Home » Oregon » This Month

Oregon Forecast for December

By Scott Richmond

Oregon Rivers in General

What to Expect in December:

Despite the cold, wet, and sometimes snowy blasts that we usually see in November--and will likley see this month--December always has some respites when the days turn relatively mild. Save your fishing for those days, and don't blow your wad when there's little chance of success.

Steelhead. Ideally (for anglers), we want enough rain to bring fresh hatchery-bred steelhead into coastal streams, but not so much that the rivers go into flood stage. If we get those conditions, steelhead fly anglers will have decent fishing for late summer-runs and early winter-runs. However, if the weather is dry and cold, fish will become stale and reluctant to bite.

Rivers with strong hatchery-based runs are getting a few winter steelhead now. More will arrive by mid-month unless there's an extended dry spell. Some coastal options include the Nestucca/Three Rivers area (go mid-week or midday to avoid crowds), the Kilchis below the logging bridge, and the Necanicum. All have early steelhead runs. By late December, fish should start showing up in good numbers in the Clackamas and Sandy.

Nighttime temperatures are cool in December, and that means most rivers will be cold (under 45 degrees). Cold water means most 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 weighted fly with a sink-tip line and present the fly on a classic wet fly swing; or indicator tactics. The latter works best when you're fishing ledges, slots, and pocket water. It can also be the most productive tactic when the water is very cold (low 40s or less).

If the weather is dry and cold, you can expect steelhead to be less than aggressive. Light leaders and small flies will be needed on most streams under those conditions.

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. Remember, wade up to your knees; if you can't see your toes, go home.

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.

Trout.Trout fishing will slowly fade as the water cools. Trout anglers will have slim pickings this month, with the exception of winter stalwarts such as the Crooked, Metolius, and Fall rivers.

Blue-winged olives and midges are the main hatches on any stream this month. During emergences of blue-wings, use a Sparkle Dun or Baetis Cripple; see the article Fishing the Blue Winged Olive Hatch for more information on this hatch. And don't forget subsurface imitations of egg-laying females; see the article Go Below for BWO. On most streams, however, blue-winged olive hatches will be weak until late February.

For midge hatches, a Griffiths Gnat or Sprout Midge is a good dry fly choice. When fishing the dry midge, you might try tying 12 inches of leader to the hook bend, then tie a pupa pattern to the other end of it.

By the end of the month we might spot a few of the winter-hatching stoneflies known little brown stoneflies (they're black, but from the brown stonefly group). Tie on a size 16 black Elk Hair Caddis and cast it near the bank. You can also dead-drift a size-14 black Hares Ear or A. P. Black near the bottom..

Except for hatch periods, trout are more likely to take subsurface fare such as blue-winged olive nymphs. A size-18 Pheasant Tail or Hares Ear will work when dead-drifted near the bottom. One way to get it there is to use a two-nymph rig with a big nymph, such as a Kaufmanns Stonefly or Rubber Legs, on the point and the smaller fly on a dropper or as a trailer. Trout may take either fly, but are most likely to inhale the smaller one.

On any river with a good population of free-living caddis (spotted caddis and green caddis), a size 14-16 Zug Bug or Prince is a good choice because it resembles the larvae, which trout take all year.

Don't ignore whitefish this month. Trout tend to go semi-dormant as the river temperature drops, but whitefish are more tolerant of the cold and are more active than trout in December and January. You'll find them in slower runs, in slow water next to fast water, or in the slow pockets below the head of a riffle. They are schooling fish, so if you find one you've found the mother lode. If the trout prove elusive, go nymphing for whitefish; they'll pull your string, but not as hard as a trout would. If you're not picking them up, you're either in water that's too fast or your fly is not close enough to the bottom and you need a split shot on the leader.

Whitefish will be spawning in many rivers, and trout may take spilled eggs. See Egg Flies for some tips on fly patterns.



Oregon Lakes in General

What to Expect in December:

Lakes on the eastside of the Cascades will be too cold for good fishing this month. Gates to most of the access roads are closed anyway, even if there isn't enough snow to block access.

There aren't many westside lakes that are open, but if you visit one you'll need winter tactics. In general, stillwater fishing in winter calls for two approaches: fishing a midge pupa (static midge tactic) during a midge hatch that has rising trout; or count-down-and-retrieve with a Woolly Bugger or similar streamer pattern. Woolly Buggers and other streamers should be retrieved (or trolled from a kick boat) very slowly. If your retrieve isn't driving you nuts, it's too fast.



Clackamas River

What to Expect in December:

There should be some winter steelhead in the river, and more should enter in the last half of the month. The lower section--below Carver--should hold the most fish in December, although there is not as much fly water there as farther upstream.

Both traditional tactics and indicator tactics work well on the Clackamas in winter. Use the former in the runs, and the latter near rocks, rocky points, slots, and ledges.

Due to private property, it's difficult to fish very much of the Clack without a boat. However, there are numerous convenient boat ramps.

Look for river levels less than 13.5 feet on the Estacada gage. After a major rain, the Clackamas drops and clears more slowly than other rivers in the area.

