Southwest Washington Fisheries Update and Forecast

Bonneville Chinook by Guide Matt Eleazer

Columbia good for fall salmon, tributaries still slowed by low water

Vancouver Metro Area

Anglers continue to chase and catch Chinook and coho in the Columbia River, and they can now keep two chinook as part of their daily limit on the mainstem. Although catches have slowed a bit in the Vancouver area, the action at Bonneville is still fair to good.

The bite in the tributaries improved some this past week, and the rains expected for this weekend should pick up the bite more, unless there is too much of a good thing and the rivers blow out.  

Sturgeon catches were not great during this last Saturday retention opener, with the best bites coming in the Vancouver and I-5 Bridge areas.

Lewis and Washougal Rivers Fishing Report–There are plenty of coho available in the North Fork of the Lewis River, but low water continues to subdue the bite. Reports indicate that some anglers are doing okay. There are still a few nice Chinook in the river, and as of October 1 anglers can keep them whether they are fin-clipped or not. Most anglers are fishing in the proximity of the hatchery above Woodland, where the fish are holed up in deep water. Twitching jigs, with purple or dark colors is working best. Some anglers are fishing with salmon eggs. A few bank fishermen are drifting corkies with bait or yarn, and they are getting a few fish, too.

The lower Washougal River is fishing well for coho, according to John Thompson of Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Vancouver, (360) 604-8000, and again the hottest method is twitching jigs. The only negative is the low water. A few Chinook are still coming to hand, mostly on bait. Most of the access is in the lower three river miles, so that is where the anglers are congregating and getting their fish. The Camas Slough is still fishing slow, and Thompson said that it is still a little early for that fishery to take off.     

Lewis River at Woodland

The Guides Forecast – The river remains at near record low flows, about 9 feet, and that has toughened the bite. Although rains are forecast for this weekend, it is not expected to raise the river any significant amount. There are plenty of early run silvers in the river, however, and that could help the bite this weekend. Most of the early run fish are in the first mile below the hatchery. Bank and boat anglers will undoubtedly take some fish down at the Hole in the Wall in the town of Woodland, too.

Twitching dark colored jigs will probably be the best angle to try, although these fish will also take salmon eggs and sand shrimp below a bobber. Rain always helps a coho bite, so when the clouds arrive along with the rains this weekend fishing should pick up. Chinook will also be present, and a few of them will still be bright. The kings will take salmon eggs pretty well.

Action in the Washougal will also pick up once the rains arrive, and they may be heavy enough to raise the river. That would definitely bring in more fish and get them on the move. Anglers will still find the fish holding in the deeper pools, but the rains could draw them into shallower runs and drifts where they may bite more aggressively.  

Columbia River Fishing Report

Although we’re still in peak season for “B” run coho on the lower Columbia, catches have slowed from the previous week. Pro guide Jeff Keightley (503-468-2126) reported a slight slow down in the bite. Jeff stated that the previous week, limits had been quite common, but although the quality of the keepers now hitting the decks for anglers fishing the area is quite good, the quantity has slowed somewhat. Jeff also stated that there are a lot of jacks in the Buoy 10 fishery right now, which are actually legal to keep. Regulations from the ODF&W web site read:

Buoy 10

Area definition:From the Buoy 10 line upstream to a line projected from Rocky Point on the Washington shore through red navigation buoy #44 to the navigation light at Tongue Point on the Oregon shore.

General regulations through December 31:  When salmonid angling is allowed, 1) wild coho must be released, 2) retention of jack salmon prohibited until October 1 b.

b The daily bag limit for jack salmon in Oregon is five fish.

The 360 flashers and spinners remain key to angler’s success, especially since bait remains hard to find in the area. The reach above the Astoria/Megler Bridge on the Washington side continues to produce the best catches at high tide although fish are scattered throughout the estuary.

Effort remains fairly low for the good catches that can be witnessed here and will likely remain that way for the remainder of the season. Although gillnet catches do impact angler’s success rates, that shouldn’t keep anglers from competing for success. Here are the upcoming commercial “Tangle Net” seasons:

5 AM to 6 PM Friday October 9 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Monday October 12 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Wednesday October 14 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Friday October 16 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Monday October 19 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Wednesday October 21 (13 hours)
5 AM to 6 PM Friday October 23 (13 hours)

Crabbing is excellent in the lower Columbia right now so a combination trip is in order for those so motivated.

Upriver, in the Longview to Portland stretch, action here too is sporadic, but that’s nothing new. Anglers trolling 360’s and spinners, some are using small Brad’s plug cut imitations, are still catching some quality fish. Coho are also starting to fall with more regularity. Anglers are targeting 30 to 40 foot of water, running their gear within 7 feet of the bottom. Just like it always has been, it’s good one day, challenging the next.

