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Oregon Forecast for January

By Scott Richmond

Oregon Rivers in General

What to Expect in January:

Steelhead. When winter fishing, the windows of opportunity are often just narrow slits. Fishing for steelhead can be excellent, but you have to be prepared to drop everything and head for your favorite stream on short notice. You can't plan a trip in advance. So the motto is: "Be prepared and act quickly."

In January, temperature and precepitation rule your fishing. When it's relatively warm, precipitation that would normally stay as snow in the mountains will fall as rain and run into rivers. Cooler conditions will improve river conditions by keeping that snow where it does the most good: in the mountains.

January can be a good month for steelhead anglers who travel to rivers with strong hatchery-based runs. The best conditions are steady, but not heavy, rain followed by brief dry-but-cloudy spells, followed by more drizzle--all with temperatures in the upper 40s in the Willamette Valley and coast, and cold enough to snow in the mountains.

"Best condtions" rarely converge, of course, but when they do you want to hit the water while temperatures are coolish (not frigid or warm), skies are cloudy, and rivers are dropping and clearing. Don't put it off. You make hay while the sun shines, but you go winter fishing when it's gray and slightly damp.

The adage is, "When rivers are high, fish high. When rivers are low, fish low." That means that when the flows are unseasonably low your best opportunities are farther down the river, near the mouth, where there is more water and steelhead are stacked up waiting to come in at the first sign of increased flows. Conversely, if the river is high, you'll find better water conditions farther upriver where fewer tributaries have added their loads of silt and water.

It's seldom productive to fish when a river is rising, but a clearing and dropping river can create aggressive steelhead. 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.

Cold water means most fish will hug the bottom; a few will suspend a few feet above, if the conditions are right. In either case, they will be hard to budge. Under these conditions, a steelhead will seldom move more than 18 inches to either side or a foot upwards. It 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. Remember, wade up to your knees; if you can't see your toes, go home.

Trout. With a few notable exceptions, trout fishing will continue to be slow this month, but you should be able to find plenty of whitefish. For whitefish, use a small nymph on a dropper with a big stonefly nymph on the point (see Being a Great Nymph Angler for rigging directions). For a small fly use one of the following: size-18 Gold-Ribbed Hares Ear, size-18 Pheasant Tail, size 12-14 Zug Bug, or size 12-14 Prince.

The blue-winged olives will hatch every afternoon around 1:00, but the best hatches will be on drizzly or overcast days (this hatch gets stronger in February and March). Temperatures near or below freezing will not produce a good hatch. If you hit it right and the hatch comes off in fish-stimulating numbers, your best dry fly options are a Sparkle Dun, Parachute Baetis, or Baetis Cripple. Don't neglect the subsurface option (see Go Below for BWO).

Trout and whitefish will feed on spotted caddis larvae all winter. A Zug Bug or Prince can be a good choice. Fish it near seams and in slower water below a riffle or drop-off.

Little brown stoneflies (aka winter stoneflies or black stoneflies) will be appearing on many rivers this month. See the article Small Brown Stoneflies for more information on this hatch.

Whitefish are spawning, and trout will take drifting roe. A small Egg Fly in pale peach or yellow is a good choice; drift it near the bottom. See Egg Flies for some patterns and tips.

The best trout fishing will be from about 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. As soon as the water starts to cool off, trout will hunker down and will not come to your fly.



Oregon Lakes in General

What to Expect in January:



Clackamas River

What to Expect in January:

January can be a good month for hatchery-bred steelhead on the Clackamas, but the runs are variable from one year to the next; check with a local source before you get excited--or before you get despondent. 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 late-January 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 January 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 January:

If the weather is consistently dropping below freezing at night, and isn't much warmer during the day, the water cools off and fishing is fair at best. However, a brief warming trend can be good for fishing.

Access can be tricky in January; road conditions are your biggest uncertainty, and you might run into snowy riverbanks and slick roads.

Blue-winged olives hatch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. most days, but the hatch is not as strong in January as in other months; cold weather definitely knocks it back. During a 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 very effective at this time. Drift the scud near the bottom, or slowly retrieve it in slow water.

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.

Another fly to try is an Egg Fly, since whitefish are common in the Crooked and will be spawning this month. Size-18 patterns in pale yellow or peach can be effective. Zug Bugs are another useful fly 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.

