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The Fishing Report

Steelhead 101: Understanding Steelhead


Grande Ronde River Steelhead

Steelhead are awesome, especially those that return to the Grande Ronde watershed. Along with a few streams in Idaho, our home waters in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County are about as far inland as Steelhead live in the United States.

After they’re born (or stocked) in our local streams, they spend time in the river until they are large enough to attempt to migrate to the Pacific Ocean.

If they are fortunate enough to taste salt water, they will have passed through 8 dams and survived anglers, gillnets, and numerous other predators and environmental conditions that can kill them. That, of course, is just the way there.

After reaching saltwater, Wallowa County Steelhead will travel all over the ocean, spending time eating and growing. After a year (1 salt fish) or 2 (2 salt fish), they begin their migration home.

Again after surviving the gauntlet, they arrive back home to where they were born. For anglers on the Grande Ronde River and the Wallowa River, that means fish that have traveled ROUND TRIP roughly 1100-1200 river miles, depending where you locate them. That, of course, doesn’t account for the vast distances traveled in the ocean. And if that wasn’t enough, after spawning, these fish will try (with limited success at these distances) to return to the ocean and do it all over again. So again, Steelhead are awesome.

Paul Pagano SteelheadThis brings us to the point where you’re on the river and the fish are back home. So what is it you need to know? Before we get into fly rods, lines, or flies, where do we start?

Our next installment of Steelhead 101 – What To Look For and What To Avoid – will help you accurately target areas where steelhead hold, with breakdowns on runs, riffles, and pools.

More to follow.

For the introduction to Steelhead 101 and more information about guide Paul Pagano, click here.

Paul Pagano, fly fishing guide for Winding Waters River Expeditions and owner of Fly Side Angling is available for guided trips.