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Oregon Forecast for February

By Scott Richmond

Oregon Rivers in General

What to Expect in February:

Steelhead. In general, February rains are not like November. Usually it rains hard, then clears up for awhile, then rains again. This is good for steelheaders. The rain freshens the fish that are already in the rivers, and causes new fish to enter. However, you still need to check the river levels before you go. Understand the trend: are the flows dropping following a spike, holding steady at a moderate level with daily rain showers, rising quickly, or low and steady after a spell of dry weather. The only scenarios that are good for fishing are the first two.

Typically, mid-to late-February is when native steelhead arrive. Good coastal options near Portland include the Wilson, Trask, and Necanicum. The Sandy and Clackamas are good urban options for those living near Portland.

The south coast (below Bandon) has better opportunities in February than in January (March is good, too). The upper Rogue is a better option for March and April, but it usually sees some winter fish in late February.

As always, the winter steelhead mantra is "clearing and dropping, clearing and dropping." That means you want to be on the water after (not during) a storm, when the river is dropping and is starting to clear. Ideally, visibility should be 2-3 feet. If you're not sure if the river is clear enough, wade in up to your knees; if you can't see the toes of your boots, go home.

Since you can expect cool water for another couple of weeks--at least--remember the usual winter admonition that steelhead will hug the bottom and be hard to budge. Under these conditions, a steelhead will seldom move more than 18 inches to either side or a foot upwards. They won't move down. So your fly needs to travel very close to the fish and at or just above the fish's eye level.

There are two primary ways to do that: use a sink-tip line and present the fly on a classic wet fly swing; or use indicator tactics. The latter works best when you're fishing ledges, slots, and pocket water. It's can also be the most productive tactic when the water is very cold (under 40). For general advice on when to use which tactic, see Indicator Tactics vs. Swinging Flies.

Swinging flies can be productive, but here's something to think about: fish are often in the softer water near the bank. A lot of anglers use a sink-tip line and a weighted fly, so the fly continues to sink as it nears the bank. Then it hangs up on the bottom just as it's hitting "the zone" where the fish are. My personal preference is to use an unweighted fly and rely on the line take the fly down. That way my fly lingers in the zone for a longer time. Your experience on your rivers may differ, but that's my two cents worth.

Before you go steelheading, check the river levels: sudden surges will put the fish off the bite, and very high water will make the rivers too muddy for fishing.

Every stream clears at a different rate, depending on its gradient, the condition of the surrounding banks, and the state of tributaries. The best bet is to pick one or two favorites and learn how they behave under different conditions. After a bit of observation you'll learn the levels at which a stream fishes best. For additional advice on river levels, see What's the Best Level.

Trout. For trout anglers, this is definitely a better month than January. Blue-winged olive hatches will become more intense as the month progresses. They'll last into April. While the duns hatch in the early afternoon, the nymphs are active most of the daylight hours; they are frequently found drifting in the current near the river bottom. In the mornings you should tie on a size 18 gold-ribbed Hares Ear or Pheasant Tail on a dropper rig with a big stonefly imitation on the point--or use a "tool" fly to get your small offering down (see the article Tool Flies).

However you rig up, drift your flies through runs with slow to moderate flow and along current seams near riffles. In some areas you will pick up whitefish by the score, but in others you will find trout.

About noon or 1:00 you should start to see some blue-winged olive duns on the surface. One day out of three produces a good hatch. Generally, overcast or cool, drippy days prolong and intensify the hatch, bringing more trout to the surface. Sometimes the best hatches occur when the weather is warming up after a couple of cold days. My go-to fly for this hatch is an olive size-18 Sparkle Dun, but I admit to catching a lot of trout on a size-16 Parachute Adams when I've left my box of Sparkle Duns at home.

The slow-to-moderate speed runs where you cast a nymph in the morning (see above) are good, but the best dry fly action should be in the backeddies because the duns get trapped there and become easy pickings for trout.

Near the end of the hatch and for about an hour afterwards, use a size 18 Soft Hackle with a gray-olive body or a similarly-colored fly tied like a Diving Caddis, or try Jeff Morgan's Diving Baetis pattern. Dead-drift this fly, giving it an occasional jig with your rod tip. This simulates female blue-winged olives that crawl below the surface to lay their eggs. A small split shot may be needed for some runs.