Fishing can be inconsistent in January. Some patterns work in one spot on one day, and a different fly is called for on a different day in a different spot. So take the whole fly box and be ready to change patterns.

For more on January 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 January:

Wait for the river to drop to at least 5,500 cfs before heading over here. With the cold weather, the Maupin area can get freezing fog. Also, anglers need to remember that the Deschutes River access roads are not maintained in winter, so a snow storm can make it difficult or impossible to reach the river from the access roads. Black ice can also be a problem. Check with a local source, such as Deschutes Canyon Fly Shop or Deschutes Angler Fly Shop if you're not sure. Still want to go? Read on.

Remember the river is now closed to all fishing where it borders the Warm Springs Reservation. This means everything is closed--both sides of the river--upstream from near river mile 69 (Maupin is at river mile 54; the Locked Gate is river mile 61).

If you can get to the river, you will still find summer steelhead. They're getting kinda dark and red, but they're there. Fishing continues to be inconsistent and often frustrating; that's just the way it is in January. Steelheading will continue through most of January, but at some point you've got to hang up the rod and leave the fish alone. A sink-tip line and standard winter steelhead flies will work most of the time for steelhead. For deeper runs and colder days, use a Type 6 sink-tip. Most of the steelhead action will be centered in the Maupin area, but it's possible to take fresh fish near the mouth, even this late in the year. If it's cold and the water temperature is in the low to mid 40s, you'll probably do better with indicator tactics.

Responsive trout can be hard to find until late in the month, but some are available. Whitefish don't mind the cold water as much as trout, so they are very active. Whitefish love a size 18 Pheasant Tail or Hares Ear dead-drifted on the bottom. Look for slowish runs and the slow side of current seams.

Little brown stoneflies will be present this month, and trout love 'em. They'll be around until spring. Try a size 14-16 black Elk Hair Caddis near the banks, or a size-14 black Hares Ear near the bottom.

Blue-winged olive hatches are sporadic until mid-February, but they sometimes bring trout to the surface. Whitefish, however, will hug the bottom even during a hatch. I've never ever caught a whitefish on a dry fly in the Deschutes. Other rivers, yes, but not on the Deschutes. If you want whitefish, give them a nymph.

Whether you're after whitefish or trout, nymphing will be your most reliable option. A size 10-12 stonefly nymph with a size-18 Pheasant Tail or Hares Ear on a dropper is a good combo. Alternatively, try a size-14 Prince or size 18-20 midge larva pattern on the dropper, or an Egg Fly in size 18 to imitate whitefish roe.

For more on January 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 January:

It's too early for reliable fishing in the middle Deschutes below Bend.

For more on January 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 January:

A major snowstorm can put a couple of feet along the banks, and that makes access tricky; be prepared. With snowy banks, you need to watch your step near the river. Getting in can be dicey, and getting out can be even more problematic because of the steep, soft snow along the bank. The hatchery is the most reliable place to find parking when the snow flies. When checking the weather for Fall River, remember that it's 1,200 feet higher than Bend.

Midges will provide most of the hatch action this month. Try a Sprout Midge. A Griffiths Gnat also works for the midges, but I favor the former fly. You will probably need a 6X or 7X tippet and a downstream presentation (and a lot of patience).

If you don't see rising fish, forget the dry fly and use a small nymph, such as a size-18 Brassie or Pheasant Tail, drifted near the bottom.

Small worm imitations, such as 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 should be a factor by mid month. See Small Brown Stoneflies for the details of patterns and tactics.

Later in the month you might see a few size 12-14 caddis.

In winter, the water coming out of the springs is often warmer than the air temperature, so the river cools as it flows. Thus significant numbers of trout tend to congregate near the source when the air temperature is cold. Go to the headwaters and scout around. Fish are often visible. If you don't see very many, head for the hatchery.

Fall River sees a lot of anglers in the winter (and spring and summer and fall), and trout can become skittish. Anglers need to be stealthy when they approach them.

For more on January 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 January:

Lucky anglers can pick up steelhead on the Grande Ronde (and Imnaha) in January. You can find fish in the Troy area and near the hatcheries. Water temperatures in the 30s will make fish sluggish and unaggressive, but fishing will hold up through the end of January during mild spells when the river is not blown-out (check the flows before travellng here). A cold snap, with temperatures below 10 degrees for several nights in a row, can cause the river to freeze up.

