Willamette Valley/Metro- As the Columbia enters its winter slumber, anglers just received news of great spring chinook returns in 2012. Although fish have been historically caught as early as January, March and April are prime months pending spring run-off on the mainstem. Seasons are likely to be set later in January.
Flows at Willamette Falls are low with the water temperature falling to the high 30s. These conditions have stalled winter steelhead movement. The sturgeon bite is also likely to slow but the Portland Harbor will likely remain the best bet for those seeking fair to good catch and release activity. Smelt will continue to be a top bait and although smelt is officially listed under the Endangered Species Act, it may still be used as bait.
Thawing tributaries bumped the McKenzie flows at Vida from 2,300 cfs to 2,900 cfs over the past weekend. It will be dropping this week.
Flows are stable on the Santiam system although fishing is slow.
Flows are decent on the Clackamas but the water is extremely clear. Fishing has been poor. Water levels are forecast to increase next week.
The Sandy River has dropped and will remain clear in cold weather. Effort is light and justifiably so. Steelhead will enter in better numbers by February.
Northwest – Steelheaders continue to hope for precipitation although a significant event is not in the near-term forecast. Steelhead are likely pooling up in the lower reaches of most north coast systems with tidewater a viable option for the few that know how to utilize this stretch of a coastal river.
First light can take fish in the most productive drifts but that’s also when air temperatures are nearly the coldest. Bobber and jigs or small deep diving plugs will produce the best results but success will improve dramatically with any rise in river levels. Driving conditions are hazardous so travel with extreme caution.
Some chinook are still being taken in Tillamook Bay and its larger tributaries. Trollers working herring in the Ghost Hole are still catching an occasional fish and a driftboat working the lower Trask reportedly tied into a few bright chinook earlier this week. Anglers should consider releasing female chinook this time of year as even bright hens cut pale in color, making them poor tablefare.
Good sturgeon tides begin on Sunday for adventurous anglers willing to brave the cold on Tillamook Bay. Afternoon tides may make the outing more tolerable however. Sand shrimp will be a top bait.
Ocean crabbing opens up today with only small windows of opportunity typical for recreational boaters this time of year. Commercial pots will be out in force so crabbers may want to avoid competition by utilizing coastal estuaries instead. The lower Columbia River remains the best bet.
Good razor clam tides begin early next week with Clatsop Beaches likely to produce the best results.
Southwest – While bank anglers can keep cabezon until the end of the year; currently off-limits to boaters, they’ll be off limits to all recreational users from January 1 until April 1, 2012.
Much to the relief of commercial and recreational Dungeness enthusiasts, the delayed ocean crabbing season will open for the most part on Thursday, December 15th, with Dungeness filled out sufficiently to retain. Crabbing will not be allowed from north of Gold beach to the California border until January 15th.
Lack of precipitation in the district has anglers anxious for rain. Steelhead season should be well underway but most rivers are low and clear with lack of rain this month.
Winchester Bay is producing well for crabbers. Summer steelheading is slow on the North Umpqua and winters have yet to enter the South Umpqua.
Crabbing is excellent and the quality of Dungeness has improved in Coos Bay. Rockfishing has been worthwhile on the south jetty and catches have been excellent when boats have been able to dross the bar.
Low, clear water has stalled steelheading on the lower and middle Rogue. Summer steelhead are biting plugs on low flows on the upper Rogue but they’re colored up. Smoke anglers are still taking fish that are deemed good enough to smoke. Coho are being taken in this stretch as well.
When boats have been able to get out of Brookings Harbor, rockfish catches have been good with a few lings in the mix. Fishing is slow for late chinook and winter steelhead on the Chetco River although occasional flurries of steelhead are coming in.
Chinook fishing is usually good at this time of year on the Elk and Sixes but lack of rain has resulted in slow results.
Eastern – John Day steelheaders are finding nice, bright fish above Service Creek but most are natives which must be released. Brace for cold weather and chilly, fluctuating water levels here.
Effort in the John Day Pool is slowing, as is the success rates. It was a productive season.
The Grande Ronde is beginning to ice up, making for poor steelheading. Success rates will likely pick up again if temperatures warm.
SW Washington – Steelhead fishing is excellent on the Cowlitz River and should continue through the month. The best action is near the trout hatchery with boaters reporting almost a fish per boat average. Side drifted bait will produce the best results this time of year.
The Kalama and North Fork Lewis are also steelhead options but aren’t producing nearly like the Cowlitz system.
The Washougal is also a fair option with improving numbers into mid January.