Winter trout fishing within an hour of Portland?

Peaceful

Peaceful

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This obsession.

It's keeping me up at night, cross-referencing fishing regs with google maps while listening to Joe Rodder and Tom Rosenbaur podcasts and Jenson "As It Happens" fly fishing youtubes.

I'm looking for some trout water within an hour of Portland.

Here's what I've been trying... Tualatin. Went up to the headwaters of the Tualatin this week, kind of blindly. Unfortunately, too many tweakers have disrespected homeowners' private property up there -- the area is plastered with no parking, "get the hell out of here before we shoot you" signs (which I get). Caught a couple small trout on nymphs, but the whole time I was worried my car would be towed by the time I came out of the woods.

Seems like all the action is 2 hours+ out east or down south. I mistakenly thought the Molalla was open all year (I swear it was open, no?). I'm googling every little creek listed in the regs... seems like the Yamhill is open, but it looks like more people talk about warmwater species there?

Wondering what you Portland-area guys and gals do and where you go when you get the itch in the offseason. Don't need "holes" or secrets -- just hope. ;)
 
Peaceful

Peaceful

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Is the wilson river system out of reach for your 1hr distance limit? I understand that trout season may have ended in October, but you shouldn't count out the impending Steelhead season. Most rivers support that fishing year round.
I guess I'm coming around on the steelhead idea, although I probably need to rethink my gear.
But yes, the Wilson's great in general; I love that river and I'm fishing within 70 minutes or so.
 
troutdude

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I guess I'm coming around on the steelhead idea, although I probably need to rethink my gear.
But yes, the Wilson's great in general; I love that river and I'm fishing within 70 minutes or so.
Yeah you MIGHT get by with good trout gear, for summer run steel (unless you need to horse them in, because your combat fishing a stream). But definitely NOT for winter fish! Plus a 9' or longer rod is needed for bobber doggin'. Because you want to try and keep the line OFF of the water, and tight to your bobber. Not to mention rods with more backbone, to battle larger and stronger fish. Heavier line that won't break OFF, etc.

And don't forget your tag & Columbia endorsement.
 
Peaceful

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And don't forget your tag & Columbia endorsement.
Glad you mentioned that because I'm slightly confused by the regs.

First question: why/when is the Columbia tag required?

Second, maybe you can settle a friendly argument I had with a fellow on the stream... I was lamenting the distance between Portland and trout streams in Winter, and the fellow said, "the Clackamas is open all year." To which I did this 🤔 and told him I was pretty sure it was closed until spring with exception of salmon and steelhead. He said "I grew up on the river and we fished it all year." Maybe this is a policy of the past? Or was it that he was fishing for trout but, if approached by ODFW, saying he was fishing for salmon and steelhead? Not sure, but it made me curious: how do they enforce?

Lastly, I'm curious why big rivers like the Clackamas are closed for trout fishing in winter?

Any insights on these 3 questions would be greatly appreciated!
 
troutdude

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@Peaceful page 8 of the regulations explains all about the Big C endorsement.


I'm not sure why the rivers are closed to trout fishing at this time of the year. Perhaps someone else can chime in. But you are correct; the Clack IS CLOSED for trout--and ONLY open for steelhead and salmon. Here are the specific regs:

Clackamas RiverMouth to River Mill Dam• 5 hatchery trout per day, no minimum length.• Open all year for hatchery salmon and hatchery steelhead.• Combined daily limit of 3 hatchery salmon or hatchery steelhead per day.• Use of bait allowed.• No angling from a floating device between River Mill Dam and the ODFW markers approx. 100 ft above the Clackamas Hatchery water intake.

Mainstem and tributaries (except Oak Grove Fork) above Faraday Diversion (Cazadero) Dam, excluding North Fork Reservoir and Faraday Lake• Harvest of bull trout prohibited.• No angling from a floating device or from the west shore for the length of the Three Lynx Powerhouse (111 ft).• Closed all year for salmon and steelhead.

