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Grant's Getaways - Whitewater Steelhead

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on March 20, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM


Oregon is blessed with abundant rivers that offer countless whitewater rapids.

Many of the state's rivers are thrilling settings for exciting outdoor adventures.

We recently enjoyed a whitewater rafting trip that offered a unique spin: we also went fishing for the premier Oregon game fish called Winter Steelhead.

Sunrise arrives cold, clear and early along the banks of Tillamook County's Nestucca River.

Where sun streams touched the river's rapids, four lucky anglers found a unique adventure in the heart of the Oregon coast range mountains.


We were gathered to run the river's whitewater rapids with guide John Krauthoefer, (Firefighter's Guide Service: 503-812-1414), who likes to cast baits for king sized steelhead from aboard his fifteen-foot inflatable raft.

Krauthoefer noted that the rafts are unique: "They are designed for whitewater and I've just adapted them to fishing. If I hit a rock, I just bounce off of them - it's no big deal."

As we launched our raft, John coached me and where to cast into the "secret spots where" he'd caught fish before.

We used a variety of lures and baits, but most of the time we cast plastic bobbers with brightly colored yarn flies or lead headed jigs suspended three to four feet underneath.


John added that the ease and effectiveness of casting "bobbers and jigs" have made them more popular than ever.

"I can take people fishing that have never fished in their lives and within thirty minutes they're fishing for steelhead - You simply watch the bobber and if the bobber goes down, you set the hook and you've got 'em."

Krauthoefer is also hooked on a plan that relies on angler assistance: that is, we were fishing for wild steelhead - not to keep - but to keep them alive for a fishery future.

Chris Knutsen, a fishery biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, took a day off work so he could join us on our adventure too.

Knutsen said that the program requires 60 adult fish - 30 male and 30 female - (that's about one percent of the Nestucca winter steelhead run) and that the fish provide about 90,000 fertilized eggs for a hatchery program.

Eventually, those eggs will provide fish that anglers can catch and keep if they choose to do so.

He explained how the broodstock steelhead program worked: "It's great to get anglers involved in and participating in - the development of sport-fisheries. They provide the brood stock fish for our program and so it's a terrific way to engage the public."

On this trip, that's where I came in.


At one of the countless river runs where I had been casting my bobber, the thin foam float suddenly disappeared.

More out of instinct than skill, I jerked the rod tip up and it came up hard against something that immediately too off.

I had hooked into a prime wild winter fish with John's bobber and jig technique.

The fish pulled back hard and then exploded to the surface.

It was a large male steelhead and it was exactly what the program needed.

Knutsen immediately went to work inside his raft, prepping what the fish needed to survive: a large water-filled, aerated holding tank.


"We fill them full of water and we have small 12-volt battery and system plumbed inside to provide fresh circulating water for these fish and they do very nicely in there."

Meanwhile, the fish was not giving up easily as it raced up and down the river, but with each run there was less and less resistance.

As I pulled the fish toward shore, Krauthoefer slid the large net under it and then walked the submerged net and the fish a few yards to the prepped tank.

He and Chris carefully lifted the fish out of the river and slid it into the cold, oxygen rich holding tank.

The gleaming ocean going rainbow trout was a marvel to watch.


Now, it was time to move - we needed to get to the hatchery and deliver the fish.

Each angler caught brood stock steelhead is placed in a huge holding tank at nearby Cedar Creek Hatchery.

The fish will be live spawned later this spring and then returned to the river.

As we gently lifted my steelhead from the tank and placed it inside its new, larger temporary home, Knutsen noted:

"This is a really unique opportunity to get the anglers out on the river, get them involved in the development of their own fishery and they see the benefits in years to come from the returns of their fish. It's a win win!"


And it's a winning way to keep anglers returning to the Nestucca River to cast lures for a fishery future.

Anglers are encouraged to participate in the brood stock program, but they must register at the Tillamook-based North Coast Watershed District Office.

You can also visit the Cedar Creek Hatchery to observe the brood stock steelhead and learn more about the Nestucca River program.

Fore more information on purchasing an Oregon Angling License and located an Oregon Fishing Guide.