You want to go fishing more often but have only just moved into Oregon or Washington and are clueless as to the best spots to hit. Or maybe you’ve always been an opening day trout fisherman, but now you want to add a month or two to your season. Or now that you’re retired you have more days to fish and are looking for new places and new species.
What follows is a smattering of rivers, lakes and saltwater fishing spots in Oregon and Washington. Between the 2015 drought and the crazy-bad wildfire season, some of the traditional fisheries will be adversely impacted, perhaps for years to come.
But Washington and Oregon have more fish and fish species than you can shake a stick at. We’ve included some fish that swim well under the angling radar. Read on for some great spots to hit and species to target.
Alsea River Steelhead
Easily accessible to fishermen coming from the Portland, Ore., Metro or mid-Willamette Valley areas, the Alsea heads in the Coast Range. Hatchery steelhead peak in January — the same time the native run returns home. The river from Alsea to Tidewater is easily run by drift boats as there are tons of boat ramps. Below Tidewater, powerboats are a better bet. When the water gets high, experienced Alsea River steelheaders head for the North Fork, but they leave their boats behind. It’s bank fishing only. There are similar restrictions on the South Fork.
Other Options: Expect good fishing for burbot, also known as freshwater ling, in the Spokane, Wash., Arm of Lake Roosevelt. Smallmouth bass, crappie and some holdover trout await fishermen in southern Oregon’s Applegate Reservoir.
Columbia River Walleye
The weather can be downright nasty, but the fishing can be concurrently downright incredible in Washington and Oregon during the month of February. The water below McNary Dam is home to plenty of 15-plus pound walleye, but you have to work for them. That work includes being prepared to lose plenty of gear to all the rocks strewn along the bottom.
Other Options: Think light rod and vertical jigging for hard-fighting and tasty whitefish in Washington’s Banks Lake. If you go, you’ll likely be alone on the water with plenty of fish that reach a pleasing 5-pound size. The first steelhead run is still in the river on Oregon’s Clackamas River when the second run shows up. It’s close to the Portland metro area, with plenty of bank and boat access.
McKenzie River Trout
Home of the famed McKenzie River redside trout and equally famous McKenzie River drift boat, this Oregon river is an early season gem. The lower river from Hendricks Bridge down to the confluence with the Willamette is home a wonderful March Brown hatch.
This section is restricted to artificial flies and lures only and is completely catch and release for non-fin clipped trout. Those restrictions are much of what makes the river a great early-season fishery. There is limited bank access but plenty of boat ramps and local guides who know the river well.
Other Options: Another good choice in March is Washington’s Bogachiel River steelheads. Tillamook Bay in Oregon is a sport fishery only. Try to get on the water when the wind and rain have held off for a day or two for good sturgeon fishing.
Drano Lake Spring Chinook
Columbia River spring chinook take a sharp left turn into Washington’s Drano Lake where they are met by boat and bank fishermen. All tactics work on these fish, including plugs, spinners and bait. Preferred baits are prawns and herring, along with anchovies and shrimp.
Anglers who run plugs favor Worden’s M2-SP Flatfish in one of the green tones and Storm’s Magnum Wiggle Wart, which, to paraphrase Henry Ford, can be any color so long as it is orange. The lake depth is fairly uniform at 25 feet. A key to catching fish is to vary the trolling depth until biting fish are located.
Other Options: Oregon’s Umpqua River from the mouth up to Scottsburg fishes best from a boat. Umpqua springers are big, averaging 25 pounds, with even larger specimens caught every year. Check the ODFW trout-stocking schedule for Haystack Reservoir, located a few miles south of Madras, Ore. In addition to trout, it also has smallmouth bass and panfish.
Potholes Reservoir Smallmouths
Washington’s Potholes Reservoir attracts plenty of attention as tournament bag limits keep growing as the smallmouth keep growing. Part of the reason is the folks who manage this water storage reservoir have maintained water levels that allowed the forage fish, particularly yellow perch, to successfully spawn. All those little fish get gobbled by the smallies, which grow big and fat. Bank fishing is limited. Small boats, pontoons and kayaks provide easy access. Regardless of which type of boat you use, keep an eye out for wind.
Other Options: Oregon’s Davis Lake was traditionally a trophy rainbow trout lake until largemouth bass were illegally introduced. Now this fly-fishing-only lake supports both trout and largemouths. Fishing for halibut off the coast of Oregon and Washington is tightly regulated, but the fish are worth reading through the regulations.
Columbia River Shad
Fishermen have an opportunity to catch another non-traditional fish when the American shad return to the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon. The run generally peaks around Father’s Day. Wise fishermen check the fish counts at Bonneville Dam and go when the daily count exceeds 10,000 fish.