Other than the blue-winged olive hatch, look for midges in the afternoon. Present a midge pupa on a dead-drift just below the surface if you suspect the trout are taking them (and maybe even if you don't). Backeddies, slow runs, and places where the current is compressed (such as around a rock) are good places to look for midging trout.

An often over-looked winter trout food is spotted caddis larvae. A Zug Bug imitates them well. Dead-drift it near the bottom along current seams and in slower water below a riffle or drop-off.

Little brown stoneflies are also present this month. There aren't many of them, but when one lands on the water it is unlikely to be left alone if a trout is nearby. Try a size 16 black Elk Hair Caddis or Parachute Black Stone near the banks, or a size 14 black Hares Ear near the bottom.

Whitefish are still spawning, so drifting an Egg Fly near the bottom can be a good way to pick up trout. Whitefish eggs are small and pale.

Near the end of February, some of the Willamette Valley rivers, such as the McKenzie and Willamette, may have hatches of March browns if the weather is warm and rivers aren't too high. A size 12 Comparadun, Sparkle Dun, or CDC Cripple works well.



Oregon Lakes in General

What to Expect in February:

Most lakes are closed for the season, and many that are technically open will be frozen over or access will be blocked by snow. However, by the end of the month, we could be seeing some of these lakes open up. It's possible that Chickahominy, Mann, and Davis will be fishable at the end of February IF there is a warm stretch. Mann Lake is a viable spring option, but don't plan a February trip here; wait until March or April



Clackamas River

What to Expect in February:

You should find a few hatchery steelhead at the beginning of February, with native winter steelhead arriving late in the month. You'll probably do best after the weather warms up and a little (not a lot) of rain falls.

The stretch between the Feldheimer and Barton boat ramps has good fly water, and the Barton-Carver section is also decent. Below Carver there is less fly-friendly water. There is also good bank access near the two McIver Park boat ramps. Private property limits access to the Clackamas, so it is difficult for fly anglers to fish this river without a boat.

Large flies with a beefy profile can work well in winter when using traditional tactics. Egg Flies can be productive when presented with indicator tactics. Use the latter tactic around rocks and ledgy areas.

Look for a river stage of around 12.5-13.5 feet on the Estacada gage. After a major rain, the Clackamas drops and clears more slowly than other rivers in the area.

The Eagle Creek tributary used to be a good February option. There is amble bank access via trails and turnouts along the road (boating is not an option here). Eagle Creek clears very quickly after a major storm. You want to be there within 48 hours after the rain stops or slows down. Use indicator tactics for most runs on Eagle Creek. Look for places where the water slows and deepens or runs at moderate speed through a slot. However--this once strong hatchery-based run has faded in recent years, and you check with a reliable local source before heading to Eagle Creek.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Clackamas River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Crooked River

What to Expect in February:

Try size 16-18 orange Scuds; dead drift them near the bottom, or slowly retrieve them in slow water. An Egg Fly is also a good choice because whitefish are spawning and trout eat the roe.

Look for hatches of midges and blue-winged olives at midday. The latter should improve throughout the month, with cool (not cold) and overcast or rainy days providing the best fishing. Use a Sparkle Dun, Baetis Cripple, Parachute Baetis, or CDC Baetis during a hatch. Before the hatch, dead-drift a size-18 Pheasant Tail or dark Hares Ear near the bottom. This strategy can also be productive during a hatch.

When midges are active, try a size-20 Griffiths Gnat with a size-20 CDC Bubble Brassie on a dropper in slow water. Good choices when fishing deep are a size 18 black Palomino Midge or a size 6-10 Cranefly Larva.

Zug Bugs can also be effective here. Dead-drift them near the river bottom.

You might spot some little brown stoneflies near the end of the month.

Mild conditions will improve trout fishing, but a spell of cold weather will slow down the hatches and the fish.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Crooked River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Deschutes River, Lower

What to Expect in February:

Look for blue-winged olive hatches just past noon, but don't confine your efforts to dry flies. A gold-ribbed Hares Ear or Pheasant Tail (size 18-20) presented near the bottom is a good tactic when there's no hatch. Another good nymph pattern is the Zug Bug. It imitates drifting spotted caddis larvae, which are common in the upper 60 miles of the river.

Watch the rise forms during a hatch of blue-wings. If you only see the dorsal and tailfins, the trout are probably taking emergers below the surface. A good choice is a small Soft Hackle or a Smurf Emerger. The latter is tied on a size 18 hook. Use a rust Antron tail, then twist a strand each of peacock and black KrystalFlash and wrap it for a body. The thorax is dark gray dubbing, and the wing is one turn of quail breast. Fish either fly just below the surface on a dead drift in a back eddy.

