Fly Fishing in Oregon: January, February, March

This is the first of what will be a quarterly article on helping you know what fly fishing opportunities are potentially worth checking out. While each state, Oregon especially, has a lot of area to cover, we hope to give you a general idea of fisheries that are worth exploring at the very least.

This article is to give you a general idea of what opportunities are available in Oregon during the months of January, February and March. This is not a complete list by any means, but gives an idea of the big picture to hopefully give you some inspiration to get out and explore!

Winter Steelhead

Like anywhere else, the runs aren't what they once were. That said, Oregon does still have some runs that can absolutely be worth the effort.

Where: Winter steelhead tend to be lower river spawners, and tend to stay west of the mountains. The lower Columbia River tributaries below Bonneville, and the popular rivers that flow in to Tillamook Bay are great places to learn. For those who want to drive a ways from the major population centers, SW Oregon has some very fun places to put on your radar as well.

Gear: The most common rod setups tend to be 13' 7wt spey rods, and 9' 7-8wt single hand rods. A bit surprisingly, unlike WA, it seems the majority of effort is put in on swinging spey rods. A standard Skagit setup with moderate sink tips should get you fishing effectively in most situations. Indicator rigs tend to be more favored on the smaller coastal streams.

Flies: Depends on who you ask. I come from the school of thought that the fly is the least important part of the winter steelhead setup. The most important part is getting it in front of a fish. My personal fly box for winter steelhead has evolved over time from having a wide range of different colors, shapes and sizes, to having 4 solid rows of the same black and purple Hoh bo spey. Pick a fly, and fish it with confidence.

Fly tied by @jasmillo - when swinging in just about any water clarity, black and purple is tough to beat. These articulated patterns can add some nice action while it swings.
@singlehandjay tied this married wing pattern - swinging classic style patterns and connecting to a fish with them is one of the most rewarding ways to get the job done for many anglers.

Fly tied by @Westelyea - sometimes they want something with more color. Many steelhead anglers will insist that brighter colors will attract the more aggressive fish.
While not the most glamorous, the egg sucking leech and its variants have caught a LOT of steelhead, both swinging and under an indicator. This assortment was tied by @Matt B

Advice: Timing is everything. What that means? Well, it depends. I've been out for a week straight, hooked 7 fish one day, 1 the next, and 0 the rest of the week. It's just a matter of being there when the fresh fish move in. If you're there and not getting anything, it doesn't necessarily mean you're doing anything wrong. The fish just might not be there.

Trout Streams

While it may not seem like it should be the case, trout fishing in streams is very much a thing this time of year if you know where to look.

Where: Central Oregon is ground zero... Or the region to look that is. If the waterway is open to fishing, and most of the moving water is open (but please check the regs), then there are trout feeding. The Deschutes has a few well known spring creeks tributaries with steady year round temps. Hardly a secret, the Metolius is one of Oregon's most famous trout fisheries for good reason, and can be a great place to change things up with some bull trout.

Gear: Depends on your preference! Euro nymphing is all the rage these days, so if you want to get in on that, a Euro Nymphing setup can provide a lot of action. If you want to stick to more classic methods or standard nymphing, the rod choice is going to depend on your fishery you're targeting. When in doubt, a 9' 5wt or 8'6" 4wt with a weight forward floating line can cover just about anything. For bull trout on the Metolius, a heavier 9' rod like 7-8wt can be great for throwing bigger streamers. Some even break out their 6wt spey rods!

Flies: While your dry fly hatches may be pretty sparse and very much on the small side, fish will be looking up more than you'd think for the colder months. The warmer temps of the spring creeks are where most of the surface action happens. If going sub-surface, your standard searching patterns are a great place to start.


This sculpin pattern tied by forum member @Brute would be an excellent choice to have in the box for bull trout.
This nymph tied by @Tom Butler would be an excellent choice to have on hand for both Euro Nymphing as well as drifting under an indicator.
Various caddis nymphs and stoneflies should be in every nymph box. These deer hair head caddis nymphs from @Wes Penny would be an excellent pattern to run when you're getting dialed in.
It helps to have an assortment of smaller dry flies on hand in case some hatches go off. These Parachute Adams from @Dave Boyle are a perfect example of a great pattern to match a few different types of hatches.

Advice: This can be a great time of year to find better fishing than you'd expect, and less crowds than the summer/fall months.

Stillwater Trout

Where: Much like the trout streams, this is a Central Oregon game. The Cascade Lakes and reservoirs are where the bulk of these fisheries happen.

According to reports from Jeff Perin of The Fly Fisher's Place in Sisters, OR: Haystack and Prineville Reservoirs should have some opportunities while some of the others wait to clear from snow and ice. For bull trout, the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook can also be a sneaky fun fishery for something totally different when it opens.

Gear: Depends on who you ask! If you're exploring, might not hurt to take a few sinking lines along with a slip indicator rig. Standard 9' 5-6wt rods are used by most, but some lake enthusiasts prefer longer 10' rods to make casting from a float tube or pram easier.

Flies: Whether stripping on a sinking line or drifting under an indicator, various leech patterns seem to be the most favored among the stillwater enthusiasts this time of year. But don't be afraid to try something else! Various streamers and nymph patterns can save a day when the usuals aren't getting it done!

@Oliver1329 nailed it with this one. Having a few things like this in your box is hard to beat for stillwaters any time of year.
Leeches get all the attention, but don't overlook nymphs and soft hackles! @Tom Butler tied these March Browns up, and they'd absolutely get a look from trout in these lakes.
As @Jack Devlin notes in his post, the zug bug has been catching trout for over 90yrs! A cold lake is the perfect situation to carry on that legacy.
This particular pattern from @Irafly would work for just about anything, but would be especially dialed for staging bull trout.

Advice: Dress warm and check reports! The fly shops in Sisters and Bend, OR are great resources to find out what's happening in the area's lakes. This can be a challenging time of year to dial in, but the rewards make it so worth it!

Now that you have a general idea of what's available, you should have enough info to get started! Calling up or stopping by the fly shops near you or near the fisheries you're headed to is one of the best ways to get the scoop before you head out. And if you're not already a member, joining our community forum and asking questions is always a great way to connect to other anglers and learn as well!
About author
Evan B
Evan is one of the original co-founding members of PNW Fly Fishing. He was working full time in the fly fishing industry since 2010, moving on in 2023 to other things. He helped build and grow some of the most recognized brands in the fly fishing world.


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