On the Columbia River there are two primary species of steelhead. Summer run Steelhead and Winter run Steelhead. These beautiful hard fighting fish can be caught throughout the Columbia River system from the mouth all the way up to the Snake River. Ironically, we don’t spend allot of time targeting steelhead on the Columbia river itself but instead focus on the vast array of tributaries of the Columbia river system. In any event there is still more than enough Columbia River Steelhead fishing to be had and we know all the best places to catch them.
In the Columbia River summer steelhead enter the river as early as April and run all the way into October. With fish in the 5-15 lbs. range the summer steelhead fishing is particularly hot below the Bonneville Dam during the months of May, June, July, and even into August. Most of these fish are on there way to the Willamette, Sandy, Deschutes, and Umpqua rivers. However, summer run steelhead can be caught as far up as the Snake River which gets some of the largest summer run steelhead that can be found in the Columbia River system.
Winter steelhead enter the Columbia as early as August and can be found throughout the entire river system all the way until May. These fish tend to be the larger than the summer run fish but be aware this is also the time of year for the Wild Steelhead runs which in most cases are not allowed to be retained. Granted there are still plenty of hatchery fish available but if you hook into a wild fish be sure to check the regs before retaining. If not allowed be sure to exercise best catch and release practices as not to harm the fish. Unfortunately, throughout most of the Pacific Northwest Wild Steelhead are endangered.
When and where to fish for steelhead on the Columbia.
In the Lower Columbia below the Bonneville Dam during the months of May, June, July and August is the best time to fish for steelhead. Upper sections offer excellent steelhead fishing in the late fall throughout the winter.
The Willamette River a tributary of the Columbia is a year-round steelhead fishery. In the lower Willamette from November through March Winter steelhead are abundant with the peak fishing taking place December, January and February. Summer steelhead fishing in the lower Willamette is a fairly short window of opportunity in April, May and June.
The McKenzie River is another tributary of the Willamette that offers some excellent summer steelhead fishing. May through November from the mouth to the Leaburg Dam, these fish run hot and heavy on their way to the Leaburg Hatchery. There’s not allot of public access on the McKenzie, but the majority of fish are caught from Hendricks Bridge to Leaburg.
Middle Fork Willamette River
The Mid Fork of the Willamette river offers some excellent summer steelhead fishing starting in May and running all the way through November. There are also winter steelhead fishing opportunities from December to May.
The Clackamas has one of the strongest hatchery steelhead runs in the state and is a year-round steelhead fishery. With both Summer and Winter steelhead runs the Clackamas is one of the best rivers to go after these fish and best of all they can be caught pretty much any time of the year. Even though steelhead can be found throughout the entire river system any time of the year, during the month of March the Winter steelhead action hits its peak and Summer run steelhead fishing is at its best in late May through June.
There have been reports of some seasons where more than 5,000 winter steelhead have been caught but in recent years catch rates have been well below 2,000 fish. Starting in the months of November and December, the first winter steelhead to enter the lower Clackamas. Typically, the highest catch rates take place in January into early April.
The first run of winter steelhead here are headed to the federal hatchery on Eagle Creek. This early run starts in late fall and peaks from November into January. Some season there can be a lull in the catch rates in the month of February, until steelhead numbers build up for the second hatchery winter steelhead run. This run uses wild brood stock for rearing the hatchery fish, so they tend to be the bigger of the species on the Clackamas.
This late winter steelhead run is known for some excellent winter steelhead fishing, with catch rates generally peaking in March and holding strong into early May, right when the summer steelhead run starts to appear. In addition to the Eagle Creek hatchery fish, additional hatchery winter steelhead are raised by the ODFW and released near Dog and Foster creeks on the mainstem.
These are also included in the late running fish but in the early part of the season, anglers should focus their efforts on the area just below Eagle Creek Hatchery. Also, the mouth of the creek at Bonnie Lure State Recreation Area. Just be aware, this is a popular section to fish for steelhead so you should expect to have company.
Another excellent steelhead fishing spot on the Clackamas is the lower-river access points at the mouth of Clear Creek, on the south side at Carver, this section can be excellent fishing when water levels are a bit higher than normal. Other great lower river access points include High Rocks and Riverside Park as well as Dahl Beach Park just below the HWY 99 Bridge. Once the season enters the middle of winter, steelhead are found in good numbers pretty much throughout the entire lower river up to the Estacada area.
Eagle Creek a tributary of the Clackamas is also a great little steelhead fishing spot. With Runs of Winter steelhead being available from December through March. The best fishing takes place in late December and January with decent catch into February. However, fish can still be caught well into March. Best places to fish Eagle Creek is at Bonnie Lure Park near the mouth or along the Eagle Fern Road and Eagle Fern Park. You can also get access to some excellent Eagle creek fishing by hiking into the canyon below Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery as well as upstream on Rainbow Road.