Bonneville anglers are still finding some of the better catch rates for the below Bonneville fishery. Trollers using 360 flashers and spinners, cut plug imitations or super baits are still finding consistent success. Although there certainly are a lot of fish still heading far upriver, many of the fish being caught here now will likely spawn downstream of Bonneville. That means fewer fresh fish as the season progresses. On that note…

Backtrollers working larger plugs just downstream of Bonneville are finding more consistent results too, an indication that Chinook are becoming more responsive to the invasive plug coming wiggling down on their faces. Those fish are showing more signs of coloration, their flesh is starting to lose some of their deep red hue.

Above Bonneville, trollers are still taking fish near tributary mouths. Whether it’s hover fishing with eggs near the mouth of the Klickitat, or Pro-Trolling spinners or plug cut imitations at the mouth of the Deschutes, anglers are still producing fair to good catches of Chinook in the pools above Bonneville. Those fish are largely on the move and still have good quality meat for table fare.

Fishing for Chinook will begin to taper after mid-month so if you’re not hunting, or don’t have another fishery you’re keyed into, this is a good one to learn this time of year, despite the fact that these fish aren’t necessarily in their prime condition.

The Guide’s Forecast

The soft tide series we’re currently on doesn’t necessarily bode well for productive coho fishing in the Buoy 10 fishery. Although we’ve certainly had some great fishing on soft tides, particularly during Chinook season, most of us equate good coho fishing with strong tides, taking advantage of the Buoy 10 bite when the strong incoming tide vacuums coho into the estuary from the adjacent ocean area. Back in the late 80’s when I was checking fish down there (and the limit was 3 coho/person), there was some great fishing on the strong tide series in mid-October. These fish, largely destined for the SW Washington hatcheries, are large, feisty and willing to bite for the few anglers present to put their time in.

Weather aside (and you DO need to take a look at that), the tide exchange on the lower Columbia will be one of the smallest of the year. The soft tides should make anglers gravitate towards Buoy 10 itself and hope that a spurt of fish comes in on the soft incoming tide. It may not be one of the best bets for late season coho, I’d opt for the stronger tide series next week if you’re serious about your opportunity, but one can’t overlook the crabbing option as it will be great in the estuary this weekend, if the weather doesn’t become a factor, and it just may. Winds are forecasted to be strong from the west for much of the weekend. That will make fishing in the expansive estuary a bit challenging this weekend.

Upriver, anglers here will be a bit challenged if windy conditions persist and maybe the greater threat, an onshore push of a low pressure system. When the barometer drops out of the bottom, fish go off the bite and that looks to be happening by Saturday. That said, as migration continues to taper, so will the catch rates. Pro Trollers from Bonneville Dam downstream to Longview are still in the season to be jolly, but weather may be a factor for success this weekend. The west wind is forecasted to be blowing over the weekend, making the gorge fishery not so much fun. It could pick up again when the weather system blows through however so be prepared for that if you can fish next week. Winds only intensify the further you get upstream so Hood River/Klickitat anglers will be in for quite a ride over the weekend.

Be safe out there, we’ve already had our fill of boating accidents for the year.

Merwin and Yale Lakes Fishing Report—Thompson is hearing reports that Yale lake is still fishing well, although there are few reports from Merwin. Cooling temps are slowly bringing the fish up higher in the water column. As colder temps set in the fishing should improve.

Coho photo by Terry Otto

Longview Area

Cowlitz and Kalama Rivers Fishing Report –Fishing for coho picked up some this week in both the lower and upper river, but fishing is still only fair. Water clarity has improved below the Toutle River, and anglers are getting the silvers to bite by twitching jigs, drifting bait, or fishing bait below a bobber. The most recent WDFW creel survey below the I-5 Bridge had 20 bank anglers keeping one coho and releasing one Chinook and one Chinook jack. 27 boats/67 rods kept 23 coho, eight coho jacks and released 37 Chinook, 11 Chinook jacks, 15 coho and two coho jacks.

Above the I-5 Bridge the action did pick up some. The upper river had more flow this week, so the fish are biting a little better. Boat anglers are taking the fish by twitching jigs or fishing with eggs, and the bank anglers are doing some twitching and drifting to get their fish. Boat anglers are doing better than those on the bank.

Last week almost 5,000 coho pulled in to the hatchery, and were joined by almost 4,000 coho jacks and close to 1,000 adult Chinook. You can check the full Tacoma Power Cowlitz River report HERE

According to Thompson fishing in the lower Kalama River has picked up some, too, with coho schooling in the deeper holes and biting Blue Fox Spinners. The fish have also been taking salmon eggs and hitting jigs. There are reportedly lots of coho in the river, waiting for a freshet to pull them upstream.

Cowlitz River below Mayfield Dam

The Guides Forecast–Water visibility is 10 feet and the water temperature is 54.3 F. River flows at Mayfield Dam were approximately 3,610 cfs on Monday, October 5, 2020. The river is expected to stay at right about that level through the weekend, and anglers that fish the upper reaches will find stable conditions. Catches in the upper river definitely picked up over the last week. Anglers that know the river well will undoubtedly find some good, bright biters this weekend. While the forecasted rains may not lift the river, it will definitely help the bite in the clear waters of the upper river.

