The US’s Pacific Northwest offers up a diverse variety of fishing opportunities. There’s a couple of big reasons, though, why angling aficionados flock to this location time after time. We’re talking about Salmon fishing in Oregon, of course. What’s even better, you can also go Steelhead fishing in Oregon at the same time!
Oregon boasts an unbeatable combination of Steelhead and Salmon varieties almost year-round. They tend to inhabit the same waters, which is why we’ve decided to cover both of them in this guide. Whether you’re looking to chase Chinook along the Columbia River or battle “Silver Bullets” around the Bonneville Dam, you’re bound to find your dream adventure in Oregon.
Before you get ready to come face-to-gills with these fish, though, you probably want to know a little more about what species can be found here, and how you can catch them. Let’s dive in…
Top Salmon and Steelhead Species in Oregon
When it comes to casting a line for these fish in Oregon, there’s a couple of questions on most anglers’ lips. Which Salmon, exactly, can you catch here? And what does Steelhead fishing look like? We’ve covered this, and more, below.
It’s fair to say that Salmon fishing in Oregon is pretty synonymous with one species in particular: the mighty Chinook. This species is pure game fishing royalty all across North America. The fact that Oregon is packed with a variety of Chinook-infested waterways means that fishing here tops many bucket lists. You’ll find Chinook Salmon inhabiting the state’s winding Willamette River, majestic Columbia River, and its coastal bays, too.
What does this mean? Not only do you have plenty of places to wet a line, but you also have lots of opportunities to fish for Chinook in Oregon. The Columbia River boasts a whopping three Chinook runs. The spring run kicks things off, usually starting in March. The fish at this time aren’t the biggest, usually weighing between 15–25 pounds, but they are incredibly tasty. The coastal bays also see small numbers of Chinook enter their waters at this time.
If you’re looking for a bay fishing bonanza, though, summertime is when things really heat up – pun intended! Head to Tillamook Bay in June to encounter some of those famous “June Hog” varieties. These can weigh up to a whopping 50 pounds. You’ll find these jumbo-sized fish throughout the Columbia River, too. We all know Chinook like to fight hard, and the action is even more rod-bending when you hook into one of these beasts.
The final Chinook run takes place in fall, starting in August. This is when these fish return from the ocean to the rivers. You’ll find them throughout the Willamette, the Columbia, and the coastal bays. These specimens are the ideal combination of big and delicious, usually weighing anywhere from 25 pounds upwards.
Next up is a Salmon species that gives an excellent fight pound-for-pound. Coho may not grow as big as Chinook, but they’re just as feisty. If you’re looking to battle tough-fighting fish that will leap and spin out of the water, putting on an acrobatic display, you couldn’t find a better opponent. Similarly to their royal cousins, you’ll find these fish throughout a variety of Oregon’s waterways, from the rivers to the coastal bays.
As well as providing plenty of rod-bending action, Coho Salmon also make for seriously tasty table fare. This has earned them a place as a favorite catch among Oregon anglers. Their numbers have declined over time, though, so we’d suggest releasing your catch when possible. This ensures that Oregon’s incredible fishery will be preserved for generations of fishing enthusiasts to come. It also has no impact on the excellent angling experience these fish provide.
Coho are similar to Chinook in that they migrate between coastal and fresh waters. This means you can target them in a variety of Oregon’s fisheries. The Columbia River is home to one Coho run, which takes place during the fall. This is when these fish travel from the ocean to the river, so you’ll find them in the coastal bays, too. Autumn is when these fish are at their meanest and toughest, as they’re on the prowl for prey. Make sure you come prepared for battle.
Let’s switch the conversation from Salmon to Steelhead now. As we mentioned, these species are usually found in the same fishing grounds, and you’ll likely encounter these “Silver Bullets” on your Oregon Salmon fishing adventure. Also known as Rainbow Trout, these ferocious fish are beloved by anglers in the Pacific Northwest for their sheer fighting power. They can also be targeted in a variety of ways.
These fish are similar to Salmon in that they migrate between coastal and fresh waters throughout the year. Oregon boasts both wild and hatchery Steelhead varieties, which means you can set your sights on this species year-round. The Beaver State’s many rivers are home to a thriving Steelie population, with summer and winter runs in the cards. When these runs can be targeted, however, depends on the fishing grounds you’re exploring.
Basically, the closer to Oregon’s coastline your chosen fishery is, the earlier its Steelhead run will take place. The summer run lasts anywhere from March to November. The winter run takes place between November and March. These fish are always on offer – it’s just a matter of timing it right!
Fishing in the coastal bays or the stretches of the rivers close to the coast? Visit during the earlier part of the run, in the spring or summer months, and vice versa for winter. If you’re not sure where to plan your visit for an ultimate Steelhead battle, we’d recommend heading out with a local Oregon fishing guide. That way, you can rely on their local know-how and expert advice.
Oregon Salmon and Steelhead Fishing Techniques
Now you know a little bit more about Oregon’s impressive Salmon and Steelhead population, your next question is probably, “How can I catch some?!” Before we dive into our favorite fishing techniques in the Beaver State, it’s important to know that you can fish these waters both on foot or from a boat.
One thing to be aware of when planning your trip is that Oregon’s waters are vast, whether you’re fishing the rivers or the coastal bays. Because of this, we’d generally recommend hopping aboard a local fishing charter. That way, you can chase Salmon and Steelies to your heart’s content by following their movements and leaning on your experienced guide for advice.
