The latest installment of Buzz Ramsey’s Outdoor News (see column below) casts into the Northwest fishing guru’s ocean of fishing knowledge and pulls up yet another of his many meticulous strategies to increase chances of success with rod and reel.
In this case he discusses drifting techniques for winter steelhead, which is a season and species anglers get pretty excited about around here. Although rivers have seen ups and downs in numbers over the years, winter steelhead – both hatchery and wild – return in strong numbers to local rivers like the Hood, White Salmon and Klickitat (to name a few) and are among the most fun and feisty freshwater fish to pursue.
Prior to Powerdale Dam’s removal in 2010, steelhead angling was restricted in the Hood River to about four miles of water between the dam and the confluence with the Columbia, while fish biologists kept a close watch and control on what fish passed to the rest of the watershed upstream.
Since the dam was removed, however, fish have had a free run of the river, and angling has been opened in the mainstem from the Columbia upstream to the area near Punchbowl Falls in Dee. For many who call the area home and put in enough time casting flies, drifting egg clusters, twitching jigs and unsnagging spinners along the banks of the local rivers, winter steelhead season is a reward for the patience and persistence required to feel successful in a sport like fishing.
The Hood River run of winter steelhead typically occurs in late winter, as explained by the Oregon Depratment of Fish and Wildlife in a recent report.
“As one of the easternmost populations of winter steelhead in the Columbia Basin, the Hood River run is later than most winter run populations,” the report explains “Unlike most winter steelhead streams, the Hood River provides steelhead fishing opportunities for summer and winter run steelhead during the winter months. Angler opportunity peaks, however, when the winter run steelhead begin returning in late winter.”
Winter steelhead typically start appearing in the Hood in late December, but the run doesn’t peak until April, when the combination of wild and hatchery fish released into the river each year make their way back to their home waters. Although there are peaks and valleys in the action, however, the Hood River offers opportunities to catch steelhead all year.
“The hatchery population is partially comprised from wild broodstock, so hatchery and wild fish return at nearly the same time,” the report notes. “While the winter run may be late in the Hood, anglers should not discount the opportunity to fish early in the season for early returning winter run fish, while also fishing for holdover summer run fish, or late into the winter run season, for the early returning summer run fish.”
Because of its proximity to a large mountain, the Hood River is of a relatively high gradient and can change flow rapidly. For best results, experienced anglers watch weather conditions and water levels to pick times when flow and turbidity are at their most opportune.
“In general, anglers will find best fishing on dropping flows following high water events,” the report reads. “The Hood is typically higher gradient, which tends to reduce the number of pools. Anglers should not overlook riffles with boulders, or pocket type water, where steelhead may be holding … Successful anglers on the Hood River traditionally drift fish with bait or artificials; however, anglers casting spinners or even flies will also catch fish.”
After the removal of Powerdale Dam, public access to the once-popular stretch of river just below the dam was restricted by adjacent property owners. The lowest section of river can still be accessed from the former powerhouse road off of Highway 35, which is now owned by Hood River County in partnership with Columbia Land Trust. Upstream of there, public access to the river is limited to just a couple sites — chiefly Tucker Bridge, Tucker Park and Punchbowl Falls.