Demystifying the Steelhead and the Wilson



New member
Jul 11, 2009
Close in Portland
Hey all. I'm Brian. I grew up fishing with the pops and have taken a good 12 years off. Work has gotten intense and so I've decided I need an escape.

My hatred for crowds has led me west to the Wilson. It's a beautiful river. I was fishing with dark Blue Foxes (2's and 3's) this week when I went for the first time. It was a great trip. I was rigged up for drifting but avoided it because I suck at it and wanted a bit more experience.

My dad and I did a lot of steelhead and salmon fishing but I was so young I don't remember the details very well. Since then it's been mostly occasional fly fishing stints over the years.

I get the impression that Steelies are not too common on the Wilson this time of year, but they are around. I didn't see any. The low Wilson doesn't look like a river I would guess there are many big fish in. Lots of slow water, occasional riffles but generally it's the kind of water I've learned to assume is too small for steelies.

When I look at a river, I look at it like I'm fly fishing for trout because that's the way I know how to fish. I look for tailouts where the water is deeper and slowing. I cought a bunch of trout on Friday, a few BEAUTIFUL and decent sized redbands and others. No Steelhead though.

Are they in there when the water is this low and not very fast? Is it worth going back out for Steelies before the fall or should I give in and head for McIver? What does a holding spot look like? Are they usually in tailouts?

I know I'm throwing out a lot of questions. I've read almost every thread on the Wilson on here. I want to own the Wilson. I want the Wilson to own me. Hah. I just really want to understand the Wilson River. I need to hit the right holes obviously and I think I failed to do that. But I have a hunch it's pretty dang hard to catch biggies in this water between Late June and first rain in the fall.

Thanks for all your help, everyone. This forum has been a real treasure.


Well-known member
Feb 18, 2009
Beaverton, Oregon
I share your love for the Wilson. It is probably my fav. place to camp and fish. I never have been able to get a Steelhead outta there though. I haven't been targeting them too long though this fall will be a year. I have been succesfully fishing it for trout for years though. I think your right about the fall and the rains bringing the big uns. I gotta say your wrong about it being to small for big fishies. Believe you me Steelhead spawn in much smaller waters than the Wilson. I have seen them many times in streams no more than 7-8 ft across. When the rains come so will the fish. This fall though there will be searun cutties and Coho in there as well. Let me know if you want to hit it up sometime. I'm always up for new fishing buddies!


Feb 12, 2009
on the edge
the wilson is actually a stunning example of the perfect steelhead river, clear water is your biggest enemy there... you have to hunt fish on the wilson. some of the best steelhead rivers in the world are smaller than the wilson.


Nov 6, 2008
West of Forest Grove
hahaha I actually like the deception the Wilson casts on most new comers. Used to keep a lot of people out. Truth be told the Wilson is one of the top steelhead rivers around. Up until a month ago I was catching many nice steelhead up to 4 per hole in my favorite holes. Everyone seems to think that the summer run is due in or is on it's way, well I think those folks will be very dissapointed because from what I have seen in the last 12 weeks of closely monitoring the 21 mile stretch of fishy water, that run has came and went! Blink and you could miss it and that is what happened this year, one nice week of rain and one nice weekend of sun, lots of chrome for the next 3 weeks and then suddenly it's all over. The water as of tuesday afternoon was less than adequate. I don't need to talk about fall rains as a couple others have already covered that. All I can say is that don't underestimate the mighty Wilson.
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