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36 Great Northwest Fishing Trips

36 Great Northwest Fishing Trips

Fishing success is often a matter of timing. Here are our top 36 picks for Washington and Oregon in 2004 -- three for each month.


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By Gary Lewis

If you call the Pacific Northwest home, you are the envy of fishermen throughout the country. Our freshwater fisheries hold steelhead, salmon, sturgeon, trout, bass, walleye and others too numerous to list. If that's not enough, within a day's drive from anywhere in the region you can be at the ocean to try your hand at tuna, salmon, halibut, lingcod, sea bass and more.

We have it all, right here in Oregon and Washington. But with so many places to fish, where do you go for the best angling? Washington-Oregon Game & Fish knows not just when the fishing is good but when it's great, where to go, who to call, and how to do it. From January to December, from smallmouth bass to chinook salmon, we've got 36 suggestions - three for each month - to fill your fishing calendar in 2004.

Cowlitz River, WA
Cowlitz River steelhead average 7 to 17 pounds and are spread throughout the river in January. Try the stretch below Blue Creek, and upstream at the Barrier Dam. Prospect for steelhead in rippled water that runs 3 to 9 feet deep and flows at about the speed of a brisk walk.

One effective technique here is side drifting with eggs, which guide Don Kinsey employs. "Everyone in the boat uses the same amount of weight and 4- to 5-foot leaders with Cheaters and No. 2 or 4 hooks, baited with eggs. We set the boat with the bow upstream and start casting from the stern first."

The bite is subtle. The line will stop, pulling slightly and holding in the current. "Let it take four or five pulls before you set the hook," Kinsey advises. For a guided trip on the Cowlitz, call Don Kinsey Salmon and Steelhead Guide Service at (253) 631-6739.

Other Choices
Oregon's Sandy River is one of the most consistent steelhead fisheries in the state, and over on the Oregon coast, try the Siletz River for winter steelhead.


Author Gary Lewis with a Deschutes River steelhead that fell for an articulated leech pattern. Photo by

Clackamas River, OR
Head to the Clackamas River for a chance to catch hatchery and native steelhead from the mouth of the river upstream to McIver Park. Bank anglers find the best 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.

Drift gear accounts for most of the fish taken by Clackamas River steelheaders, but spinner, fly and jig fishing are becoming more popular among winter fishermen. Try the drift from Barton to Carver or McIver Park to Barton, and be prepared to side drift bait or pull plugs.

For the latest information on local conditions and techniques, call Fisherman's Marine and Outdoor at (503) 557-3313. For up-to-date stream flows, call the PGE Fish Line at (503) 464-7474.

Other Choices
Fish Washington's Hoh, Queets, Calawah and Bogachiel on the Olympic Peninsula for wild and hatchery steelhead. For fly rod action, try the Metolius River for wild rainbows and bull trout.

Rainbow Trout
Crooked River, OR
With 4,000 rainbow trout per river mile, you can't go wrong on the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. "Last spring we caught some of the biggest fish I've seen on the Crooked in years," said Justin Karnopp of Central Oregon Outdoors in Redmond. "You can count on a blue-winged olive hatch nearly every day. If you miss it, then fish midges."

Karnopp says the section closest to the dam is your best bet for big fish. You don't need to set your alarm clock to catch the best action. These hatches start between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

For information on conditions or to book a guided trip, call Central Oregon Outdoors (541) 504-0372.

Other Choices
March is when to find sturgeon in the Columbia below Bonneville Dam, or string your fly rod for the Yakima River's rainbow trout.

Chinook Salmon
Columbia & Willamette Rivers
For 15- to 40-pound chinook salmon, head to the Portland-Vancouver area to fish the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

In the Columbia, the best choices are the mouth of the Lewis, the lower end of the Multnomah channel near St. Helens, Willow Bar, Frenchman's Bar, the I-5 Bridge, Government Island, and the mouth of the Sandy.

On the Willamette, fish at Oregon City, Sellwood, near the Port area, the head of the Multnomah Channel, and the mouth of the Willamette.