It will be hard to beat twitching jigs if you want some coho. Salmon eggs should also produce well in the clear water. With flows still fairly low the boat anglers will have an advantage over bank-bound fishermen.

Cowlitz River at Kelso

The lower river at Kelso has been running at about 10.6 feet, and is expected to rise following this weekend’s rains to a little over 11 feet. This should bring more fish into the system, but if there is enough rain to raise the Toutle River too much it will blow out the lower Cowlitz. At this point it is a crapshoot as to whether the rains will be too much, or just enough to produce a good bite.

There are plenty of fish to be caught, including coho that anglers may keep. According to Dave Mallahan of Dave’s Guide Service (360-201-9313), if the lower river is fishable anglers should be able to fish just about any way they want. “You can do anything you want in there,” he said. “you can twitch Jigs, throw spinners, plunk, and pull plugs. They will all catch fish.”

The forecast rains should improve the fishing in the Kalama Riverand pull more schools further up the river. There is a slight chance the river could get dirty, but it is not expected to blow out completely. That should mean good fishing for both coho and Chinook up to the WDFW fish collection weir. Remember that very few hatchery fish are passed through the weir to the upper river, so forget the canyon this weekend, and concentrate on the lower two or three miles of the river. Tossing spinners, twitching jigs, and fishing salmon eggs should all produce well.

Mayfield and local lakes fishing report–Effort has declined for trout in Mayfield Lake, although the fish are still biting fairly well. Kress Lake is producing some nice largemouth bass, and smallmouth are still biting in Riffe Lake. Trout fishing remains good in both Mineral and Merrill Lake.

Columbia River Gorge

Drano Lake and wind River Fishing Report–Catches continue to be good in Drano Lake and the Wind River, although they did drop off a bit this week. Chinook counts over Bonneville dropped to two to four thousand a day this last week, too. Still, over 376,00 adults Chinook have crossed the dam this year. Low water in the Columbia has made it tough for bank anglers at Drano. During the most recent WDFW survey nine bank anglers had no catch, but boat fishermen did better. 21 boats/51 rods kept 10 Chinook, four Chinook jacks, two coho, one steelhead and released 22 Chinook, one Chinook jack and one steelhead.

Anglers are still finding success by trolling bait or spinners behind Pro-Trolls at both fisheries. Bank anglers continue to toss mainly bobbers and bait at the fish. Pressure is still high at Drano, but just fair at the Wind river.

The Guides Forecast–With dam counts beginning to drop the action may start to slow down over the next couple weeks, although weekend fishermen should still find a good bite here at both fisheries. Some of the Chinook are beginning to turn dark, but there are lots of quality fish still around. The rains forecast for this week should improve the bite a bit, too, although low water will probably still trouble the bank-bound anglers.

There is no reason to think trolling with 360 flashers will not continue to draw bites from the fish, although switching things up might get some fish to bite that have seen plenty of Pro-Troll offerings recently.  Anglers looking for a little elbow room might give the Wind a try this weekend.   

Klickitat River Fishing Report–the Klickitat River dropped to a very low level over the last week, and that definitely slowed the bite for both steelhead and Chinook, according to Carl Coolidge of the Klickitat Canyon Market, (509-369-4400). The river level is below four feet, or about 600 cfs. Fishing pressure was very high last weekend. “It was our busiest weekend so far this year,” said Coolidge. “The word I got was that it was tough fishing. The salmon are in here but for some reason they are turned off right now.”

The action slowed in both the lower river and up in the canyon, but a few fish were taken. Bait is definitely the best bet for the Chinook, and steelhead are still liking jigs fished below a bobber. Nymphs and egg patterns are working for the fly guys.

Klickitat River near Pitt

The Guides forecast– Coolidge warns that rains forecast for this weekend my blow the river out, although conditions may hold up through Saturday. It all depends on whether the snow levels drop enough in the mountains to keep the water from turning brown. It’s a toss-up as to whether river conditions will deteriorate or not. If the river stays alright the bite should definitely improve, with fresh fish entering the lower river on the freshet. The action in the Columbia at the mouth has stayed good, so there are salmon waiting to enter the river.

Late October usually brings better river conditions, and which usually brings with it some better fishing. The late run of coho should begin to show in a couple weeks, adding some extra opportunities for anglers in the lower river. Bait should remain the best bet for the Chinook, and jigs will work for the steelhead, although both species can be caught with Blue Fox Spinners.   

Coolidge runs a shuttle service on the Klickitat, and he offers a daily fishing report on the market website. He strongly suggests anglers call the Canyon Market (509-369-4400) before heading out to fish to see if the river is in good condition.

Local Lakes Fishing Report—Goose Lake is still fishing well for trout and should do so until the snows arrive, probably later this month. Until then Goose should produce well, as will other high elevation lakes.