Oregon Rivers

Major Hatches for January

Importance by half-month
 Super    Major    Minor    Slight    None

Hatches are matched from Westfly's database of "standard" fly patterns.


Size 16-20 Pheasant Tail, Hares Ear. Brown, brown-olive

Moderate runs, just below riffles: indicator, tight line, rising nymph

► 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. Trout and whitefish feed on drifting nymphs prior to the hatch. Emerging duns collect in backeddies, and that is where trout will be waiting for them.


Size 12-16 Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator. Black, dark brown

Bankwater, slow-moderate runs: standard dry fly


Size 10-22 Chans Chironomid Pupa, Zebra Midge. Black, gray, olive, red, creams, browns


Size 10-22 Griffiths Gnat, Sprout Midge. Black, gray, olive, red, creams, browns

► When trout are midging, a Sprout Midge or Griffiths Gnat can work well, but a pupa pattern is always a good choice.

► Trout can be very picky about size and color of the pupa. You may need to swap flies several times to find the right combination. You can speed up this process by fishing two pupa at once and noting which one the trout show more interest in.

► Be prepared for midge hatches in the warmer parts of the day.


Size 2-10 Woolly Bugger, Bunny Leech, Hale Bopp Leech, Possie Bugger. Black, browns, olives

Lakes; backwaters and slow sections of rivers: count-down-and-retrieve, slow retrieve, wind drift



► Whitefish are the most responsive fish of all in cold weather. This can be a good time of year to not be a trout-snob and hone your nymphing skills on whitefish. They will be taking small nymphs, such as a size 18 Pheasant Tail, and small white flies imitating roe. Drift your fly near the bottom in slow water and the inside corners of riffles.

► Most places, trout are lying low for the winter. Few are actively seeking food. In cold weather, brown trout are more responsive than rainbow trout.

► You can expect some sort of blue-winged olive hatch every day, but most hatches will get limited interest from trout. Cloudy, drippy weather will offer the best (but still weak) hatches.

► Colder weather will slow trout fishing to a crawl. The best trout fishing--"best" being a relative word, not an absolute--will be from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


► Hatchery-raised steelhead are early returners, so that is mostly what you will encounter this month.

► Use standard winter steelhead swinging flies and traditional tactics or indicator tactics and standard steelhead nymphing flies. The latter strategy works well around rocks, through slots, and along ledges. It is also the best approach when the water is very cold--low forties or upper thirties--as it will often be at this time of year.

► 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 whenever possible 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.

► 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.

► 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.

► 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. 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.

► When winter steelheading, the windows of opportunity are often just narrow slits. Fishing 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."


What to expect in