Oak Grove Fork and tributaries between markers at upper end of Harriet Lake and Timothy Lake Dam• 2 trout per day, 8 inch minimum length.• No limit on size or number of brook or brown trout.

I don't recall a time when the Clack was open year round, for trout. Then again I never fished the Clack when I was young. So maybe once upon a time it was open year round?
 
Echskech

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@Peaceful, i had that very same conversation with a gentleman on the Wilson as he fished for trout. As he was a catch and release flyfisherman, he reasoned that the closure didn't apply. I "hmm'd 🤔" and went on my way. The regulation information is confusing but I always consider it such as, if the option isn't specifically stated then it shouldn't be done.
My assumption is that trout fishing (specifically) could cause stress to the salmon and steelhead by way of added fishing pressure, increased stream-side degradation and 100 othether reasons. I'm guessing that ODFW tries to protect these fishy assets (cash cows) as best as they can by restriction of trout fishing.

I could totally be wrong tho.. This is an opinion piece and you probably already assumed exactly what I said.

Tight lines, bud!
 
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olshiftybiscuits

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@Peaceful I think the reason so many of the streams around Hood and Portland close because they represent a perfect storm of factors -- the trout are spawning, anadromous fish are returning to spawn, they're close to a major metro area and most of them flow on public, easily accessible property. I do wish they'd be a bit more nuanced about which close and which are open. I don't think the Zig Zag would get overfished in the winter, it's not like the weather up there is great. A river like the East Fork Hood, on the other hand, should be closed because winter is the only time there's any visibility and locals would hammer it.

Systems to the west, like the Yamhill and its tributaries, I've always assumed they're open all year because ODFW can't reasonably pretend recreational fishing is the issue for fish populations in and around that much private property and farm land. They're essentially saying, "Sure, come fish year-round in a lost cause." They're also hard to access and have a short season, their low altitude makes them susceptible to blow out in the winter/spring and they get low quickly in the summer. And as a general rule, if a local stream is open for trout year-round, you're in tweakerville. I've spent the better part of the last two years on this same quest and I definitely understand your frustration/general discomfort with the parking situation.

In my experience, winter fishing in Oregon divides roughly into two chunks -- November - January and then February - April. I know April isn't technically winter, but it is at altitude, and altitude matters more than May 23 when it comes to good trout fishing close to Portland.

That first chunk is just rough, it's rainy, the weather is inconsistent, the flows are all over the place and in my opinion there just isn't anywhere within 90 minutes of Portland worth your time. The Lower Deschutes and Middle Fork Willamette are 2 and 2.25 hours from Portland, respectively, and they're so easy to access that the extra drive time is more than made up for by how quickly your bugs are in the water. Same goes for the Crooked. It's a lot of driving, but it's also a lot of fishing. Hard to say the same for a day spent looking for bridge easements on Gales, or wading through cow pies on the Yamhill.

In February, ODFW starts stocking low elevation lakes, like Hagg. Hagg is also worth fishing in December and January if weather allows, there are holdover rainbows and wild cutthroat in there, and you can fish all of the creeks that flow into the reservoir. The fish in those creeks are very small, but beautiful, and so is the scenery. You also don't have to worry about private property since it's in the middle of a park. Benson and Blue Lakes are also stocked starting in February and early March, but those lakes are entirely dependent on the stocking truck and with ODFW's schedule still offline, it'll be a guessing game. Blue Lake is about 15 minutes from Portland and has a fairly suburban park feel, Benson is a bit prettier, right next to Multnomah Falls. It's loud (the freeway is right there) and gets windy, but it's a fun place to hone your craft if still water fly fishing is new to you.

And depending on when the snow melts (and how badly the fires damaged the road in), Lake Harriet should be an option sometime in March or early April. It's about 90 minutes. Around that time, you might also consider hiking into Trillium, Mirror or Frog Lakes to see if they've thawed. After ice-off is one of the best times to fish the lakes up on Hood.

