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36 Great Northwest Fishing Trips

36 Great Northwest Fishing Trips

On the water, success or failure is often a matter of timing. Get out your calendar and start planning now. Here are our top three picks for each month of 2005.

If your list of New Year's resolutions included spending more time on the water, you're in the right place. No area of the lower 48 rivals the fishing we enjoy in Washington and Oregon. Our waters have something for everyone, from tail-walking trout in clear mountain brooks to tackle-busting bruisers in wide, brawling rivers.

We've got it all. But with so many places to fish, where and when do you go for the best angling?

Washington-Oregon Game and Fish magazine knows the Northwest. Not just when the fishing is fine, but when it's fabulous, where to find it, who to call, and how to do it. Here are our recommendations for 36 -- three for each month -- of the Northwest's top angling destinations in 2005.


Steelhead: Wilson River, OR

On the Oregon coast, January means steelhead on the Wilson River.

Go prepared to fish high and muddy or low and clear. In high water, look for softer currents and fish along the edges of the stream or downstream from tributaries. In lower water, look for fast, deep chutes.


The lower river is best fished from a boat. Lob fresh eggs or sand shrimp to target early-returning hatchery fish. In higher water, anchor midstream and cast to shore, bouncing baits in deeper slots running along the bank. Switch to Hot Shots or Wiggle Warts when native fish and hatchery brood stock show up late in the month.

For a guided trip on the Wilson River, call David Johnson's Guide Service at 503-201-4292

Other Choices

Cowlitz River steelhead average 7 to 17 pounds. Fish below Blue Creek, and at the Barrier Dam. Also try the Sandy River, one of Oregon's most consistent steelhead fisheries.


Steelhead: Sol Duc, Calawah, Hoh, Bogachiel, Queets, WA

February is big-fish month on the Olympic Peninsula. Drift the Sol Duc, Calawah, Hoh, Bogachiel, or Queets for your crack at fish that average 10 to 13 pounds and go up to 30 pounds. Expect to find more wild fish than hatchery fish this month.

Olympic Peninsula rivers are short and steep. According to Larry Scott, a river guide since 1977, you're looking for "dancing water," riffles around boulders and structure. You'll have the best fishing when the water is emerald green with three to five feet of visibility.

Bait fishing is the predominant method, though some anglers cast flies or spinners. From a drift boat, try side-drifting with cured roe.

For information, call Waters West (360-417-0937), Westward Hoh Resort (360-374-6657), or Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330). For a guided trip, call Larry Scott at West Side Guide Service (360-327-3671).

Other Choices

For winter steelhead in southwest Washington, head to the North Fork Lewis. In Oregon, cast to 4,000 rainbow trout per river mile on the Crooked River below Bowman Dam.


Steelhead: Clackamas River, OR

In March, the Clackamas River is full of winter steelhead, anywhere from the mouth to McIver Park. These are big, brash hatchery and native winter-runs.

Side-drifting eggs or sand shrimp has become popular; the boat and bait drift backward, while the fish holds in place. Steelhead almost set hooks by themselves as the weight drifts by. From the bank, you can drift bait or cast spinners. If you head upstream to fish Eagle Creek or the McIver run, bring your fly rod or jig-n-float rigs.

Bank fishermen can find good access at Clackamette Park, Riverside Park, Coffey's Drift, the Carver Boat Ramp, Barton Park, Bonnie Lure at the mouth of Eagle Creek, and at McIver Park.

For stream flows, call the PGE Fish Line, 503-464-7474. For a guided trip, call David Johnson's Guide Service at 503-201-4292. To fish flies or jigs-n-floats upstream, call Rob Crandall at 503-704-6449.

Other Choices

String your fly rod and stretch your legs along the banks of Washington's Rocky Ford Creek near Moses Lake. For sturgeon, hit the Columbia below Bonneville Dam this month.


Chinook Salmon: Columbia River, OR and WA

Make plans to fish the Columbia River in April for 15- to 40-pound Chinook holding on shelves and depressions in 12 to 20 feet of water.

Fish the mouths of the Kalama and the Cowlitz early in the run. Later in the month, count on the mouth of the Lewis River, the lower end of the Multnomah Channel near St. Helens, Willow Bar, Frenchman's Bar, the mouth of the Willamette, the I-5 Bridge, Government Island, and the mouth of the Sandy River.

