After two unsuccessful days on big water, I decided to go back to my roots with smaller-stream fishing. The Big Nehalem was a bust for me this past summer, so I was a little apprehensive about it; too big and slow for my spinners, but the North Fork is a much smaller stream, and more to my liking.
I started at the hatchery, which Fishing in Oregon described as a bit of a zoo, but at first light I had it all to myself. The North Fork Nehalem is nothing like the main river; it’s a small, clear stream under a canopy of trees and ferns. 100 yards down from the hatchery is a large pool with two waterfalls, which I’m sure gets hammered hard. I fished it for 10 minutes before deciding to explore further upstream.
Just upstream from the hatchery is a locked gate and a logging road open for fishing and hiking. The map shows the road following the river for many miles, but I didn’t have to go far to find some fishy-looking water. I stopped and fished in three different good-looking spots. The only caveat is that the road can stray away from the river, and in a lot of spots the bank is too steep to climb down. There are a few game trails (and probably fisherman trails too) that lead safely down to the water. One need only keep an eye out for those when trying to find a spot to fish when you can’t see the river from the road.
The second hole was a riffle into a pool, and after switching to the blue and silver spinner that caught my steelhead, something red sided grabbed it and spit it out before I could set the hook. The trick, I’ve found, is to change up colors and sizes until finding the one that gets their attention, then stick with that. Now that I think I’m getting better at reading water, and knowing what kind of water holds fish, I’m more confident that it’s a question of finding the right lure, not finding the right water, which narrows down my chances.
The third spot was a deeper channel with a nice current in the middle. Drifting through the tail out I picked up a feisty coho that I fought for close to a minute before it got off. I set the hook with two jerks, but it still must not be enough. I’ve since watched some other videos, and it appears that a lot of salmon and steelheaders really haul on the rod when setting the hook. A few minutes later I saw another dark silver swim up and bump the lure a few feet from where I was standing. A couple minutes after that another surfaced across the channel. I was surprised at how small they were (for salmon). I see so many pictures of giant Chinook, these guys all looked like smaller steelhead, 20-24 inches maybe, but stocky and ready for a fight.
This was definitely my highlight salmon/steelhead trip so far, even though I didn’t land a fish. The North Fork isn’t much further from home base than any of the other rivers I’ve fished, and it looks like there’s a ton to explore, and a ton of fish to catch. North Fork Nehalem, you’re on the short list for when winter steelhead start coming in…