In general I can't stress enough how worth the effort is to perfect your still water techniques if you're a Portland fly fisher. The low elevation lakes will be an option months before the general trout season opens on the small streams, but that ends up being a footnote to the lake fishing in spring, summer and fall. If you fish the Zig Zag or Upper Clack all day for a week, you might get a fish a day over 10 inches and find one over 14 if you're incredibly lucky. The lakes hold trophy fish. They're a blast. I love small stream fishing more than anything, and had zero interest in still water when I moved to Portland. Now I spend my entire May and June and most of October ignoring them to fish lakes. The best part is that they're by far the closest options, too. You can be at Trillium or Frog Lake in an hour, Laurance or Harriet in an hour and a half, Lost Lake (the one on Hood, not the coast) 15 minutes further. Most of them are stocked, but all of them also hold self-sustaining populations of wild and native fish. You can catch wild cutthroat, brown, rainbow, brook and bull trout by visiting as few as two of them.

Side note, I noticed someone mentioned Tanner Creek above, but it's not open year-round. And sadly this year it was inaccessible, the trail that follows it is the same as a very popular hike that was closed off all year due to COVID. I have heard it's a fun fishery when it's open. It flows into the Columbia near Bonneville Dam, so it's well within an hour of Portland as well.
 
Peaceful

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@Peaceful, had you found some new winter fishing of any promise? Looking for an update on your quest.
That's a good way to put, @Echskech -- it has been a quest! I've been doing the 2-3 hour drives a lot lately, trying to hone my skills (read: patience) with high water streams. I was just reading a section of George Daniel's book, Dynamic Nymphing, where he describes fishing in winter/high water extremes: where I would normally get a fish in 2-3 drifts, I know better that in winter it'll be 30 drifts until I basically place the drift into the lethargic trout's mouth. 😅 That's exactly what I've been experiencing. ("Wow, I've never had to work so hard for a take let alone a fish in my net!" is a common thing I say to myself out there right now.)

Anyway, you're probably wondering more about where I'm testing myself and how those streams look right now, yeah? Recently, I've visited:
  • Crooked - yes, a longer drive, but absolutely incredible fishing. The access is unparalleled, in my experience, and EVERY pocket and seam seems to hold at least 3 fish. I had a half-day with 40+ trout in the net, one of them in the 17" range (which I'll gladly attach here, just so I can remember what trout look like during these dark, dark nights of the winter fishing soul :p).

  • McKenzie - after driving through Vida and the Holiday Farm aftermath, I couldn't imagine (recreationally) fishing it until I got way up in the mountains away from the disaster and clean up efforts. It took a lot of effort (theme of the month), but I did get several takes and one beautiful, beautiful redband landed in some slower pockets (again, 2-3 dozen deep, slow drifts later). I'll attach that redband here, too, because it's probably the prettiest fish I've ever seen and, again, I need some inspiration).

  • Deschutes - because, well, everyone said I really must. And they were all right. It is a big, harry river as (I think) @olshiftybiscuits put it in another post, but it's the one spot -- other than the Crooked -- where I expect at least a take with every drift. Plus, the fish there are just monstrously strong for their size; I'm surprised my pole hasn't snapped on a few of them. I have yet to do the lower lower part, north of Maupin, so that'll be next for me.

  • Fall Creek - I got interested in this one based on a bunch of people's comments here on OFF. Indeed, it looks like a fabulous small stream adventure, akin to the Wilson, maybe a bit smaller? Right now, it's chocolate milk and overflowing the banks. I didn't get a nibble, but I did leave a lot of perdigon nymphs on the sticks on the bottom, a sacrifice to the river gods. I'll come back to this one when things calm down -- it's really, really pretty out there.