South Fork Santiam River
The South Fork of Santiam River offers a summer run steelhead fishery that takes place from April all the way through September. The peak fishing takes place in late May, June, and July but the Summer Steelhead fishing can be good all the way until October. Historically the Santiam steelhead fishing has been good enough that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife allows the retention of up to three hatchery steelhead per day.
The Sandy River is another excellent steelhead fishery that has produces decent catch rates year after year. From December through April winter steelhead fishing is at it’s best while the Summer run fish are only around from May through August.
Winter Steelhead tend to show in significantly larger numbers that the summer runs with a mix of both wild and hatchery fish. The Sandy also offers some decent bank access with several parks like the Dodge, Oxbow, Dabney and Lewis and Clark parks being among the most popular. There are several other public access points as well and fish can be caught throughout the entire Sandy River system.
During the middle of the run the Dodge to Oxbow stretch of the Sandy tend to continue to offer some decent fishing and remain good throughout the season. Even better there is plenty of walk in access in the upper section of the river near Cedar Creek Hatchery, Revenue Bridge, the old Marmot Dam site and on upriver to the mouth of the Salmon River are also good fishing spots and can be good fishing. Even into the warmer months as summer steelhead numbers grow.
The hood river steelhead fishery is probably one of the best kept secrets in the state. With both winter and summer run steelhead to be caught year-round. Most of the fishing takes place in the mainstem and a short section of the West Fork below Punchbowl Falls.
While there are at least a few steelhead to be caught all year long, the best fishing occurs when the Winter Steelhead are in good numbers during the late winter month to early spring from February to April. However, the summer run shows up in September and run through November.
Both North and South Forks of the Umpqua offer some excellent steelhead fishing. Summer run steelhead can be caught from May to November in the North Fork of the Umpqua and Winter steelhead are available from January until April. The South Fork of the Umpqua doesn’t have a summer steelhead run but winter steelhead are available from December till April.
The Deschutes River is primarily a Summer Steelhead fishery that begins as early as June and runs through November. From the mouth upstream to Mack’s Canyon fishable numbers tend to show up in about the third week of July and spread throughout this section in good numbers. In middle of August and September the run peaks with excellent numbers of fish being caught. However, from Warm Springs to Trout Creek steelhead can fish well October, November, and December.
The Deschutes offers runs of both hatchery and wild steelhead, so be aware of the regs because most rivers in Oregon don’t allow the retention of wild fish. Even at that, there is still plenty of hatchery fish available and yet another great steelhead fishery in the Columba River basin.
John Day River
Summer steelhead on the John Day River enter the river system in September run through February. This is arguably one of the largest steelhead runs in the state with exceptional catch rates and not much pressure on the fish throughout the season. Summer run catch rate typically peaks in November but fish are available till February. Keep in mind the winter steelhead run on the John Day is primarily made up of wild steelhead which are catch and release only, however there are generally a few stray hatchery fish to be had.
The Snake River is a go to for Summer steelhead fishing and one of the only laces in Idaho anglers can get a shot at these amazing fish. Even though the action takes place in the winter and fall the reason these summer fish aren’t available until then is that they are traveling over 500 miles before entering the Snake River. Summer steelhead can be caught on the Snake from October through March and have been known to be some of the largest summer steelhead caught in the Columbia River system.
Grande Ronde River
The Grande Ronde is another excellent steelhead river in the Columbia River system. The steelhead fishery starts a little later than other rivers in Oregon with fish showing up in September and run till March. The peak Steelhead fishing takes place in October and November and is arguably one of the best fishery’s in the state. Early in the season, steelhead can be found lower sections of the river, near the Washington state line.
As late fall approaches with the heavier rains steelhead begin to move upstream. During this time most of the steelhead fishing in Oregon’s stretch of the Grande Ronde takes place from the state border to the confluence of the Wallowa River. This is a major tributary where most of the hatchery steelhead are caught. Also, steelhead continue farther up the Grande Ronde to La Grande and above, but most of these are wild fish that must be released. Occasionally a few hatchery fish may stray but not many are caught here.
These are among the top steelhead fishing destination on the Columbia River system in Oregon. However, there are several excellent Columbia River basin steelhead fisheries on the Washington State side as well. If your interested in a Columbia River Steelhead trip give us a call at 206-450-7947and ask for Big John, we’re year- Round fishing guides and offer guided fishing trips for salmon, steelhead, walleye and sturgeon. If you looking for a Columbia River Fishing Guides then you’ve come to the right place. Book your trip now!