With the tide out and the river flowing downstream, anchor and fish whole or plug-cut herring, prawns, sandshrimp, eggs or spinners. At slack tide and incoming, troll sardine-wrapped Kwikfish or Wiggle Warts.

For information, call Fisherman's Marine Supply 503-283-0044. For a guided trip, call Chuck Polityka of Outdoors Northwest at 503-621-3682.

Other Choices

For limits of rainbows to 6 pounds, head to Oregon's Pine Hollow Reservoir west of Maupin. In Washington, troll for cutthroat and rainbows in Seattle's Lake Washington.


Shad: Columbia River, OR and WA

Want to catch 50 fish a day? Try the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam for 3- to 4-pound shad.

Six- to 10-pound-test line and a slow-action rod make a good combination for the angler who favors spinning or casting gear. Put a small rubber grub on a jig head and hang it in the current. Depth is crucial; enough weight should be used in fast water to take the lure close to the bottom.

Rig a sliding sinker on the main line to a barrel swivel and 30 inches of leader to the jig. Plain jigs (no color) will catch fish. When the bite slows, add yellow, green or red.

For a guided trip, call Ed Iman (503-658-3753) at Columbia River Trophy Sport Fishing.

Other Choices

In southwest Oregon, hunt Howard Prairie Reservoir for its big rainbows and steelhead. Or head to central Oregon and fish tiny beadhead nymphs and salmonfly dries to native Deschutes River redbands.


Largemouth Bass: Crane Prairie Reservoir, OR

It's no secret that Crane Prairie Reservoir hosts Oregon's best public largemouth bass

fishing east of the Cascades. Some say it's the best in the Northwest.

Mobility is the key to catching Crane's big bass. Bring your boat or rent one from Crane Prairie Resort (541-383-3939). Fish the structure. Target submerged stumps and dead, standing timber. Pitch baits near weedbeds and explore downed trees and rocky points, looking for spots where bass hide to ambush prey.

Cast and retrieve shallow-running crankbaits in frog, crayfish or minnow patterns. Oh, it doesn't hurt to get up early in the morning.

To book a guided trip, call Central Oregon Fishing at 541-598-0008.

Other Choices

For Puget Sound Chinook, troll flasher-and-hoochie combos, or employ a mooching rig and herring. In Oregon, head east for Brownlee Reservoir for crappie, smallmouth bass and catfish.


Walleye: Columbia River, WA and OR

July is a great time to chase walleye on the Columbia. Averaging 4 to 8 pounds, they feed heavily on perch, northern pikeminnow (squawfish), bass and shad. The biggest fish are females. The state record stands at 19 pounds, 15.3 ounces.

For the most fish, concentrate your efforts between The Dalles and Umatilla.

One effective rig has a 3-foot leader, a light spinner blade, fluorescent green beads and a double hook setup baited with a night crawler that hangs straight down on both hooks. Use 5 inches of hollow-core lead on a slider rig to bounce it on the bottom.

Baits should be presented on a long line or off to the side of the boat's path of travel. When you feel a strike, drop the rod and count to three before gently setting the hook.

For guides, call Ed Iman (503-658-3753) at Columbia River Trophy Sport Fishing, or Jack LaFond of Young's Fishing Service (800-270-7962).

Other Choices

In southwest Washington, head up to Yale Reservoir and troll a Wedding Ring spinner for kokanee. Or head to the east side for largemouth bass in Potholes Reservoir.


Smallmouth Bass: John Day River, OR

If you like 100-fish days, the John Day River is your kind of place. Smallmouth bass here average 10 to 14 inches, but can weigh 5 pounds.

They feed on smaller fish, insects, leeches, snails and crayfish. Fry tend to stay in schools away from larger fish; if you are catching little bass, move to deeper water.

On overcast days or when the sun is low, smallmouths become susceptible to poppers fished next to the bank, dead-drifted rubber-legged bass nymphs, or plastic worms.

Try the stretch of river between Kimberly and Service Creek. For a guided trip, call Steve Fleming at Mah-Hah Outfitters (888-624-9424), Service Creek Stage Stop (541-468-3331), or James Haley at Wild River Ranch (877-953-2277).

