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Top Fishing Charters in Columbia River
Fishing in Columbia River
A Columbia River fishing experience is nothing short of spectacular. Of course, this is no surprise when you consider the fact that the river stretches all the way from British Columbia to the Oregon coast, flowing over 1,200 miles. With 19 hydroelectric dams, the Columbia River produces drinking water and electricity to half the region. It also produces some of the most iconic game fish in the Pacific Northwest.
Columbia River fishing guides throughout Oregon and Washington State make a living on these waters all year. The river is home to multiple Salmon runs, a strong winter Steelhead season, and some of the best Sturgeon fishing in the world. Every guide has their favorite fishing hole, often packing up and following the fish through the river as they migrate. It’s not uncommon for local guides to trailer their boats from one end of the river to the other over the course of a year.
What to Catch in the Columbia River
The Columbia River used to be the world’s top Salmon producer, with millions of fish making the journey here each year. Overfishing, the development of hydroelectric dams, and general carelessness have taken their toll on the river, but the Salmon fishing continues to thrive. The key is knowing when and where the bite will be best—and it’s not exactly the same every year.
Spring Chinook enter the river in March, followed by large summer Chinook a few months later (referred to locally as “June Hog” season). Columbia River Salmon fishing reaches its height in August, when fall Chinook and Coho arrive. Known as the Buoy 10 fishery, this fall Salmon run begins near the Buoy 10 marker west of Astoria. Guides from all reaches of the river make their way to the coast for this remarkable fishery. By October, the fall run passes through Portland and beyond.
Despite all the hype surrounding Buoy 10, there is still excellent fall Salmon fishing to be had inland. One of the best fishing grounds is some 300 miles away from the coast in a free-flowing section of the river known as Hanford Reach in Washington. Here, anglers catch chinook in the 30-50 lb range.
The lower Columbia River is home to an estimated one million White Sturgeon. This fish is available for catch and release year round, a pastime which is becoming increasingly popular. It is possible to keep Sturgeon at certain times (depending on the size), but the season is highly regulated and changes annually.
From February to March, Sturgeon in the Columbia River are largely concentrated along the stretch between Portland and Longview. Come May, this fish is all the rage among local anglers, when they can hook into trophy sized specimens well above 150 lbs. Some of the best trophy Sturgeon fishing is in Astoria, where anglers catch 100-300 lb fish through July. By October, these monster fish move upriver toward Bonneville Dam, where anglers get a second wind of the trophy season.
The Columbia River is graced with both a summer and winter Steelhead run. It’s common to hook into Summer Steelhead between early June and August as they make their way from Astoria to Idaho. Winter Steelhead also swim through the Columbia, however, local fishing guides typically target them in smaller rivers such as the Willamette, Cowlitz, Clackamas, Nehalem, Nestucca, Lewis, and Wilson.
...And Then Some
Casting lines in various places along the Columbia River produces plenty of other species, as well. The Bonneville Dam hosts Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Channel Catfish, and more. Shad enter the river in May. You’ll find Walleye in the Columbia all year, and the fishing for this species is so good that many local anglers believe the next world record is bound to be set right here.
Columbia River Fishing Techniques
Local anglers often catch Salmon by trolling with spinners and diving plugs or bouncing large roe clusters on the bottom. Guides who specialize in fishing the Columbia River and other local waters have developed many tricks over the years, as well.
Light tackle and fly anglers will have a blast fishing for summer and winter Steelhead. One of the most popular methods in the region is plunking, which involves fishing a stationary bait on the bottom of the river. Spin-N-Glos are an effective lure for this technique.
Fishing for Sturgeon calls for heavy tackle and fresh bait (especially if it’s really smelly). Herring, Anchovies, Sardines, Night Crawlers, Lamprey, and Smelt are common choices.
Need to Know
Columbia River fishing charters do not include a license, so anglers aged 12 and above should purchase their own ahead of time. You can buy either an Oregon or Washington State license, depending on where you plan to fish.
We highly recommend booking a trip with a Columbia River fishing guide for the best experience possible. Local guides can show you where the fishing is best on any given day and will help you follow local regulations.
Size and bag limits apply to many species. Some Steelhead and Sturgeon are strictly catch and release. You are allowed to keep Sturgeon at certain times of the year, so be sure to consult with your guide ahead of time if you plan to keep your catch.
Columbia River Fishing Seasons
Early in the year, you can enjoy having this world class fishey all to yourself (it will probably feel that way, at least!). Bundle up and come catch winter Steelhead, Walleye, and Sturgeon.
Winter fishing on the Columbia River continues. Many local guides focus on catch-and-release Sturgeon fishing near Portland at this time of year, or they head into other rivers for Steelhead.
Spring Chinook are on the scene, bringing many anglers out of the smaller tributaries and into the Columbia River. You can continue to count on good Sturgeon fishing and the last of the winter Steelhead.
Fishing in April allows you to indulge in the quiet before the storm. The river’s busiest season is up ahead, but until then you can enjoy uncrowded waters and a whole lot of spring Salmon.
The Trophy Sturgeon season is underway! On a good day, anglers catch up to 50 Sturgeon, some of them well over 100 lbs. Spring Chinook are still in the mix, as well.
Summer Steelhead are here to join the party, while the trophy Sturgeon season continues in Astoria. The water temperature in the river is usually somewhere around 60°F at this time of year.
Anglers near Bonneville Dam are gearing up for the trophy Sturgeon that are starting to arrive. The fall Salmon run isn’t far off—until then, it’s all about Sturgeon and summer Steelhead.
Astoria will be busy with anglers at this time of year, all of them eager to get in on the Buoy 10 fishery. Fall Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead are all on the menu now, not to mention plenty of trophy Sturgeon.
The fall Salmon run continues, featuring some of the best fishing the Columbia River has to offer. You can expect a great catch virtually anywhere from Astoria to Bonneville Dam.
By now, most of the fall Chinook and Coho will be near Portland, pulling many anglers away from the coast as they follow. Trophy Sturgeon are on the move, too, heading toward Bonneville Dam.
In November, many guides turn to the smaller rivers for winter Steelhead fishing. Some are still catching massive Sturgeon near Bonneville Dam, along with the last of the fall Salmon.
December is all about Sturgeon and Steelhead here on the river. These hard-fighting fish will get your blood pumping on a cool winter day like nothing else can!