Chuck Polityka of Outdoors Northwest says the best baits are whole or plug-cut herring, prawns, sand shrimp and eggs, and sardine-wrapped Kwikfish. Use a depth finder and look for shelves and depressions where salmon rest on the way upstream. Spoons, spinners and plugs (Kwik-fish, Wiggle Warts) can be trolled or held stationary while at anchor. Use enough weight to keep the lure on the bottom.

For water conditions, call Fisherman's Marine Supply (503) 283-0044. For a guided trip, call Outdoors Northwest at (503) 621-3682.

Other Choices

Lake is stocked with more trout than any other Oregon reservoir, making it a must-fish for opening weekend. April is also time for big smallmouths on the John Day River.

Columbia River
Fish below Bonneville Dam for sturgeon in May. According to Ed Iman, fresh-caught shad and eel will be your best baits.

The river is subject to tidal influences downstream from the Portland airport. Schedule your trip to coincide with outgoing tides. Keep an eye out for tugboats and barges, and do not anchor in shipping channels.

With your depth finder, look for drop-offs and ledges in 40 to 65 feet of water. Anchor upstream and fish downstream, using enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom.

For a guided sturgeon trip, call Ed Iman at (503) 658-3753 or Polityka at Outdoors Northwest (503) 621-3682.

Other Choices
For halibut, lingcod and sea bass, take a charter from La Push, or Oregon's Rogue River offers big spring chinook in a beautiful setting.

Rainbow Trout
Upper Klamath River, OR
For 50 to 100 grabs on big dry flies in a single day, head to the Upper Klamath River and fish the salmonfly hatch below John C. Boyle Dam for 11- to 17-inch trout.

Salmonflies and golden stoneflies are legendary on the Deschutes; you'll avoid the crowds by fishing here. Match the big flies with dry patterns like the Sofa Pillow, Improved Golden Stone and Morrisfoam Salmonfly.

This wild and scenic section is known for Class 5 whitewater rafting. Fish from the bank or go with a guide. Stream flows are dictated by water needs upstream. If the water is high, try it later in the evening when less water is let out of the dam.

To fish with a guide, call Roe Outfitters, (541) 884-3825.

Other Choices
Head to the Cascade Lakes for big rainbows in Lava Lake, Wickiup and Crane Prairie Reservoir, or for hard-fighting shad, take shad darts and flies to the Umpqua River.

Lake Trout
Odell, Crescent & Cultus Lakes
You'll tangle with some of the Northwest's biggest char at Odell, Crescent or Cultus lakes. The state record mackinaw came from Odell in 1984, weighing 40 pounds, 8 ounces. Most lakers run 5 to 15 pounds.

While these fish move up and down in the water column daily to feed on smaller fish, you need to go deep (140 to 160 feet) to find them in July. Troll with a Hoochie, large Flatfish or a Kwikfish behind flashers. A large night crawler will add scent. Try dropping the downrigger ball into the mud, then cranking it up. Macks will rush over to investigate such a sudden stirring of the mud.

For local conditions, call the Odell Sportsman, (541) 433-9355, or Ken's Sporting Goods, (541) 433-2530.

Other Choices
Fish the Columbia from Roosevelt to the Bonneville Pool for 4- to 8-pound walleye or the Umpqua River for big numbers of smallmouth bass.

La Push, WA
Saltwater summer-salmon fishing peaks in August for charter boats operating out of La Push. Run eight to 20 miles out to find the fish.

When you find salmon feeding on baitfish, mooch with bait or lures. Twenty fish per angler is average. Use barbless hooks to ease the release of immature and native (non-finclipped) fish. Drop your rig to the bottom, crank it up 50 feet and stop, and then crank it up 50 feet again, continuing until you hit a fish. If you limit early, you can go bottom fishing.

To book a charter boat adventure, call Randy Lato at Always Fishing, (360-374-2052), Admiralty Charters, (360-683-1097) or Top Notch, (360-374-2660).

Other Choices
Twelve- to 30-hour trips from the coast can be fantastic in August when warm water brings in the albacore tuna. For largemouth action, make the drive to Crane Prairie Reservoir or Davis Lake in Central Oregon.

