Pass the Turkey and Steelhead

Fishing: Holiday Marks the Beginning of Popular Cowlitz River Winter Steelhead Run

Nathan Link of Chehalis fishes downriver from Barrier Dam Tuesday. The Cowlitz River is still producing silvers, and the anticipated winter steelhead run is starting to hit. (Brandon Swanson /

By The Chronicle
Turkey going to 29 cents a pound can mean only one thing: it’s time for the much anticipated winter steelhead fishery on the Cowlitz River.

The steelhead have already started to show up at Barrier Dam, and should only increase in numbers in the coming days and weeks. And although it is dang cold out, the next few days might be worth a trip, including a forecast for blue skies. Think of serving a nice bright-orange filet along with the traditional turkey on Thursday!

Perhaps one of the draws of winter steelheading is the work it takes to land the fish, along with its reputation as a fierce fighter.

“We’re still seeing our silvers, but starting to see a few winter run steelhead which is what quite a few of the guys are waiting for,” said Karen Glaser of Barrier Dam Campground in Salkum. “It’s just a fish everybody waits for. … To get your first steelhead can take one to three years.”

Steelhead will generally be about 8 to 14 pounds, with some coming into the low 20-pound range. Best bet is to try corkies and yarn, a jig and bobber, or live sandshrimp.

As far as the cold weather, Glaser said the fish don’t care, but fishermen need to be prepared for cold hands and toes.

A trip to Barrier Dam will also give you a chance for a silver, as they continue to show up in decent numbers and about 10 to 14 pounds, Glaser said.

Tracey Borsom of Fish Country Inc. also reports “plenty of coho running in the river all the way up to Barrier Dam,” with a variety of baits working. Borsom said the key is to keep switching tactics until one works. Borsom also reports that she is seeing the winter steelhead catch heating up and that the river overall is in “good condition.” Fish Country Inc. will open up Thanksgiving morning from 7 a.m. to noon for those who want to bring that big fresh fish home for the family gathering.

Blue Creek on the Cowlitz continues to kick out aggressive sea-run cutthroat, but hurry because that usually winds down toward the end of November.

Mayfield Lake is doing its part with the usual trout catch in front of the hatchery. Nearby Swofford Pond and Riffe Lake, however, remain quiet.

One area that might be worth a look before targeting the steelhead would be up on Lake Scanewa, where they’re still dumping a lot of silvers and kings. Trollers, Glaser said, are having much luck pulling wiggle warts.

Tacoma Power Cowlitz Fish Report:

Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 5,393 coho adults, 189 jacks, 52 fall Chinook adults, one jack, 46 winter-run steelhead, 42 summer-run steelhead and 56 sea-run cutthroat trout during seven days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week they released 1,101 coho adults, 71 jacks and 26 fall Chinook adults into Lake Scanewa; they released 130 coho adults and five jacks into the upper Cowlitz River at the Skate Creek Bridge in Packwood; and 88 coho adults, nine jacks, one fall Chinook adult and three cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.