Anglers on alert

Steelhead fishing should be at its peak on the Lower Deschutes soon

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical

Steelhead anglers had better get ready. When the fishing is hot, word travels fast.

All signs point toward a fairly robust steelhead run on the Lower Deschutes, with the peak of the run expected to arrive on the river at Sherars Falls, just north of Maupin, in perhaps the next week or two.

“The next few weeks — that’s the time,” Rod French, a fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in The Dalles, said Tuesday

French added that recent creel checks at the mouth of the Deschutes near The Dalles, and upstream at Macks Canyon, yielded some of the highest catch rates he has seen all season.

“Fishing had been somewhat slow early on, but in the last week has improved considerably,” French said. “The run is now getting to Sherars Falls. The numbers of fish over Bonneville and The Dalles (dams) are good. It looks like a pretty decent run for the Deschutes. If the current catch rate holds up at Sherars, it’ll be a pretty decent run.”

Steelhead runs are notoriously hard to predict, according to French. But recent daily fish counts over The Dalles and Bonneville dams on the Columbia River have been relatively high.

Monday’s counts, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District Web site (www.nwp.usace.army.mil), showed nearly 8,000 steelhead going over The Dalles Dam, and about 1,200 going over Bonneville.

“Those are high counts,” French said. “When one sees counts like that, you typically want to go fish the Lower Deschutes.”

Steelhead are a large, ocean-going rainbow trout, ranging in weight from four to five pounds for one-salt fish (fish that have spent one year in the ocean) and eight to 20 pounds for two-salt fish (fish that have spent two years in the ocean, also called “B-run” fish). Steelhead, renowned for their hard-fighting nature when hooked, are silver and spotted while in the ocean, then become darker with a reddish-pink stripe along their sides as they mature during their migration upstream.

Steelhead fishing can remain productive through October and November, and into December, as the fish move upstream all the way to Pelton Dam, 100 miles south of the mouth of the Deschutes. Steelhead fishing from the northern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation upstream to Pelton Dam closes on Dec. 31, but it’s open year-round from the mouth upstream to the reservation’s northern boundary.

Currently, French said, the best steelhead fishing is from Sherars Falls downstream to the mouth of the Deschutes. The fish are definitely on the move because the Columbia River has cooled, the biologist explained. Some migrating fish will turn into the cooler Deschutes but then make their way back into the Columbia. For this reason, French said, steelhead fishing stays consistently good in the stretch of the Lower Deschutes from Sherars Falls to the mouth.

French said that last year was a “pretty good run” for steelhead fishing on the Deschutes.

“The run last year was really driven by the stray hatchery fish,” French explained. “That’s what drives a lot of the angling: fish from basins other than the Deschutes River. They come into the cool Deschutes out of the warm Columbia. Some drop back out and continue migration up the Columbia — if they don’t get caught.”

Larger steelhead, part of the B run, are just starting to arrive in the Deschutes, French said. The B-run steelhead, which typically arrive later than other steelhead at Bonneville Dam, usually originate from Idaho, French explained. Because these fish spend more time in the ocean than other steelhead, they have more time to feed and grow to larger sizes.

Anglers have taken notice of the larger fish and the high counts over The Dalles and Bonneville dams. Fishing holes from Sherars Falls to the mouth have been quite crowded, according to French.

“Pressure has been pretty high here of late,” he said. “It’ll only get more crowded. The Columbia closes Wednesday (Sept. 19) to chinook fishing, and that’ll put more people who target steelhead on the Deschutes.”