Deschutes River, OR
"By September, we are fishing hard from Trout Creek to the mouth of the Deschutes," said Greg Cobb, owner of The Fly Box in Bend. "We launch at first light and swing flies until the sun hits the water. We'll fish both sides of the river when we can, dictated by the canyon shadows."

To fish on the swing, cast quartering downstream, throw an upstream mend, let it swing, take two steps and start again. Deschutes' steelhead run 5 to 15 pounds. Good summer swinging patterns include the Skunks, the Purple Peril, Red Winged Blackbird and the Magic Purple.

After the sun hits the water, probe steelhead-holding slots with nymphs. Tie on a 10-foot leader and set the strike indicator at the junction of your fly line and leader. Use a large weighted nymph like the Steelhead Prince or Bead Head October Caddis. Cast quartering upriver, mend the line and stack it behind the float.

For a guided trip on the Deschutes, call The Fly Box Outfitters, (541) 388-3330, Rimrock Outfitters, (866) 504-4617, Central Oregon Outdoors, (541) 504-0372, or Deschutes River Outfitters, (541) 388-8191.

Other Choices
Early September is the best time to hike or horse-pack into the Wallowas for brook trout and to target coho in Washington's Cowlitz River.

Umpqua River
When October showers and cold nights bring water temperatures down, it is signaling a good time to head over to the Umpqua River for fresh coho salmon. Keep moving until you find fish and then focus on slower water with deep pools and structure.

Spinners, plugs, jigs, flies and bait can be productive. Scott Wolfe, guide for The Big K Guest Ranch, prefers casting 3/4-ounce Luhr-Jensen Bang Tail spinners in black, pink and white. "In clear water, I can watch the retrieve and see the fish charge the lure," he said.

Umpqua River coho average between 8 and 10 pounds, though several 20-pounder are caught every season. You will also have a chance at chinook salmon, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat and smallmouth bass here.

For a guided trip, call The Big K Guest Ranch, (800) 390-2445, or Gary Lewis at Gary's Guide Service, (541) 672-2460.

Other Choices
Try the Keno reach of the Klamath River for a chance at big river trout on spinning or fly gear. For October coho, you can't go wrong with Washington's Kalama River.


Snake River, Grande Ronde Rivers

In November head to the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers for summer-run steelhead action. These are active fish that will take Green and Red Butt Skunks, Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows, leeches and bead flies. To fish on the surface, try skating Bomber patterns.

Spinners and diving plugs are effective, or try cured roe or whole bay shrimp with a drift setup or under a float. "Use a level-wind reel, park the boat in the hole above the fish," suggests Tim Johnson of FishHawk Guides. "Let the line run and drift down through the hole. When the bobber goes under, put your thumb on the spool and set the hook."

For a guided trip, try FishHawk Guides, (888-548-8896), or River Quest Excursions, (800-589-1129).

Other Choices
For big chum salmon, try the Skykomish River. If coho salmon fishing gets your blood racing, head to the Naselle and Willapa rivers.

Wilson River, OR
For steelhead in December, head to Oregon's Wilson River. Fish the lower river early in the month and move upstream with the fish.

After years of guiding on the Wilson, Marv McQuinn of Marv's Guide Service is used to water fluctuation. In high water, he recommends looking for softer water and fishing along the edges of the stream or downstream from small tributaries. In lower water, fish the faster chutes.

McQuinn tries to present a small bait, preferring smaller sand shrimp or Borax-cured eggs. The lower river is best fished from a boat. Early in the run, McQuinn pulls Hot Shots or Wiggle Warts, sometimes tipping the belly hook with a sand shrimp tail. Later in the season, McQuinn likes to side drift for steelhead.

Bank anglers should try Donaldson's, Mill's Bridge, the Blue Hole and the Minefield.

For a guided trip on the Wilson River, call Marv's Guide Service at (503) 649-5444.

Other Choices
December provides excellent steelheading on the Snoqualmie River. If the river is high, try the Skykomish or Green. Another good bet is Oregon's middle Deschutes River for rainbows and brown trout in December.

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