Other Choices

Take a 7-weight fly rod and floating line to the Rogue River and cast Green Butt Skunks or skating flies for steelhead. Catch a charter out of Astoria, Newport, Depoe Bay or Brookings for Chinook and coho salmon.


Fall Chinook: Umpqua River, OR

When late summer showers bring water temperatures down, head to the Umpqua River to hook up with fresh Chinook salmon. Keep moving until you find fish, then focus on slower water with deep pools and structure. These fish average 15 to 18 pounds, but many 40-pounders also hit.

Boaters troll large wobbling spoons, Wiggle Warts or KwikFish, or drift bobbers and eggs. From the bank, drift bait or cast No. 4 Blue Fox spinners and slow-crank them through deep, green water.

You'll find lower river bank access at Jimmy Creek, Scott Creek, Paradise Creek the Elkton Bridge, Osprey Boat Ramp, Tyee Bridge. Upstream, try Sawyer Rapids, Yellow Creek and the Umpqua Boat Ramp.

For guides, call Lyle Andrews (541-679-8191), or Gary's Guide Service (541-672-2460).

Other Choices

Troll Wiggle Warts or cast spinners for coho on the Cowlitz River. Hungry trout, solitude and mountain scenery beckon this month in high Cascades lakes.


Steelhead: Grande Ronde, WA

For some of October's best steelhead action, spend a few days on the Grande Ronde River in Washington.

When you go, bring your fly rod. These are active fish that will come to the surface to take a fly. Use the cast-swing-step routine or drift nymphs under a strike indicator. On the swing, fish Red-butt Skunks, Woolly Buggers and Muddler Minnows. When nymphing, try the Steelhead Pheasant Tail, Green Rock Worm or October Caddis. To fish on the surface, try skating Bomber patterns.

Grande Ronde steelhead will take a spinner, as well. Use No. 2-4 brass, copper and black-bladed spinners with green or red accents. Only adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be retained.

For a guided trip, call Tim Johnson, of FishHawk Guides (888-548-8896).

Other Choices

For big, well-fed river rainbows, fish crayfish patterns and orange spinners on Oregon's Klamath River. In Washington, cast pink and green spinners for Kalama River cohos.


Steelhead: Deschutes River, OR

The Deschutes in November is the place to catch steelhead on a fly. Plenty of fish, long runs and lots of water make the lower Deschutes a prime destination for anglers. Steelhead are spread throughout the lower river from the mouth up to Warm Springs. Deschutes fish average 5 to 10 pounds but the opportunity to hook larger steelhead is good.

Fly-fishing is best in evenings and mornings. Use an Articulated Leech in black, purple or blue. Wade in no farther than knee-deep. Cast quartering downstream, throw an upstream mend and let the fly swing. At the end of the drift, let the fly linger.

For guides, call River Bend Guide Service, 541-553-1051, Rimrock Outfitters, 866-504-4617, or Central Oregon Outdoors, 541-504-0372

Other Choices

Drive east to pull plugs or side-drift bait for Snake River steelhead near Clarkston, Wash. Or head to Washington's Skagit River to cast spoons or flies to chum salmon.


Rainbow Trout: Fall River, OR

In December, put on your cold weather gear and head to central Oregon's Fall River. It emerges full-flowing from a spring in a grove of lodgepole pine, southwest of Sunriver, and empties into the Deschutes just 8 miles downstream. The water flows clear and cold through calm, quiet bends bordered by tall grass and willows. Submerged logs and channels in the ridged river bottom give cover to trout, while shallow weedbeds in the calm water upstream provide insect habitat.

Midday is the best time to fish. Some of the biggest rainbows and browns

are caught on midge patterns and tiny blue-winged olive mayflies, the river's main winter hatches.

The Fall River is open year-round above the falls. Access to the river is good in the area near the hatchery, and upstream on national forest land. For information or to book a guided trip, call Cascade Guides and Outfitters at 541-593-2358.

Other Choices

Head to southern Oregon to fish the late salmon run on the Elk and Sixes rivers. Or look to Washington's Snoqualmie River for winter steelhead headed for the Tokul Creek hatchery.

(Editor's Note: To order a signed copy of Gary Lewis' new book, Freshwater Fishing Oregon and Washington, send $22.95 (includes S&H) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709.)

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