Don't ignore spinner falls. They're happening around 2:00 p.m. to 4:00. A Rusty Spinner or Diving Baetis can work well.

On a good day, you can encounter a blizzard hatch of BWOs. This can be hard to deal with because your fly is one speck amid a multitude of naturals. Two ways to deal with this: concentrate your fishing at the beginning and end of the hatch when there aren't as many bugs; use a larger fly, such as a size 16. At this time of year I've been able to get away with a bigger fly during a BWO hatch. It's not only easier for you to spot, but trout are attracted to it too (maybe; no promises!). Sometimes a darker pattern can be more effective, as well.

A size 14 black Elk Hair Caddis or Parachute Black Stone is a good February choice, too. The little brown stoneflies are not a prolific hatch, but the adults are seldom ignored by trout. See Small Brown Stoneflies for details.

Egg Flies are a productive tactic at this time of year. The river has more whitefish than trout, and they are spawning now. Trout will take roe that is drifting near the bottom. Near the mouth, Egg Flies are a good plan because that section of the river has a lot of whitefish and they are still spawning.

You may encounter some caddis around mid-month, as well as a few Skwala stoneflies.

Some steelhead are still available. Most of them have moved into tributaries by now, but a few fish are left in the mainstem. They will be heading onto their spawning redds, so it's best to leave them alone this month.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Deschutes River, Lower report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Deschutes River, Upper

What to Expect in February:

Fishing can be fair this month in the Terrebonne area, but only when the river isn't high; check with a local source for currrent conditions. Expect blue-winged olives, midges, and some little brown stoneflies.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Deschutes River, Upper report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Fall River

What to Expect in February:

When you come here for winter fly fishing, set your expectations: if you can get in three hours of good dry fly fishing, you're lucky. Blue-winged olives, midges, and small caddis hatch on many days. For blue-winged olive hatches, go for a CDC Baetis or Sparkle Dun, size 18. Blue-wings are reluctant to hatch if it's very cold, however.

Little brown stoneflies are not uncommon in February, so be prepared.

During midge hatches, use a pupa pattern on a 7X tippet, or a Sprout Midge or a Griffiths Gnat.

You might see a size 12 rust-colored caddis in the headwaters area.

You might also try a caddis imitation with a midge pupa or emerging midge on a dropper.

If you fish the pools between the campgrounds and the headwaters, remember that they can hold some nice trout, but they will be extremely wary; if they see you, that's the end of your chances.

The river is closed below the falls.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Fall River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Grande Ronde River

What to Expect in February:

If it's not too cold, you might find some steelhead in the La Grande area and near the hatchery.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Grande Ronde River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Klamath River

What to Expect in February:

The Keno stretch offers excellent fishing for 14-18 inch rainbows, and a few fish that are bigger. If the flow from Keno dam is under 1,200 cfs, fishing can be good.

If conditions look good, dead drift a large, dark fly, such as a Rubber Legs or Woolly Bugger, past rocks, along seams, and in pocket water. Low temperatures will make the trout unwilling to move far for a fly, so your presentation has to be right on the money. If you get no takers, keep casting through the same water; one of your drifts may move three inches to the left and find a large trout.

The stretch below Boyle Dam should have good fishing for 12-15 inch wild rainbows. Zug Bugs and spotted caddis larva patterns are a good choice. However, the road into this area is poor under the best of conditions, and icy, wet weather make it even worse. Save this one for warm, dry spells.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Klamath River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



McKenzie River

What to Expect in February:

February can offer some good angling here when the river is not too high or muddy; most of the fishing is in the lower reaches.

Hatches of blue-winged olives are not uncommon, and by the end of the month we could see March browns on both the McKenzie and Willamette. I've done well here in late February on a size-14 Parachute Adams, my standard dry fly when nothing is happening and I feel more like a dry than a wet.

The upper Willamette between Harrisburg and Armitage Park is an excellent venue during the spring. If you're working this stretch in late February, two good spots to look for trout are backeddies and along clay banks that absorb the sun and have 2-3 feet of water next to them.

If March browns start to hatch, use a size 12-14 brown Comparadun, Sparkle Dun, or CDC Cripple. Look for hatches within a few hundred yards of a riffle--either below or above it--in areas of moderate flow. Hatches should start around 1:00.

