January 26, 2015
So many places to fish, so little time. Or as some say, Oregon and Washington suffer an embarrassment of fishing-water riches. One could hit a different lake, stream or saltwater spot every day for years and never run out of great places to fish. If you normally only throw for salmon in the salt, take a look at this calendar and give another species a shot. Same goes for you 'trout-only' fishermen — give the warmwater fish a go.
What follows is a smattering of rivers, lakes and saltwater fishing spots in Oregon and Washington. Some readers have undoubtedly fished one or more of these locations. Some readers may feel that the calendar names their 'honey hole' and will be upset at all the new attention. If that happens, try going somewhere else and you may just find an even sweeter 'honey hole.'
Olympic Peninsula Steelhead
Let the water conditions be your guide, as there are plenty of rivers to fish in Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The Quillayute River itself is hardly a real river, only six miles long before it splits in its three main tributaries, the Bogachiel, Calawah and Sol Duc. Some of the other Olympic Peninsula rivers, like the Hoh, whose headwaters come from the Hoh Glacier high on the side of Mount Olympus, run milky. Not so with the Bogachiel, Calawah and Sol Duc. They originate in the lowlands and clear up sooner than the others. That makes them prime targets if the other rivers are blown. Two of the three — the Sol Duc and Bogachiel — are accessible by trail from Olympic National Park. The Sol Duc is an excellent choice for newbie steelheaders since it is easy water to read. For those who toss flies, the Hoko River has eight miles of fly-only water.
Other Options: In January Cowlitz River steelhead are popular. Expect good fishing from Blue Creek on up to Barrier Dam. Also expect plenty of company on the river. For Yakima River trout, watch the weather and pick a day when the sun warms the water a few degrees. Cast nymphs, swing streamers or throw spinners.
Lake of the Woods Trout/Perch
Fishing through the ice at Lake of the Woods is much like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to catch. In addition to yellow perch, rainbow and brown trout, the lucky fisherman might haul in a largemouth or smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie or kokanee. The trout grow big, reaching several pounds in size, and fall for garlic-flavored PowerBait. Please read the Oregon fishing regulations regarding size of ice-fishing holes, and make sure to wear plenty of layered clothing. The lake sits at over 4,000 feet elevation, and it gets cold.
Other Options: The Columbia River walleyes are a popular option for anglers. Last year the river gave up a new Washington state-record walleye, a bulky monster that topped the scale at 20.32 pounds. Try trolling Rapalas behind a bottom walker.
For Oregon's Sandy River steelhead, focus efforts from Cedar Creek downstream. The winter run begins in earnest mid-February and continues through April.
Puget Sound Blackmouth
These immature chinook spend their lives eating whatever they can catch in Washington's Puget Sound. Expect these fish, running between 7 and 20 pounds, to be swimming deep. You should focus fishing efforts close to the bottom. Winter baits, such as herring and candlefish, are small, so lures and bait should match. Blackmouth will also feed on squid.
Vary the trolling speed until the fish respond, then try to match that speed as long as the bite continues. The best blackmouth fishing is in south Puget Sound and Hood Canal, plus the usual north sound spots like Possession Point and Point No Point.
Other Options: Oregon's Clackamas River steelhead fishing is good this month. With seven boat ramps and bank access for plunkers, the river is a great choice for Portland-area anglers. Boaters usually are side-planing. Bankers run small jigs under a float.
In Washington, Lake Washington cutthroat emerge from the lake depths this time of year to meet the sockeye fry swimming down the Cedar River. Small lures, plugs and streamers trolled off the mouth of the Cedar will get fish.
Columbia River Spring Chinook
When the spring chinook show up in the Columbia River, the boat and bank anglers turn out en masse hoping to land one of these chunky, strong, and exceptionally-tasty salmon. Anglers cast and plunk from both sides of the river above and below Portland.
Boaters have their favorite spots, with plenty of traffic around the I-5 bridge, Portland Airport and Hayden Island. Some boaters will be running plugs, while others favor herring. Spinners also account for plenty of fish.
The fish tend to follow definite travel lanes where they don't have to buck the main current. They also swim at specific depths, so move if you are not finding any fish. The water is cold, so the fish may be running shallow. Tide plays a part in the fishing, with more fish taken on the outgoing tide. Plan accordingly.
Other Options: Willamette River Spring Chinook are a good option. The river below Oregon City holds plenty of springers through April until the water warms a bit and the fish bolt upriver. Troll herring or prawns, either natural or cured with your favorite brine. Lake Billy Chinook Bull Trout are biting in April. Fly-tossers cast streamers up to eight inches long.
Banks Lake Smallmouth Bass
Washington's Banks Lake is the site of numerous bass tournaments in May, because there are so many smallmouth bass swimming here. Water temperature dictates when the fish move up into pre-spawn staging areas. Water level — the lake is an 18-mile-long irrigation reservoir — dictates where the fish stage.
Typically it makes sense to target the shallow water in the back bays and along the rock walls. A highway ran up the Grand Coulee long before the lake was formed. That road is now an underwater fish magnet. Banks is best fished from a boat or pontoon, but fishermen need to be aware that May weather can bring thunderstorms and strong winds.
Other Options: Potholes Reservoir is home to many species that offer good angling action. The Washington reservoir is a smallmouth, largemouth and walleye hotspot. Henry Hagg Lake also offers a mixed bag of fishing options. The Portland, Ore., metro-area water is a mixed species lake that holds largemouth, smallmouth and trout. It produced the state-record smallmouth bass.
Diamond Lake Trout
Diamond Lake may be Oregon's premier rainbow trout lake, where fishermen have a chance to hook and land a double-digit pound fish. It happens every year. When the ice comes off the lake in late April or May, the water begins to warm and fish food starts to multiply.