For more on December 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 December:

Blue-winged olives hatch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. most days. During the hatch, size 18 Sparkle Duns and Baetis Cripples can be very effective. If you're only getting smaller trout, try going deep with a size 18 Pheasant Tail or dark Hares Ear dead drifted near the bottom. Sometimes the bigger trout stay low during the hatch instead of coming up.

Size 14-18 scud imitations with an orange tint are also effective. Drift the scud near the bottom, or slowly retrieve it in slow water.

When midges seem 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.

Black Woolly Buggers dead-drifted near the bottom can take some fish, too. Another fly to try is an Egg Fly, since whitefish are common in the Crooked and will be spawning this month. Zug Bugs can also be effective here.

When looking for a spot to fish, move slowly along the river. The Crooked is seldom fast, and trout tend to rise slowly and quietly. That makes it hard to spot rising trout unless you slow down and scan the water carefully.

If river flows are over 100 cfs, deep nymphing should work well. If it stays under 100 cfs, opt for shallow nymphing and dry fly fishing.

For more on December 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 December:

Steelhead.

Most of the steelhead action will be between Maupin and Warm Springs, but there are still a few steelhead from the mouth on up. There are always a few large B-run steelhead in the lower section of the river at this time of year. Fishing that part of the Deschutes in December is a low-percentage game, but you won't have much competition, and there is the opportunity to tie into a real trophy.

Despite the season you can still find plenty of anglers on the upper river in December, even mid-week. Don't be surprised if your favorite run has two or three fly fishers in it. If so, be philosophical and seek a new run.

For advice on whether to use a sink-tip or a floating line, see Sink-Tip or Floating Line?.

Trout. Trout fishing will be pretty slow for the next two months. You might have some luck during a blue-winged olive hatch, and trout will sometimes take drifting roe from spawning whitefish (try a size 18 peach Egg Fly; drift it near the bottom).

Many anglers look down their nose at whitefish, the trout's poor cousin, but whitefish are plentiful and they're more active in cold water than rainbow trout. They like small nymphs, so winter is a great opportunity to hone your subsurface skills. Besides, whitefish are better than no fish. Look for them in slow runs.

Remember that the west bank is closed along the Warm Springs Reservation (from Pelton Dam to river mile 69) and trout fishing is not permitted in November and December anywhere in that section (If you happen to be steelheading with a size 18 Pheasant Tail and accidentally hook a trout--just don't try to kill it and take it home; and remember, you were fishing for steelhead).

The major tributaries--Trout Creek, Warm Springs River, White River--can dump muddy water into the Deschutes after a big storm. However, if you fish between Warm Springs and Trout Creek you can usually avoid these problems. I've been to South Junction (below the Warm Springs confluence) when you couldn't see two inches into chocolate-colored water. But above the Warm Springs and Trout Creek, the river was a nice clear, green color.

Anglers coming to the Maupin area from Portland may find it faster to go through The Dalles and take highway 197 at this time. While it's farther, you seldom encounter snow, and that can make for a faster, safer trip.

For more on December 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 December:

Expect the middle Deschutes (Bend to Lake Billy Chinook) to be slow this month. You might pick up some trout on blue-winged olive and midge patterns in the Terrebone area. This area holds a mix of brown trout and rainbow trout. Those browns might be receptive to a streamer presented in pools and along the bank.

For more on December 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 December:

Blue-winged olives and midges will provide most of the action this month. Try a Sprout Midge on a 6X or 7X tippet, with a downstream presentation. If you don't see rising fish, forget the dry fly and use a small nymph, such as a size 18 CDC Bubble Brassie or Pheasant Tail, drifted near the bottom. Small worm imitations, such a tan San Juan Worm, may pick up fish if drifted near the bottom--especially if there's an angler wading upstream from you.

Little brown stoneflies (winter stones) may be available near the end of the month.

These fish see a lot of anglers, so stealth, long casts, and a downstream presentation help.

If the weather turns very cold, the trout will migrate upstream and congregate in the headwaters area. The hatchery area and the headwaters have the easiest access after the snow falls. There are some turn-outs on the road between those two points, and you can hike down to the river from these (it might be a hard slog coming back, however).

Felt soles are a problem when hiking on snow. The white stuff sticks to the felt, and you soon have shoes that have added six inches to your height--and greatly diminished your stability.

Remember, the river is closed below the falls.

For more on December 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 December:

In general, fishing will be slow when it's cold here. Steelhead will be available all winter, but

December is a risky month. Just getting to the Grande Ronde can prove difficult and dangerous in December.

IF you can safely get here, and IF the river is not blown out, use Freight Trains, Green Butt Skunks, and other traditional steelhead flies and a sink-tip line.

For more on December 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 December:

The Keno section opened up in October. For agile anglers who hike down the canyon, there are good numbers of 14-18 inch rainbows, and not a few trout around five pounds. On warm winter days, this short stretch of river can provide excellent angling.

Use large, dark nymphs and drift them near the bottom through pockets, along seams, and near boulders. Good choices are black or purple weighted Woolly Buggers and Rubber Legs, size 2-4.