There is plenty of bank access on both sides of the river at Bonneville Dam, so a boat is not needed and can be downright dangerous. Shad are schooling fish that typically run close to the bank making long casts unnecessary.
Other Options: The shad run on Oregon’s Umpqua River pales in numbers compared to the Columbia River run. Even so, it’s worth a shot in the main river from Umpqua down to Scottsburg.
Roses Lake Catfish
Channel catfish are another hard-fighting, great-tasting game fish that gets overlooked by most of the angling population. And that’s a shame because 180-acre Roses Lake, a mile from Manson, Wash., has plenty of cats. Use steelhead-type rods, reels and lines. Most all catfishers toss nightcrawlers, chicken livers or stinkbait. Fly-fishermen score with baitfish and leech patterns.
During the day, fish the deep water because that’s where the fish are. When the light falls, these nocturnal feeders move into the shallows. And then the real fun can begin. If you fish past dark make sure your boat is rigged for night running and that you have a headlamp or flashlight and spare batteries.
Other Options: In Washington’s Puget Sound, the spiny dogfish is a kick on medium spinning gear. Use enough weight to get the herring, clam necks or other bait to the bottom, then start vertical jigging.
Odell Lake on Oregon’s Willamette Pass is a steady producer of kokanee that run up to 20 inches.
Puget Sound Coastal Cutthroat
Washington’s Puget Sound is a catch-and-release fishery, and cutthroats have increased in both size and numbers over the past years. Since they are trout, they eat all the things that trout eat, even though they live in a marine environment. For the gear fishermen, small lures in silver or pink are good choices. Fly-fishermen favor Clouser minnows in pink, olive or chartreuse with a white body. The trout hug the shoreline, making long casts both unnecessary and unproductive.
Other Options: Sixteen miles of Columbia River in Oregon and Washington from Buoy 10 to Astoria will be filled with chinook. They run deep on their way upriver. Green Peter Reservoir in western Oregon is a top kokanee fishery. Plan to hit the water early or late to avoid the pleasure boat crowd.
Yakima River Fall Chinook
Irrigation season is over, and that means plenty of good-sized fall chinook have nosed into the Yakima River in Washington. Fishing starts low on the river up to the Highway 240 bridge at Prosser. Above that depends on agreement with the Yakama Confederated Tribes. In the past years, fishing has been open upstream to Roza Dam.
The standard rig for these brutes is a large pencil float, leader with weight attached and a dyed and scented prawn. The river is shallow with a rocky bottom, and the fish run as deep as they can. Plan on losing some gear. The area below Roza Dam attracts the most fishermen in the least amount of area.
Other Options: An early run of summer steelhead is making its way upstream in Washington and Oregon’s Grand Ronde River. These fish are best targeted early in the morning and late in the evening.
Albacore fishermen in Washington and Oregon in recent years are finding schools only 10 miles out.
Deschutes River Steelhead
The lively summer steelhead have breached Sherars Falls in Oregon. The Deschutes River from Warm Springs to Maupin is the place to fish. Leave the bait home as the river is under artificial flies and lures regulations above Sherars Falls. Fishermen will find plenty of bank access around Maupin, though the best way to find the fish is by boat.
Warm Springs to Trout Creek or Trout Creek to Maupin are outstanding floating/camping trips. For those new to the river, read the regulations as fishing from a floating device is prohibited except for those with Oregon Disabilities fishing permit who are allowed to fish from an anchored boat.
All fishermen target steelhead must possess a Columbia River Basin Endorsement and the appropriate fishing license.
Other Options: By October, irrigation in the valley has ceased and the Walla Walla River in Washington begins to run clear. It’s a good time to target steelhead. There is bank access at WDFW access sites and a good boat launch near the mouth. Part of the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area, Evergreen Reservoir in Washington has a good population of tiger muskies.
North Umpqua River Steelhead
This Oregon hotspot evokes memories of Zane Grey, canvas tents and sitting around smoky campfires, reliving the day’s fishing. It is also the waters of summer and winter steelhead that swim through fabled pools, cobbled riffles and deep slots. The regulations are area-specific and must be reviewed before fishing.
Other Options: A late run of coho makes it into the Chehalis River in Washington at this time. It’s a good bet for those fishermen still needing their salmon fix for the year.
Willamette River Steelhead
All the winter steelhead swimming toward the Clackamas, Mollala, Santiam and McKenzie rivers pass through the Willamette in Oregon. A popular place to intercept those fish is Meldrum Bar near the town of Gladstone. The river fishes best at flows above 12,500 cfs and even fishes well in high muddy water when the fish are pushed close to the bank.
Other Options: The numbers don’t lie. Thousands of trout per mile are found in Oregon’s Crooked River and double that many whitefish, some of which are as long as your arm. Those are some very good numbers!