The Estuary in April

Jay Nicholas Oregon Sea Run Cutthroat

This is a place and time largely overlooked by most Oregon estuary fly anglers. Being a curious angler at heart, I often wander about with fly rod in hand, looking for spring Chinook, early summer steelhead, late winter steelhead, and whatever might be legal to fish for like starry flounder and surf perch.

I’ve learned that there can be a lot going on in these late winter/early spring months—or very little. Seals are chasing fish of some sort. Cormorants are working fish of some sort. I have found juvenile chinook (hatchery fish about 6″ long) wild and hatchery steelhead smolts, feeder coho (14″ – 18″), cutthroat (9″-18″), adult summer steelhead, spring Chinook, Winter steelhead kelts, late run winter steelhead, and shiner perch. And bullheads. I have hunches about starry flounder but have not caught one over about 6″ yet. I have had sturgeon roll within a dozen feet of my boat—fish so big that I nearly fell over backwards in my surprise.Spring chinook roll in two feet of water, and will sometimes grab a fly if I plopped it in front of their face within seconds of their show.

Of course most days find me without a tug at the end of my line, but an occasional yank yields great surprises. I’ve learned, for example, that immature chinook, steelhead, and coho venture into our estuaries and the lower reaches of coastal rivers during late winter and early spring. The hours and days I have fished the estuary in the off season, with virtually no one around me, has been a wonderful time to reflect on past seasons and dream about the season about to unfold. It is a time to discover new sandbars, learn how the incoming and outgoing tides swirl and eddy around shallows, find new buckets, and anticipate the days when schools of chinook (not just the rare few) might suddenly appear within my casting range.

Jay Nicholas Chinook Gotcha

May your days on the water be abundant and full of discovery.

Jay Nicholas, April 15, 2016

4 thoughts on “The Estuary in April

  1. I well remember Springs now long past on the lower Umpqua when the white sturgeon would put on a wondrous display on the tide changes. The spring chinook, sea runs and the occasional striped bass chasing the out migrating coho smolts would be there also. The harbingers of things to come. Or so we thought. With the exception of a few half-hearted outings for the now mythical striped bass we no longer work the lower Umpqua during the spring. Perhaps I will grab my tenkara gear and head to the North Fork for a visit with the native cutthroats.

    1. Every estuary supports a variety of species and all have sea-run cutthroat. The search is the best part of discovery.I’d find someplace close to where you live and check out the local conditions. JN

  2. Think I’ll do a little exploring down here around Charleston estuary tomorrow with some of the those spring Chinook gotcha’s. Who knows?

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