The Keno section fishes well if the outflow from Keno Dam is low (under 1,000 cfs). If the flows are high but warm, fishing can still be good. But if the flows are high and the water is cold--as it often is in winter--the trout won't move to your fly and you might as well stay home. Check the temperature chart for Klamath Falls (on Westfly's weather page). That should give you an idea of how cold it has been for the previous seven days.

If it's been raining, the steep hike down to the river can be slippery and even dangerous. And once you're there, you can have even worse problems if the temperature has been cold because snow and ice will form on the rocks when the temperature is below freezing. It's tough to wade this area under normal conditions, but when you've got a few inches of snow or ice on those big boulders you've got a tricky prospect. Add frigid water if you fall in . . . well, it's better not to think too much about these things.

For more on December 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 December:

In general, this is not a great winter venue, but you can pick up fish if you work at it. The best bet will be between Hendricks Bridge and the mouth. Blue-winged olive hatches will be slow when it's cold, but can revive during a mild spell. Midge hatches can also bring trout to the surface. But mostly it's a nymphing game, especially above Hendricks. Size-18 Pheasant Tails, size 6-8 stonefly nymphs such as Kaufmanns Stonefly, and size-18 Hares Ears are all winter mainstays. Dead-drift them near the bottom. You might also try Egg Flies in peach or apricot--the river's whitefish will be spawning this month and trout will grab drifting roe.

For more on December 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 December:

The Metolius is near the Cascade crest, so it gets mountain weather in winter. Because it's spring-fed, the Metolius is a good option when storms have blown-out other rivers. The best strategy is to check the weather: if it's a gray, windy, low-pressure-system day, then drive to the Crooked River; if the wind isn't bad and the temperature in the high 40s are more, then fish the Metolius. (And if it's clear with temperatures in the teens, stay home by the fire and tie flies.)

Golden stonefly nymphs, blue-winged olives (dry and nymph), and midge patterns are useful. The best fishing will be from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with marginal fishing an hour either side of that.

When fishing either dry or wet, put a midge pupa pattern, such as a CDC Bubble Brassie, on a dropper. Egg Flies may also work as the whitefish start to spawn. J.

Bull trout fishing should be decent. Use large streamer patterns (big!) near structure such as rocky points, logs, and other ambush points that bull trout might use. A 300 grain sink tip on a seven weight rod is a good idea.

For more on December 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 December:

Cold weather will cause the slow-water sections to ice up, and fishing can become unpleasant. If the weather is relatively mild, however, and the river doesn't look like a skating rink, try large Woolly Buggers on an intermediate line. The brown trout will tend to be near the bottom and will be on the lethargic side. They may respond to a midge hatch, however.

For more on December 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 December:

Steelheading can be good in December. These are summer-run fish that are typically three to six pounds. Size 10-12 stonefly nymphs, such as Kaufmanns Stonefly and Rubber Legs, as well as red or copper Copper Johns, Big Birds, Princes, and Egg Sucking Leeches will take fish. Dead-drift your fly around ledges, rocky structure, and in slots. In other spots, a wet fly swing with a sink-tip line will work best.

Look for flows at Dodge Bridge that are under 2,000 cfs before you head for the water. If water quality is poor, try fishing above Casey Park. This puts you above Butte Creek, a major source of turbid water after a storm.

The regulations restrict bait anglers to four miles of river, between the hatchery and Rogue-Elk Park. Not very many of the gear-types have gotten the word, however, and a lack of enthusiasm for enforcing the law has not discouraged them from fishing the artificials-only section.

The Holy Water below Lost Creek Dam is worth a try for its plump trout. Use midge, blue-winged olive, and leech patterns.

For more on December 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 December:

Winter steelhead should show up in the Sandy in the second half of December, and there are some summer steelhead still in the system, too. The Sandy offers good winter fly fishing from Dodge Bridge to Dabney Park. The Oxbow Park to Dabney stretch is an easy drift for boaters. There is also good bank access in the Oxbow Park area, but you'll have to walk a ways. From Dodge to Oxbow, boaters need to have excellent whitewater skills and a large inflatable boat; it's not good water for a McKenzie-style hard boat.

Steelhead Bunnies, Egg Sucking Leeches, and other winter flies are good choices here. You'll need a sink-tip line.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that everyone now knows the Sandy is a good winter fly fishing venue. Several guides work the river, and many unguided anglers are dialed into the program, too. So even if you fish mid-week, and even if you go to hard-to-reach sections, you face the prospect of too many anglers competing for too little water. Or not. You never know in advance what you'll find. You just have to set your expectations and give it a shot.

For more on December 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 December:

Many of the summer steelhead will have moved into the tributaries, and it's too early for the bulk of the winter steelhead. But there's always a few fish around and no one to pursue them.

For more on December 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 December:

Closed until the end of May.

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




Click here to learn about advertising

logo
Home Forums Fly Patterns Entomology Articles Basic Skills Reviews Classifed Ads Photo Gallery Links Auctions  
IDAHO MONTANA OREGON WASHINGTON
Fishing Reports Trip Planner Hatches River Levels Weather Tides Guides+Lodges Events Fly Shops Fly Clubs