How to Catch Big Creek Winter Steelhead
by Scott T. Starbuck

It was my third December morning in a row with a limit of ocean-bright Big Creek steelhead. At the House Hole in front of Big Creek Fishing Club facilities, sunlight warmed the frost. Across the water, I scanned a meadow for elk I had frequently seen. Osprey celebrated a break in winter storms. I was in Steelhead Heaven. Eight years of experimenting paid off in what club owner Howard Kem said, "was the lowest water for this month on record," as we chatted.

In these conditions, I discovered a subtle approach worked best. That meant a nickel-sized gob of salmon eggs on a #4 Owner Hook, five-foot eight-pound Seaguar Fluorocarbon Leader, two #5 split shot, Thill® Turbo Master Float with wire stem, eight-pound Gamma line, Fenwick HMX® 6'6" MH Spinning Rod, and Shimano® Solstace® Reel. When tying the leader to the Gamma, it was important to get the line wet to avoid abrasion. The split shot above the blood knot had to be slowly pinched to avoid pressure as well.

There are many great things about fishing at Big Creek Fishing Club Facilities. First, this is private property just above tidewater, and there is no "combat fishing" in the Club's ten best holes, even at optimal times. Only twenty bucks will get you a day´s fishing and THERE IS NO COST if you are an overnight guest which is $65 + room tax per person. Second, in close proximity to the sea, many fish are reel-screaming ocean-bright fighters. Third, creek fishing means it is obvious where the fish rest and stack up, and this is especially true in low water.

Most years, winter steelhead begin arriving around Thanksgiving, and peak in December, January, and February. I found the best way to fish is to flip the bail and let the bobber move without any drag at all. A second technique is to walk the bobber down for a quicker hook set when it goes under.

I highly recommend staying overnight at Big Creek Fishing Club facilities, both to give you a chance to fish at first light and to enjoy the hospitality of owners Howard and Sherry Kem who sometimes stay to help guests with places to fish or hunt, scenic trails to hike, or area attractions. When I recently stayed, I enjoyed Howard's tall tales from hunts all over the world, and Sherri's fantastic local elk dinner.

Howard is always happy to give you the latest honest fishing report and water conditions (503-458-0990). He also hosts goose and duck hunting trips, and is a living library of Oregon history as well as stories that complement his trophy room over a pool table downstairs. Sherri clipped fish at nearby Big Creek Hatchery which plants winter steelhead, coho, chum, and giant tule fall chinook. The Club facilities can accommodate parties up to ten, and Howard restricts access to either a single party or no more than six anglers from different parties each day.

Big Creek Hatchery recycles steelhead just down creek from the Club facilities. The 2012 report noted sixty thousand winter steelhead are planted each spring, and in February and March some of the returning fish are wild. Hatchery fish have a clipped adipose fin above the tail. Wild fish have a rounded adipose, and these fish must be kept in the water at all times, and released as quickly as possible by using needle nose pliers. Never net a wild fish. Instead, wet your hands before touching wild fish to preserve their protective slime. Tired wild fish are "recharged" by holding them near the tail nose-first in the current until they stabilize and kick away. Some 44 wild fish were passed above Big Creek Hatchery as of February 22, 2012, so it is important to release all fish with a rounded adipose to keep this wild run alive.

Hatchery fish are from the original Big Creek Stock, which, according to researchers, is one of the hardiest strains in Oregon.

In the past eight years, I´ve had too many great memories here to count. Since the fishing access is so flat and easy, I brought my 68-year-old mother, her two novice friends, and my novice girlfriend Shura for a "fishing circus" of sorts, until evening coyotes´ howling sent them rushing to their cars. Shura hooked her first steelhead here. My nephew, Brandon, caught his first coho salmon here. Once, a 12-year-old local kid outfished me for coho. I taught a NASA engineer, Paul, how to bobber fish, and he remains a friend to this day. Big Creek has magical synchronicity of people, seasons, and fish like all tribiturial small rushing waters.

In addition to the elk herd, beavers, herons, and bald eagles are commonly seen. Twilight Creek Eagle Sanctuary, near Astoria, is about 20 minutes away.

Just across Young´s Bay Bridge in Astoria is the city of Warrenton which has a Fred Meyer® Store to stock up on bait and tackle. However, they didn´t have Thill® Turbo Master Floats or Seaguar Fluorocarbon Leader when I last checked in January, 2012. The Kappa Market/Texaco, a few minutes away from Big Creek, has bait and tackle, and across from it, The Logger Restaurant serves good meals.

For anglers wishing to pair up other events with first-rate fishing, Big Creek Fishing Club facilities serve corporate retreats, business meetings, weddings, family reunions, couples retreats, workshops, and rates according to your needs. Hiking trails, art galleries, beach walks, and the world-class Columbia River Maritime Museum are great places to visit with family after a morning of fishing. The skeleton hull of 1906 shipwreck Peter Iredale is nearby at Fort Stevens State Park. Ocean salmon, bottomfish, and halibut charters are available depending on the season at nearby Warrenton and Astoria, and across the Astoria Megler Bridge in Ilwaco, Washington.

I spent eight years at sea as a commercial salmon troller and charter-boat captain, so these days I prefer the spiritual lift I get from creek and river fishing. Due to easy Big Creek access, consistently great fish runs, low cost, limited angler pressure, scenic beauty, and wildlife, this may be one of the best places to catch fish and/or introduce children or novices to the fine art of winter steelheading.

Scott T. Starbuck´s fishing articles and poems have appeared in Yale Anglers´ Journal, Salmon Trout Steelheader, The Sunday Oregonian, Talking River at Lewis-Clark State College, The Raven Chronicles, Rain Magazine at local Clatsop Community College, and Untitled Country Review. His book of fishing poems, River Walker, is available downstairs near Big Creek Fishing Club's tackle for sale.

This site is maintained by Terry Kem