Egg Flies are also a good choice here because the whitefish are spawning.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the McKenzie River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Metolius River

What to Expect in February:

Snow can be an issue here. In winter, they plow the road from Camp Sherman to the hatchery. Beyond that, you're on your own. Parking areas can be tricky for 2WD vehicles due to piled up snow.

As usual, February offers good but difficult opportunities for fly anglers. Winter fishing is usually best on mild days when the temperature reaches the high 40s. In the upper part of the river, golden stoneflies are a major part of the biomass, so dead-drifting an imitation can be productive. A red Bubble Back Emerger, Serendipity, or CDC Bubble Emerger is a good fly to team with the golden stone nymph.

Blue-winged olive hatches should be on the upswing during the month. Sparkle Duns and Baetis Cripples are good choices during a hatch. The rest of the time, a size-18 nymph imitation, such as a Pheasant Tail, will pick up trout. Team the nymph with a big stonefly imitation and give the trout two choices.

Midge hatches are another occurrence on the river this month. Red Serendipities and other pupa/larva pattern should be in your box. Watch hatches carefully: what you may think is a blue-winged olive hatch may actually be midges. Carry some Griffiths Gnats as well as Sprout Midges for a dry fly option.

You should see some Cinygmula hatches this month. They may fade if cooler weather returns, but be prepared. Watch, too, for March browns if February's weather is mild. But before you tie on a March brown imitation, make sure the trout are actually taking them. Just because it's hatching, it doesn't mean the trout care.

The silver stripe caddis (think of an October caddis that hatches in spring) is often active in February. Trout are more responsive to a pupa patterns, such as the Bird of Prey (available at The Fly Fisher's Place), than to an adult.

Bull trout are a winter option on the Metolius, and this is probably the only river in the state where you don't have to feel guilty about fishing for this endangered species. Look for water that is at least three feet deep, is reasonably slow, and has structure (wood, rock, etc.). Swing and/or retrieve a large streamer--a VERY large streamer, like six inches or so. Bull trout are not spectacular fighters, but they're big and powerful.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Metolius River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Owyhee River, Lower

What to Expect in February:

The Owyhee runs at a trickle in winter, if it runs at all (ice). When it warms up and thaws, expect midday hatches of midges and blue-winged olives, with the latter more important at the end of the month. A streamer pattern can work well, too. When fishing the latter, an intermediate line will be sufficient most of the time; it can get weedy in those pools. Don't be put off by the turbid water.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Owyhee River, Lower report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Rogue River, Upper

What to Expect in February:

Some winter steelhead will arrive in the upper Rogue this month, and a few summer runs are left over, too. Look for river levels under 2,000 cfs at Dodge Bridge. Fishing will be better during mild weather.

The Rogue has excellent hatches of March browns, and sufficient numbers of trout to gobble them down. Hatches may begin before this month ends. Some of the best fishing is in the middle Rogue (below Grants Pass) and the wild-and-scenic canyon. Wintering half-pounders will take your dry fly or a nymph below riffles. The river is open for trout through the end of March, except the "Holy Water" below Lost Creek Dam which is open all year.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Rogue River, Upper report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Sandy River

What to Expect in February:

The Sandy clears quickly after a rain, and it fishes well when it's on the high side. That makes it a good winter steelheading option, although it's certainly been discovered by fly anglers. The east wind can be a problem here, so when it's blowing hard in the Gorge it can be nasty on the Sandy, especially from Dabney Park to the mouth.

Mid-February is usually a lull between the hatchery run and the wild run. However, wild fish are available.

Fishing should be good between Dodge Park and Dabney Park. The area around Oxbow Park has good public access for bank anglers on both sides of the river. Boaters will find easy water between Oxbow and Dabney, but the Dodge to Oxbow run has a tough rapids at the upper end; it isn't suited to hard boats such as McKenzie-style driftboats.

Type 3 sink-tip lines are sufficient for most runs. Black or red Steelhead Bunnies are effective flies for winter fishing here.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Sandy River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Umpqua River, North Fork

What to Expect in February:

The bulk of the winter steelhead don't show up in the fly-section until March and April, but you may find some fish in February.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Umpqua River, North Fork report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.



Williamson River

What to Expect in February:

Closed.

For more on February tactics and flies, see the Rivers in General report. See the Williamson River report for current conditions, hatches, guides, and other information.




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