action. "The steelhead just smack that 3.5 all the time."

"And the hottest, hottest color we've had was a color called 'Stalker'.  It's blue and silver with a light red stripe down its belly with a hot-pink tail. At the beginning of February, I was fishing for 3 days.  I had a single client on the boat the first day and we hooked up 9 times and 3 of the fish were on the Stalker."

"The next day I hooked 9 steelhead again, and 6 of those 9 fish were caught on the Stalker.  The next day I hooked 5 steelhead, and two of them were hatchery fish," noted Anderson. "And 4 of those fish were on the Stalker. That 3.5 Mag Lip in the color Stalker has turned out to be my number 1 plug for this year. I'm sold on Mag Lips!"

So here's a quick recap of how boaters fish the lower Rogue for winter steelhead.  They anchor up using a very sturdy Rogue River Anchor-and-buoy system.  Anderson then lets out just enough anchor rope to put the boat on a current seam straddling 3- to 5-feet of water.

And don't forget to account for the additional 45 feet of line that you will be letting loose on your reel.  You want that plug to be digging into a 3- to 5-foot current seam straddling a willow line on an inside bend whenever possible.

Anderson also likes to use various rods, but of late he has been partial to the Lamiglas Hot Shot rod, but any rod with a semi-fast tip with an overall parabolic action on the rest of the stick is highly recommended for this type of fishing.

Stick your rod in a rod holder and wait for the silver locomotives to smack that plug on the way up the tracks to the spawning grounds. And there will be no mistaking the bite.  I've seen them nearly yank the rod out of its holder.

Chetco Action Should Pick Up
Meanwhile on the Chetco, the river rose to 6,000 cfs on Thursday.  There was not one single person fishing the lower Chetco.

The river was too colored up, even for plunking, but it should be on-the-drop this weekend, which should be giving the Chetco that textbook emerald-green hue and put the steelhead back on-the-bite.

I know for a fact that there will be plenty of fresh incoming chromers heading through the jaws and up the river because that's always the way it's been in the beginning of March.

In addition to looking forward to the possibility of hooking some fresh steel, there should also be plenty of down-backs mixed in the action as well.

You have to respect these downers.  They have made it through the gauntlet of plunkers, seals, sea lions and river otters, plus they have successfully accomplished their spawning mission upriver.  There's nothing like the fight of a hungry tube heading back to sea.

Tight lines!

Larry Ellis, author, writer, columnist and photographer has had a 50-year passion for fishing in California and Oregon's saltwater and freshwater venues. He is a well-known writer for Oregon, Washington and California Fishing and Hunting News, Northwest Sportsman, California Sportsman and Pacific Coast Sportfishing. He currently writes monthly for Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, and is the author of two books, "Plug Fishing for Salmon" and "Buoy 10, the World's Largest Salmon Run."  Both books can be bought from Amato Publications (, Amazon and eBay. Ellis particularly loves living in his hometown of Brookings, Oregon - The heart of salmon country and gateway to fishing paradise.