  • Salmon Creek - drops into the Middle Fork Willamette... very pretty up there, water is high but still remarkably clear. Swift, too. I underestimate how easily 2 feet of water can sweep me off a slippery rock. I fished this pretty diligently this weekend, looking for all the soft spots, but came up empty.

  • Salt Creek - also drops into the Middle Fork, I think. I fell in love with the potential of this stream as I was driving out to K Falls this summer -- it's exactly what I like to fish. Lots of runs, pocket water, riffles -- just a gorgeous scene to behold. I'll attach an image of it here -- the one with the mist in the trees. :love: After trying several runs and pocket water (probably a mistake during winter anyway), I finally found some fish in some slow, deep eddies -- which instantly made the previous day's skunk smell (on the Salmon) disappear.

  • Metolius - I adore this "creek," though it humbles me more than it provides. I did finally break the spell with this vexing river a couple weeks ago when I picked up a nice redband and 3-4 whitefish. The next day, however, was a big ol' skunk despite a lot of sight fishing.

  • Gales Creek - access, access, access. I found one place to get in the water where I wasn't worried about getting shot, but it, too, was pretty darn fast and surrounded by needy brush.

  • Young's River - I haven't really figured out how to access the part of this river that's open all year, above the falls. This and the Lewis & Clark river both have some unanswered access questions, but in times of desperation, I do find myself looking for backroads and bridges and blue lines on my coastal map. ;)
@olshiftybiscuits that's one of the most well thought out responses ever! Welcome to OFF!
💯! Thank you for that super thorough response, @olshiftybiscuits , and the inspiration to finally pull my heels out of the ground when it comes to stillwater/lake trout fishing. I recently bought a used Watermaster raft off of craigslist in hopes that I can cover more water on the bigger rivers, but I might as well learn how to operate it out there on the lakes. Bonus points if I get some nibbles from trophy trouts! I'm also interested in checking out those creeks you mentioned. I don't care all that much about the size of the fish -- it's all going back in the water anyway, for me. How often do you get out to the lakes this time of year? Do you take a raft/boat? If not, what's your approach to finding the trout gems?
 

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olshiftybiscuits

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How often do you get out to the lakes this time of year? Do you take a raft/boat? If not, what's your approach to finding the trout gems?

Wow, that fish you pulled out of the Crooked is a true beauty. There was a big fish kill below the dam in 2017 (water management on the Crooked is notoriously awful) and while the numbers have recovered, the average size of the fish hasn't, so nicely done! And thanks for the report.

This time of year is tough for lakes, it's mostly limited to low elevation lakes for stocked holdovers. Or, since you've been covering some miles recently, you could check out the lakes on the coast near Florence -- Munsel, Cleawox, Siltcoos, Dune. Most of them depend heavily on the stocking truck, but Siltcoos is supposed to be the best place in the state to catch big coastal cutthroat. I've never fished any of these lakes myself, but I've stopped off at Dune shortly after the trout truck and it's fast fishing.

But with this unseasonably warm weather, Clear Lake up off 126 near Sisters is devoid of snow and accessible. There's some really nice weather coming in next week, too. My hope is that the Middle Fork will drop into prime shape right around the time those 60 degree days roll in, but if that doesn't happen I'll be headed to Clear Lake. It's the headwaters of the McKenzie, and one of the most visually stunning places to fish in the zone. Rainbows (stocked and wild) and brook trout. There are some good-sized fish in there. I'll also be keeping an eye on the weather/road access around Lake Harriet, but I have a feeling the main route in is going to be closed due to fire damage the entire season. Right now the only route is via 26 and Timothy, which I wouldn't recommend without a serious rig until the weather is quite nice.