For more on January 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 January:

If the flows are below 1,200 cfs you can consider the Keno stretch to be fishable.

Expect low water temperatures, which will render trout reluctant to move very far to take a fly. Anglers need to read the water well, then carefully dead-drift their flies in just the right places. If they do this, they can be rewarded with hefty wild rainbows. Use a large, dark fly, such as a weighted purple Rubber Legs or Woolly Bugger, below an indicator. Drift it near the bottom between rocks, along current seams, and into mini-eddies. Take lots of flies.

You may also find good fishing in the Frain Ranch area below Boyle Dam. Call the 800 number listed above to get an idea about the flows. If they aren't planning a sudden increase of the river level, you could have good fishing. Use brown or olive Woolly Buggers drifted near the bottom, or spotted caddis larva imitation such as Zug Bugs, Net Builders, or Prince nymphs.

Access can be dangerous in the winter. In the Keno section, you have to walk down a steep hill to get to the water, and that hill can be icy or snow covered. Below Boyle, you can expect difficult driving access if there's been snow.

For more on January 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 January:

The McKenzie can offer good winter trout fishing if you hit it on the right days. Watch the river levels carefully and avoid the McKenzie if you see sudden upward spikes. The Mohawk River can dump a lot of silt into the McKenzie. So fishing can be poor below the Mohawk, but okay above it. If you look at the river at Armitage Park and see chocolate milk flowing past you, don't automatically assume the entire McK is blown-out.

The best fishing will be between the Hendricks ramp and the mouth, and probably better closer to the mouth. Whitefish are spawning, so small pale Egg Flies are useful. Large stonefly nymphs such as Kaufmanns Stonefly and Rubber Legs are good choices, too. Some blue-winged olives are hatching, but the hatches are still weak and sporadic; they'll gather strength toward the end of the month. However, the nymphs are active drifters, so a size-18 Pheasant Tail drifted near the bottom can be productive throughout the month.

Expect fishing to be best from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

For more on January 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 January:

Early January is generally a slow time for trout fishing on the Metolius. Cold weather slows the fishing to a crawl. But--if you can get there--you can still pick up an occasional trout, especially during the "heat of the day" from noon to 2:00.

Golden stonefly nymphs, blue-winged olive imitations (dry and nymph), red Serendipities, and midge patterns are useful. Small Prince nymphs are also a good option.

Later in the month the blue-wings will gather steam and trout fishing will improve.

Bull trout anglers can do well in winter. This is the only place in Oregon where you can fish for bull trout and not get arrested or feel guilty; it's catch-and-release.

Watch the weather carefully; it can change in a hurry. Generally, you can expect plowed roads as far as the hatchery, but not below that point.

For more on January 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 January:

Use streamers and midge patterns--when the river isn't frozen solid. You may see midge hatches at midday if the weather is on the mild side. Late in the month there may be some blue-winged olive hatches.

For more on January 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 January:

If flows at Dodge Bridge are 1,000-2,000 cfs, you can expect good fishing. If the river is high and muddy, head to the area between the Cole Rivers Hatchery and Casey Park. This puts you on the Rogue before the tributaries add their load of muddy water.

Late in the month the summer steelhead will fade, and it's too early for the bulk of the winter run.

Anglers can hook trout in the Holy Water this month. Blue-winged olive patterns and streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Zonkers were accounting for the fish.

For more on January 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 January:

Hatchery-bred fish hit their peak this month. There is good bank access at Oxbow Park and along the Camp Collins/YMCA area. Anglers floating the river will find excellent fly water between Oxbow and Dabney Parks, and between Dodge Park and Oxbow. The latter drift has a couple of tricky rapids and is not suited to hard drift boats or inexperienced oarsmen; large inflatable boats and skilled rowers are needed.

The Sandy clears quickly after a storm, and it fishes well when it's on the high side. The east wind can be a problem here, so when it's blowing hard in the Gorge it can be nasty on the Sandy.

Type 3 sink-tip lines are sufficient for most runs, but carry heavier lines as well.

The Sandy is usually clear if the freezing level is above 5,000 feet, and usually muddy if it's above 6,000 feet.

For more on January 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 January:

This is normally a slow month for the North Umpqua because most of the winter-run steelhead are wild fish that show up in March.

For more on January 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 January:

Closed.

For more on January 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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