Oregon is blessed with an abundance of rivers with exciting, even thrilling rapids that hide secret prizes and angling adventures.
The silver-sided prizes are called "steelhead" and often require that anglers endure tough outdoor conditions – especially when the rain falls in buckets.
But it must be worth it for Oregon is home to an abundance of anglers who accept the challenge each March and April and go fishing for steelhead.
Some say ‘March Madness’ takes place on the hardwood with a basketball, but fishing guide, Josiah Darr, said there’s another March madness that strikes fishermen who explore Oregon’s rivers that wind thru the woods.
The Nestucca River in Tillamook County is filled with rapids - and places where gorgeous sun streams meet the water’s rhythm.
Darr offered gentle instructions to his two guests, outdoor writer and TV host, Gary Lewis, and his 17 year old daughter, Mikayla Lewis.
“See the softer water over there on the edge,” said Darr. “That is your zone. Cast there!”
The two had traveled from their home in Bend to spend a day fishing for steelhead on the Nestucca River with Darr – an expert at a fishing technique called “Bobber-Doggin.”
Darr uses 10-1/2 foot rods, 30-pound test mainline, a small weight and a sliding bobber above yarn ‘n eggs on a number two hook.
“This yarn and egg rig is pretty much standard set up for bobber-doggin these winter steelhead in big, green water,” noted Darr, a young guide who has a passion for fishing. He sported a mile-wide smile and added, “Hopefully, the next time we see it--it will be in the corner of a fish’s mouth.”
The technique is to cast the bait and bobber rigging and then float alongside it with the river's current. Darr said it can be a "deadly effective" technique.
“I learned this a few years ago,” said Darr. “I just pitch ‘em out and away we go. My job is to keep the drift boat at a constant speed and the proper angle so to stay with the bobbers as they drift through a good run of water. You don’t catch fish unless your line is in the water, so I keep them out there and stay on them and wait for the next bite.”
The wait wasn’t long and Mikayla was thrilled – her bobber sank without hesitation and she pulled back. Ten pounds of chrome steelhead shot through the surface like a rocket.
“Fish on, fish on,” yelled Darr. “Easy now – easy…use the bend of the rod to fight the fish. Good job, Mikayla!”
The ten pound steelhead was her very first – ever.
It was also a wild steelhead - and by regulation – had to go back in the river. Anglers are allowed to keep only hatchery steelhead.
Following a ten minute battle of back and forth, Darr smoothly slid his large net under the gorgeous steelhead and deftly de-hooked it and then allowed Mikayla to release it back to the river.
“Oh that’s wonderful,” noted the teen. “My arm was getting tired but he was getting tired too so it all worked out.”
Darr smiled and added, “That’s why I like guiding….moments like this when an angler catches her first. I like it better than reeling them in myself. Good job Mikayla!”
It was all of that and more for the teen whose Dad began planning their trip nearly two years ago.
Gary Lewis has fished all over the planet but he said his true love is fishing for steelhead in Oregon.
Soon, his bobber sunk out of sight too. He had his hands full with another gorgeous fish. This one was a hatchery steelhead and a keeper.
We could tell it was a hatchery steelhead because the adipose fin was missing – it is a half-moon shaped fin, located just behind the dorsal fin. it was clipped off at the hatchery when the fish was a baby.
As Darr slid the net under the fish, he said, “This is our goal – let’s do that a lot more… they don’t make ‘em a whole lot shinier than that – that is a brand new fresh fish from the ocean. Nestucca River hatchery steelhead!”
Darr has been guiding on Oregon rivers for several years and his business grew out of a childhood passion for everything outdoors.
“It is always awesome being out here – we’re right on the Oregon coast in a little river canyon catching these beautiful steelhead. I never feel like I’m going to work, ‘cuz I’m doing something I love.”
“Every steelhead is a gift,” noted Gary. “It’s a special thing to accomplish when you catch one too. I like to joke that steelhead are the fish of a thousand casts. Sometimes it feels that way and that makes them all the more special here.”
“Here” on the river – with its rapids and its steelhead, each angler felt fortunate to be at home - in Oregon.
“There’s just so much cool stuff to do outdoors in this state,” said Darr.”I wouldn’t want to live in any other state – I love it here.”
Darr advised that conditions can change in a heartbeat at this time of year – so you have to be prepared for the worst and the best that Mother Nature can dish out – from rain – even snow – to brilliant sunshine; anything is possible as winter gives way to spring. So be prepared!
The Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife is a good resource for learning the ropes of steelhead fishing.
You can also visit the Cedar Creek Hatchery to learn more about the Nestucca River program.
Fore more information on purchasing an Oregon Angling License and locate an Oregon Fishing Guide.