Diamond Lake rainbows grow fat on abundant aquatic insects such as dragonflies and damselflies. The fish gorge on leeches, especially in the south end along the weed beds. All fishing methods work here. Fly-fishers favor the south end. Bank anglers work the shoreline north and south of the Diamond Lake Resort where they toss PowerBait or nightcrawlers. Trollers drag pop gear or wedding ring spinners, often tipped with a chunk of worm.
Other Options: Columbia River carp offer good angling action this time of year. The Columbia River sloughs and backwaters are filled with common carp, and these robust fish will test tackle, patience and skill. Lake Roosevelt is a far piece from most everywhere, but the walleye fishing is worth the drive. The Spokane Arm holds plenty of fish that need to be harvested.
McKenzie River Trout
The famed McKenzie River redside trout is the draw on this Oregon river. A brilliant red stripe painted along their side, these rainbows thrive in the upper river that runs clear and cold.
Sparkling silver-bright cutthroat predominate in the lower river until it runs into the Willamette near Eugene, Ore. The McKenzie River spawned the now-ubiquitous driftboat used on rivers throughout the West. It's still the favorite means of fishing the river, certainly among fly-fishermen. This is fast water so high-floating dry flies or bottom-bouncing nymphs catch plenty of fish. Mayflies, stoneflies and caddis prevail, plus the ever present chironomids. Lure fishermen favor Kastmaster spoons and brown Roostertails.
Other Options: Oregon's Clear Lake is managed as put-and-take rainbow fishery. It is family-friendly and gives up plenty of trout. Wallowa Lake produced the state-record kokanee, then quickly replaced it with a world- record fish. Fish size in the lake is cyclical, but population numbers are good right now.
Buoy 10 Chinook
The name applies to the lower 16 miles from Buoy 10 to the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria, Ore., 2014 saw a modern day record number of chinook finning their way up river past the awaiting armada of sportfishing boats. The 2015 returns are not yet known, but the area always puts out fish.
Big tidal exchanges push big numbers of fish upstream. Low slack tide and low- light conditions are good starting points. Back trolling against the incoming tide with herring, either plug cut or whole, is the ticket. The chinook are usually deep, up to 70 feet in the shipping channel, while the coho swim over the top.
Other Options: Oregon's Crescent Lake mackinaw are found in deep water while trolling with big plugs. The lake is often fishable when the mountain winds have driven boaters off nearby Odell Lake. Sea-run cutthroat, also known as harvest trout or bluebacks, return from the ocean and can be found along Alsea River this time of year. Once in fresh water, they quickly revert to normal trout behavior. The usual trout tactics work.
Puget Sound Pink Salmon
It's an odd year and that means Puget Sound will be swimming in pink salmon — millions of them. Only two years old, these salmon have been increasing in size and feistiness, and fishermen are taking notice. The preferred lure is a small Buzz Bomb in hot pink. Dick Nite spoons, in the same size and color, are the second choice. Fly-fishermen cast small pink flies, tied with Estaz or other pink synthetic material. Bank fishers can score but a boat works best. It's frustrating when thousands of fish swim past just out of casting range.
Other Options: Silver Lake, a shallow lake in southwestern Washington, is known for it's largemouth. But has big crappie too. Small marabou jigs or baitfish streamers work best. Chinook return to the Yaquina River in Oregon by mid-September. Trolling a Blue Fox spinner, No. 5 or 6, close to the bottom works best.
Snake River Steelhead
Two events are constants on the Snake River. Wild fires race up the hillsides and hard-charging steelhead draw crowds. The first run is the smaller summer fish, followed by the B-run metalheads than can top 20 pounds. Heller Bar marks the early- season spot for back trolling deep diving plugs through the deep slot of the Washington side of the river. Just upstream from Heller Bar fly- fishermen intercept Grande Ronde fish as they leave the Snake. As the water cools, the fishing focus drifts downstream towards Asotin. Bait fishermen toss roe and prawns, sometimes augmented with a corky. Scent gets added to lures. To know when to go, watch the fish count at Lower Granite Dam. Be on the river when the daily count exceeds 4,000 fish.
Other Options: Washington's Methow River steelhead are usually good sport this time of year. The Carlton Complex fire could screw up this fishery in 2015. If the river runs clear, though, the steelhead will bite. 2014 saw a new state-record tiger muskie taken from Curlew Lake on a crankbait. You won't catch many, but they will have plenty of teeth.
Skykomish River Steelhead
Easy to reach from the Seattle area, the Skykomish has every kind of steelhead water — pools, runs, riffles and pocket water. Bank fishers congregate around Reiter hatchery, while jet boats predominate in the river below Monroe. Side-drifting small egg clusters is popular. Fly fishermen favor spey rods to minimize wading.
Other Options: Summer and winter steelhead swim through fabled pools and runs on the North Umpqua River in Oregon. Traction devices are a must when wading. The Walla Walla River runs low and clear, with little fishing pressure. The best boat access is at Washington's Madame Dorian Memorial Park.
Crooked River Trout
Flowing out of Bowman Dam, Oregon's Crooked River is open all year and attracts plenty of attention in winter when other streams are too cold to fish or closed. The first few miles below the dam flows through a scenic canyon, flecked with public access. Bait is allowed only May 24 to Oct. 31, so winter is fly-fishing time. Mayflies, stoneflies and chironomids predominate. After leaving the tailwater section, the river runs through private land. Access is again available at Smith Rock State Park, though the fish population has declined.
Other Options: On the Nisqually River in Washington, a late run of chrome-bright chum salmon surges this time of year. Prime time is roughly Dec. 15. Big desert rainbow trout await anglers who brave the cool weather on Washington's Fourth of July Lake. All fishing methods work here.