No matter where you choose to go fishing, if Salmon are your target of choice, chances are you’ll be trolling. This is by the far the most common technique for Salmon chasing, and it’s not hard to see why! Trolling involves dropping multiple lines in the water when cruising along your chosen fishery. That way, you’ll mimic the bait fish that these species are attracted to. It allows you to cover plenty of ground, too.
When it comes to trolling for both Coho and Chinook Salmon, using herring as bait is a popular way to entice ’em. You can use an entire fish topped with a bait clip that has a fin, or opt for cut bait. Both of these options allow for plenty of movement in the water, which attracts the attention of Salmon. If artificials are more your bag, trolling with spinners will do the job.
Opt for a longer rod when it comes to your setup, usually around 9–10 feet. It needs to be able to cope with a lot of weight (think of those June Hog Chinooks!) – anywhere between 12–20 ounces will do the job. Add a standard 30 lb monofilament line, or a 65 lb braided line if you prefer tougher tackle. Salmon like to travel deep, especially in the bays, so make sure you have some weights in your tackle box.
Trolling for Steelies differs slightly from Salmon fishing. Planer boards are often used, which allow your lines to be spread out from the boat. Artificial lures are the name of the game here, with stickbaits and spoons being common. Finally, you’ll want to troll slowly, at a speed of around 2 knots. You’ll want a slightly lighter and shorter rod, usually around 8 1/2 foot with an 8–12 lb test line.
We mentioned above that casting is the most common way to fish for Steelhead in Oregon. Also known as bait casting, this umbrella term covers any technique that involves single-handed rod casting of any type of bait or artificial lure. It goes without saying that there are many different ways to interpret it! Here’s how it looks in Oregon…
If you’re a new angler or have never battled a Steelie before, use a bobber alongside a weighted jig or bait. Tie your bobber below your bait of choice, then cast it into the water and allow it to drift into the current. From there, keep a close eye on your bobber. When it wobbles, dives, or stops moving, it’s time to set the hook and get ready to reel in your catch.
You can also opt to cast a line with spinners. This technique can be implemented whether you’re fishing in the bays or the rivers, and involves casting your spinner slightly “upstream,” letting it drift naturally into the current, before swinging it back towards the river or coastal bank.
Finally, there’s a casting technique that does the trick for both species: plunking. Set up an 8–9′ extra-heavy rod paired with a 40–60 lb braided line for Salmon. A medium-heavy rod with an 8–12 lb test line works for Steelhead. Add a three-way swivel, which will let you add your lure or bait fish on one side and your weight on the other. Your weight can be anywhere between 2–10 lb, regardless of your chosen species. From there, it’s time to cast a line and wait for the bite!
Where can I go Salmon and Steelhead fishing in Oregon?
The Columbia and Willamette Rivers are mustn’t-miss fisheries, and you’ll find ample action in the many coastal bays, too. Below, we’ve covered some of our favorite Salmon and Steelhead locations within these areas…
- Portland: Want to combine your angling adventure with a city break? Head straight to Portland. It’s located right at the meeting point of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, and boasts a variety of charter boats to choose from. There’s also Kelley Point Park, for those of you who’d like to fish on foot.
- Astoria: There’s one big reason why Oregon’s anglers flock to this city – to experience the excitement of fishing at Buoy 10. Located just inside the Columbia River mouth, this area is chock-full of Salmon, with an especially large number of jumbo-sized Chinooks on offer.
- Bonneville Dam: If you’re looking to catch some tasty spring Chinook, head straight to Bonneville Dam. That’s not all that’s on offer here, though. Visit between July and October, and you’ll have the chance to encounter Steelhead as they make their way through the Columbia River.
- Tillamook Bay: Out of Oregon’s many coastal bays, it’s fair to say that Tillamook reigns supreme when it comes to Salmon and Steelhead fishing. This fishery boasts a strong number of Chinook and Steelhead, especially during the summer months.
- Clackamas River: Often overlooked in favor of the Beaver State’s bigger waterways, this river is the place to be if you’re looking for some winter Steelhead action. You’ll find these fish inhabiting the Clackamas all the way from Cross Park to Eagle Creek, with a variety of hatchery and wild species on offer.
Anything else I need to know?
Just the rules and regulations, of course! Any angler age 12 or above needs to purchase a license before fishing for Salmon or Steelhead in Oregon. You’ll also likely need to purchase a Columbia River Basin Endorsement, due to the fisheries that these species inhabit. You can read more in our guide to legally fishing in Oregon.
Oregon is serious about conserving its fish species for generations to come, and it shows in the rules. Salmon and Steelhead are both subject to strict open and closed seasons, depending on when and where you’re fishing, so make sure you keep up to date with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Salmon and Steelhead Fishing in Oregon: A Double Whammy!
There’s nothing quite like Salmon and Steelhead fishing in Oregon. This corner of the Pacific Northwest boasts some seriously fantastic fisheries when it comes to both species, and exploring them is unlike any other type of angling adventure. Whether you want to troll your way down the Columbia River or cast a line in one of the many bays, it’s all on offer here. Get ready to chase Salmon and Steelies the Oregon way!
Have you ever been Salmon or Steelhead fishing in Oregon? Any tips, tricks, or local advice? Let us know in the comments!