I chatted with the folks at Blue Lake today, as far as they know they're still on the stocking schedule in 2021 and expect deliveries to start sometime in February. Same goes for Benson in the Gorge. COVID is the ultimate wildcard, but hopefully by the end of next month you'll have two options within 30 minutes of Portland to take your raft out. A WaterMaster is perfect for getting yourself to good fly water. I usually look for areas where the lake drops off sharply from shallow to deep, and then troll back and forth across that area with my rod pinned between my knees and a wooly bugger on an intermediate line with 4 feet of 3x until I find fish, then anchor up and cast in a 360 degree circle. Or I'll fish chironomids under an indicator. A front/back anchor system is key so that you don't swing around. In the winter the fish go to deeper water in big lakes like Hagg, but I don't bother fishing for trout in anything much deeper than 25 feet between April and November.

When it comes to the lakes up on Hood, I've found they're either so deep that the trout habitat is limited to the perimeter and therefore fairly easy to find, or they're shallow and you can find fish pretty much everywhere. Gary Lewis and Robert Campbell have an excellent book out called Fishing Mount Hood Country that is a really good intro to the local lakes and creeks. It's not comprehensive (or intended to be, a lot of the region is backcountry), and I find it to be a bit optimistic about the streams and maybe undersell a few of the lakes, but they clearly love fishing the area and provide the info in a way that still encourages you to find your own. You'll figure out quickly which lakes they've undersold. The one cryptic direction I'll give there is skip the popular lakes when they're popular (Timothy or Trillium on a hot July day I'd only recommend as some strange form of self-punishment), but don't skip them altogether. The biggest resident trout I've caught in my life knows the sounds of Highway 26 well.

A sneakily important part of stillwater fishing is your knots. Using a non-slip mono loop instead of a standard clinch gives your flies a much more lifelike appearance in water that isn't moving. If I go a weirdly long time without a take, 9/10 times I reel in to find I forgot to use the right knot. I'll let you know when Blue and Benson get fish and we can go do a mini tutorial. My price is half a beer for every fish you land, so standard industry rates.
 
Peaceful

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You'll figure out quickly which lakes they've undersold. The one cryptic direction I'll give there is skip the popular lakes when they're popular (Timothy or Trillium on a hot July day I'd only recommend as some strange form of self-punishment), but don't skip them altogether. The biggest resident trout I've caught in my life knows the sounds of Highway 26 well.

A sneakily important part of stillwater fishing is your knots. Using a non-slip mono loop instead of a standard clinch gives your flies a much more lifelike appearance in water that isn't moving. If I go a weirdly long time without a take, 9/10 times I reel in to find I forgot to use the right knot. I'll let you know when Blue and Benson get fish and we can go do a mini tutorial. My price is half a beer for every fish you land, so standard industry rates.
You're quite a writer, @olshiftybiscuits ! Great read, as always. I think you might be the one underselling a bit with those half a beer rates, no? Then again, my brother lives in Japan and is faced with the hard decision to pay $8 or $9 for a single craft beer ... or drink sake. Hard life, that is.

Regarding the cryptic direction, I think I'm picking up on what you're putting down. My parents have a little spot on the Salmon River, so I'm up on Hood often (and finding a surprising number of trout and whitefish in that river, btw!); I'll definitely do some further exploration of the lakes this winter. I'm surprised to hear that the knot type is so important, especially for the chironomid + indicator. Unless... are you trolling or otherwise twitching that rig, too?
 
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olshiftybiscuits

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You're quite a writer, @olshiftybiscuits ! Great read, as always. I think you might be the one underselling a bit with those half a beer rates, no? Then again, my brother lives in Japan and is faced with the hard decision to pay $8 or $9 for a single craft beer ... or drink sake. Hard life, that is.

Regarding the cryptic direction, I think I'm picking up on what you're putting down. My parents have a little spot on the Salmon River, so I'm up on Hood often (and finding a surprising number of trout and whitefish in that river, btw!); I'll definitely do some further exploration of the lakes this winter. I'm surprised to hear that the knot type is so important, especially for the chironomid + indicator. Unless... are you trolling or otherwise twitching that rig, too?

