Lots of Detailed Information about Winter Steelhead Fishing:
You benefit from our countless years of combined experience to choose the perfect river, the perfect section of river and species to target based on local knowledge and customer preference. If you really want to fish only 1 specific river we can make that happen. If you really want to fish on a specific date we can also make that happen. If you want to leave your trip up to the fishing guide to choose the best date and river we can do that for you as well.
Learn more about these excellent steelhead fisheries below and why we recommend them for your Winter Steelhead Fishing Adventures.
Now through March:
Wynochee River: The Wynoochee River, near Montesano, WA, originates in the Olympic Mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State. Steelhead return to the rivers of the Pacific NW from the Pacific Ocean. Hatchery steelhead leave the fish hatcheries or streams where they were deposited as smolts, travel downstream to the Pacific Ocean and stay in the Ocean 2-4 years before returning to their stream of origin. Native steelhead similarly return to the streams where they were hatched and raised to spawn. The Wynoochee River is also the home of Waters West Guide Service. We are the ONLY guide service with property on the Wynoochee River. The Wynoochee River usually gets 180,000 steelhead smolts each year.
The Humptulips River is located near Hoquiam, Washington and Ocean Shores, Washington. It is a terrific, mostly drift boat, fishery that usually receives around 100,000-140,000 steelhead smolts each winter. This river also originates in the Olympic Mountains and is an excellent choice for both hatchery or native (native fish must be released) fishing.
The Queets River guided fishing trips are offered by special permit through the Olympic Nation Park Service. The Queets is located north of Hoquiam,WA off of highway 101. There is an option when booking your trip to fish the Queets for $50/person in addition to the regular daily fishing rate. All Queets River trips are drift boat only and with fishing guide, Aaron. Aaron has been fishing as part of Team Waters West for about 7 years now and grew up fishing the local Grays Harbor and Coastal area rivers. These trips are all done out of a large 18ft Pavati Drift Boat. If you really want a remote "special" fishing trip we recommend the Queets River. Sometimes in the winter the Queets is not in good enough shape (the river get's too high) to safety fish. On these occasions you can either reschedule to fish a different date or fish another local river that is less "wild" than the Queets. There is almost always a good Plan B option for a fishing trip when the Queets River is too high to fish. Also, watching the weather report and searching for a dry week is an excellent way to get a trip in on the Queets!
The Satsop and Chehalis Rivers also have an abundance of hatchery winter run steelhead. These rivers are closer to Olympia and I-5 and sometimes fish better than the Wynoochee or Humptulips when the water gets extra low.
February through April:
The Cowlitz River is famous and popular for it's hatchery fish programs. There are 2 large state-run hatcheries on the Cowlitz River. There is a salmon hatchery at the Mayfield Dam along with an excellent visitor center and fish collection facility you can view. There is also a 'trout' hatchery at Blue Creek on the Cowlitz RIver just below the Mayfield Dam and hatchery. Blue Creek is the most popular spot to fish for Winter Steelhead on the Cowlitz. We usually start fishing the Cowlitz River in late February through early April for Winter Steelhead. These trips are all done out of 'Sleds' which are fishing boats with outboard motors that can run in shallow rivers. These Cowlitz River destinations are located near Toledo, WA.
Fishing Techniques and Boats Used:
The most popular ways of fishing for steelhead are (1) side drifting (2) pulling plugs (3) bobber and jig fishing
Side drifting can be accomplished out of a drift boat or sled. Your fishing partners all cast in succession - casting upriver and letting your line drift down through the 'slot' where the steelhead are lying waiting to move upstream. You continue this process over and over as your boat drifts down through the 'slot.'
Pulling plugs is the easiest for beginners and can also be the most productive method depending on conditions and section of river. You simply let small divers called plugs sink below the water into the river where fish are waiting to move upriver. Your guide keeps the boat in position and slowly drift down through the hole or remain stationary depending on section of river.
Bobber and jig fishing is fun and easy. You cast a bobber with a line and jig attached below. The steelhead jigs are various colors depending on the water clarity ranging from bright green/yellow to black.
Your fishing guides have the experience to know when and where to use what gear. Some days they may only have 1 type of fishing technique prepared for you and other days they may have up to 3 techniques ready for you. It all depends on water level, clarity and what section of river the fish are in.
We have a wide range of boats for use during winter steelhead season each with it's specific advantages based on the river and water conditions.
Aaron runs an 18ft Pavati Drift Boat. Pavati drift boats are the Cadillac of all drift boats (some prefer Willie Boats which can be equipped equally well) All of our boats, including Aaron's Pavati have propane heating systems. The Pavati has doors which makes getting in and out of the boat easy for all ages.
Casey uses Willie Drift Boats and Alumaweld Sleds. Sleds are boats with outboard motors that are all open to make casting and fishing easier. They have high degree hulls which makes them able to run in shallow rivers. Casey has a 20ft and a 25ft Sled. The 20ft sled is used on the smaller rivers such as the Wynoochee, Satsop and Chehalis and the larger sled is used mostly on the Columbia River or Cowlitz for larger groups.
Chris uses Willie Drift Boats and has a brand new Willie Sled being delivered in time for the Cowlitz River Winter Steelhead Season. He also has a 17ft Wooldridge Sled which can be used on the smaller rivers for Winter Steelhead.