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5 Great Spots for Winter Steelhead

Winter is one of the prime seasons for chasing steelhead.

By Trent Jonas

5 Great Spots for Winter Steelhead
Photograph Courtesy of Tillamook Fishing Guide

Although steelhead are really nothing but ocean or lake-run rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), any angler who’s ever tried to hook one will tell you they’re oh-so-much-more than that—hence steelhead’s other moniker, “fish of a thousand casts.” Fishing for steelhead can consist of hours and days of frustration buoyed only by the hope of feeling that tug on your line. Getting a steelhead to the net makes the other 999 casts worth it. And then you can start over.

Although native to North American waters west of the Rocky Mountains, with a range from California to Alaska, steelhead have also been introduced to the Great Lakes region. No matter where you’re fishing for steelhead, winter is one of the prime seasons for chasing them. We’re not going to give away any secret spots, here, but will point you to some areas and guides that will make getting that Instagram picture all the more likely. Here are a handful of great spots for winter steelhead.

Tillamook Coast, OR

The Tillamook Coast of northwest Oregon is prime steelhead country, where trout make their runs up several coastal rivers, like the Trask, Wilson and Kilchis. Many of the area’s rivers flow into protected Tillamook Bay, which helps to make navigation a little less bumpy than elsewhere on the Oregon coast.

Check with a local fly shop or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for a fishing report before you head out. If you’re looking for a more individualized guide service, contact Tillamook Fishing Guide. They’ll get you out on the river and casting in the right spots.

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Manistee and Platte Rivers, MI

On Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, steelhead anglers may get lucky by casting their lines into the Platte and Manistee Rivers. The steelhead come into the rivers from Lake Michigan around September and stay mean and hungry through the winter.

Steelhead Hunters Guide Service is good bet for hooking into a trophy on the lower Manistee. They even offer a lodge if you’re looking for a place to stay that’s close to the fish.

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Olympic Peninsula, WA

The Olympic Peninsula, in Washington, while not exactly untrammeled, is remote enough to maintain a whole lot that’s pristine. And that includes the rivers where steelhead run during spawning season. For this reason, it’s a bit of a mecca for those who chase the fish of a thousand casts.

The best way to decipher the mysteries of the Olympic Peninsula’s steelhead is to go with a local guide who knows the ins and outs of the fish, the fisheries and the peoples of the peninsula. Ashley Lewis is just such a guide, and she will get you as close to a steelhead sure-thing as possible. 

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Salmon River, NY

In New York, the rivers that spill into far-eastern Lake Ontario are famous for steelhead. And, despite its name, none is more renowned for those big, wily trout than the Salmon River. Like most other steelhead fisheries, even in New York, winter is a prime time to chase them.

If you find yourself in the Northeast and have hankering to chase some steelhead this winter, call up Zero Limit Adventures. Their guides will get you where you need to be to have the best shot at netting a steelhead.

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Clackamas River, OR

Unlike a lot of trout fishing, which is often beloved for the scenery as much as the challenged, chasing steelhead does not always have to be a far-from-civilization experience. In Oregon, for example, you can hit the Clackamas River, which is just minutes outside of Portland, and find yourself in some of the country’s finest waters for steelhead.

Boost your chances and reduce the number of casts you have to make by heading out with an experienced local pro like STS Guide Service. Shawn is sure to get you to a superb spot for steelhead.

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