Jealous of your parents spot on the Salmon! That's one waterway I've never managed to figure out for trout. A lot of people swear by it, and it's certainly packed with whitefish, but the trout have eluded me for the most part. I certainly wouldn't mind picking your brain on that fishery if you don't mind sharing a tip or two (DM is just fine if you don't want to send everyone). It's such a beautiful river, and so close by. Getting that stream and the Collawash dialed are on my to-do list for the summer.

The chironomids tend to work best on their way up or down, so a small amount of wind (enough to put a ripple on the surface without pulling your flies out of the feeding zone) is ideal. I assume the loop allows the fly to move up and down with the bobbing of your indicator more naturally, but really I'm just guessing. It does seem that anytime I throw a mend and move the indicator a bit, it goes down not long after.

One time, because at some point in every day of fishing I become impatient and childish, I rowed across Trillium with my indicator and a couple of flies in the water behind me on 5x tippet. A big rainbow came up and tore my entire rig off. So I don't do that anymore! But the occasional twitch is essential. I also find lighting up a spliff or cigar to be very helpful on a slow day, the trout seem to know when you only have one hand available. Works with turkey sandwiches, too, but it's not as fun.
 
T

Troutlover

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This obsession.

It's keeping me up at night, cross-referencing fishing regs with google maps while listening to Joe Rodder and Tom Rosenbaur podcasts and Jenson "As It Happens" fly fishing youtubes.

I'm looking for some trout water within an hour of Portland.

Here's what I've been trying... Tualatin. Went up to the headwaters of the Tualatin this week, kind of blindly. Unfortunately, too many tweakers have disrespected homeowners' private property up there -- the area is plastered with no parking, "get the hell out of here before we shoot you" signs (which I get). Caught a couple small trout on nymphs, but the whole time I was worried my car would be towed by the time I came out of the woods.

Seems like all the action is 2 hours+ out east or down south. I mistakenly thought the Molalla was open all year (I swear it was open, no?). I'm googling every little creek listed in the regs... seems like the Yamhill is open, but it looks like more people talk about warmwater species there?

Wondering what you Portland-area guys and gals do and where you go when you get the itch in the offseason. Don't need "holes" or secrets -- just hope. ;)
I feel your pain. Ever since they stopped stocking the Clackamas with trout in the 90s I have wished for close in river, trout fishing again (I don't count the damned up parts of Clackamas as river fishing). It seems like around Portland the Salmon/Steelhead fisher people get all the best fishing. If you love trout fishing, the place to be is Eugene. My favorite close stream for trout is the Breitenbush river, but it is not open in the winter, is over an hour drive, and is probably a big mess after the fires. I have learned to lake fish but it doesn't really make me as happy.
 
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olshiftybiscuits

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I feel your pain. Ever since they stopped stocking the Clackamas with trout in the 90s I have wished for close in river, trout fishing again (I don't count the damned up parts of Clackamas as river fishing). It seems like around Portland the Salmon/Steelhead fisher people get all the best fishing. If you love trout fishing, the place to be is Eugene. My favorite close stream for trout is the Breitenbush river, but it is not open in the winter, is over an hour drive, and is probably a big mess after the fires. I have learned to lake fish but it doesn't really make me as happy.
The Breitenbush is actually open year-round for trout these days, although you’re right it is essentially inaccessible due to fire damage and road closures.
 
Peaceful

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The Breitenbush is actually open year-round for trout these days, although you’re right it is essentially inaccessible due to fire damage and road closures.
That's correct, it's gated off from the Detroit Lake entrance right up the road from what used to be a sweet little market/gift shop there on the corner. :(
 

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olshiftybiscuits

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That's correct, it's gated off from the Detroit Lake entrance right up the road from what used to be a sweet little market/gift shop there on the corner. :(
Oh man :( that’s rough. I haven’t been up that way since and didn’t realize that one didn’t make it. Might be a while before we’re all able to fish up that way again.
 

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