Southwest Washington Fisheries Update and Forecast

Columbia Chinook by Matt Eleazer

Columbia still fishing well, B-run coho make strong showing

Vancouver Metro Area

The mainstem Columbia is still producing salmon, although catches in the lower river have slowed. Fishing is still fair to good up by Bonneville Dam. B-run coho are now entering the tributaries in strong numbers, making late October and November a good time to get out.

Local lowland lakes fishing remains slow ahead of trout stockings planned for Black Friday, but panfish and bass are still biting.

According to multiple retail sources, the heavy competition you are seeing on the rivers is partly because of big numbers of sportsmen giving fishing a try for the first time. People off work and with time on their hands are learning how to fish, and that means more advocates for the sport. That may be one of the few pluses from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lewis and Washougal Rivers Fishing Report–The recent rains spurred the coho in the river to spread out more, and that has spread the anglers around, too. fishing remains strong for both coho and Chinook, although most of the kings are getting dark. Bright B-run coho are in the mix with the darker early run fish. Catches have been good to fair through the river below the hatchery. Twitching jigs is what most anglers are doing, although drifted baits and bobber and eggs are taking fish as well.

During the latest creel surveys, 20 bank anglers kept two coho and released six Chinook and one coho. Seven boats/17 rods released one Chinook jack and one coho. The action is still centered around the hatchery, the golf course, and in Woodland.

The Washougal is fishing very well, too, according to John Thompson of Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Vancouver, (360) 604-8000. He is hearing very good reports of B-run coho being taken in the lower river, with the best action coming at the bowling alley reach. The fish are biting a variety of offerings including spinners, bait, and of course, they are biting jigs.

Lewis River at Woodland

The Guides Forecast—Rains in mid-October lifted the river from its low flows, and it is now running at about 10.5 feet near Woodland, and it should stay at that level through this weekend. Anglers should find good, stable river conditions and a good bite as more and more B-run coho enter the river. Bank anglers should center their efforts around the hatchery and in the town of Woodland, while boat anglers should be able to locate the schools through the whole of the river.

The Lewis is now open to fishing all the way up to the deadline below Merwin Dam, and anglers should be able to find fish through the four miles of water between the dam and the hatchery. This reach will undoubtedly see less competition, so fishers wanting a little more room may give that stretch a try.

There is no reason to believe the fish will stop biting jigs, especially dark-colored ones, although methods favored in the past will still work. Bobber and bait is a good choice, as is drifting gear in fast water. Pulling plugs will also elicit strikes.

The Washougal has also lifted from its low water, and should fish very well this weekend. Anglers will find stable conditions, and the fish will be schooled up in the deeper holes, although faster runs and glides will produce as well. The best access is in the lower river, and anglers fishing the bowling alley reach and other areas along the Washougal River Greenway should do well. This is the river you may want to fish if you want to escape the crazy numbers of anglers at the more popular rivers. The Washougal does not garner as much attention.

Look for the fishing to pick up in the Camas Slough this weekend. Trolling plugs has been the go-to method here for years, although you may want to try twitching jigs.

Merwin and Yale Lakes Fishing Report – Kokanee fishing is fair to good for both lakes, but the bite and key depths remain spotty. Most anglers are having to try different depths every day to locate biters, but the fish are definitely moving up in the water column. the 20 to 30 foot depths have been the place to start.

The Guides Forecast—Fishing for kokes should level out as colder weather rolls in this weekend, perhaps stabilizing the fishing. Over the next few weeks, the best bite may switch from trolling to vertical jigging, a popular winter kokanee method. There are still good numbers of anglers out targeting the schools, and those that want a little less competition should try Yale, although the fish will be smaller.

Tiger muskies are still biting big baits very well, and they are positioning themselves in the bays and at the mouths of creeks to intercept the spawning kokanee.    

Local Lakes Fishing Report—trout fishing is slow at Klineline Pond and Battle Ground lake for holdover trout. Panfish and bass can still be caught at Lacamas Lake.

Coho by Terry Otto

Columbia River Fishing Report – With the series of weather systems the district has endured in recent weeks, coho are not sticking around in the estuary for trollers to take advantage of any longer. B-run coho are largely back to their parental river systems (largely the Cowlitz and Lewis), fouling off hope of mainstem chrome. There is of course still opportunity for late-run coho, but it greatly diminishes after mid-October. Coho will continue to run, especially on larger run size years, into early November on these lower Columbia, Washington side tributaries.

Crabbing remains excellent in the estuary.

Anglers fishing upriver, targeting coho at the mouths of the Cowlitz and Lewis River systems, are still finding an occasional biter to take advantage of. Dunking eggs, casting spinners or twitching jigs are all viable methods of catching fish at these tributary mouths. Like mainstem fishing however, prospects are becoming more slight.

Chinook anglers are losing interest fast and catch rates remain fair in the Bonneville reach, downstream of the dam. Weekend catch rates indicate as much, see for yourself, right from ODF&W’s creel checking program:

Salmon and Steelhead

On Saturday’s (10/17) flight, 159 salmonid boats and six Oregon bank salmonid anglers were counted from Tongue Point to Bonneville Dam. Salmonid boat anglers fishing in the Bonneville Pool averaged 0.16 Chinook and 0.45 coho caught per boat, while anglers fishing in the gorge averaged 0.82 Chinook and 0.05 coho caught per boat. Boat anglers fishing in Troutdale averaged 0.06 Chinook and 0.06 coho caught per boat, while anglers fishing in the Portland to St. Helens area averaged 0.04 Chinook and 0.09 coho caught per boat.

Gorge Bank:

Weekend checking showed no catch for three bank anglers.

Gorge Boats:

Weekend checking showed 17 adult Chinook, three jack Chinook and one adult coho kept, plus one adult Chinook released for 22 boats (66 anglers).

Troutdale Boats:

Weekend checking showed three adult Chinook and three adult coho kept for 48 boats (93 anglers).

Portland to Westport Bank:

Weekend checking showed no catch for one bank angler.

Portland to St. Helens Boats:

Weekend checking showed one adult Chinook, two adult coho and one jack coho kept for 23 boats (51 anglers).

Goble to Beaver (Clatskanie) Boats:

Weekend checking showed no catch for eight boats (20 anglers).

Bonneville Pool (Bonneville Dam upstream to The Dalles Dam):

Weekly checking showed no catch for three bank anglers; and six adult Chinook, five jack Chinook and 17 adult coho kept for 38 boats (108 anglers).

The Dalles Pool (The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam):

Weekly checking showed no catch for three boats (five anglers).

John Day Pool (John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam):

Weekly checking showed no catch for one boat (one angler).

What the creel check doesn’t tell you is the grade of Chinook anglers are catching in their respective fisheries. Anglers fishing downstream of Bonneville are more likely to find brighter fish, while those fishing upstream of Beacon Rock are likely to come across more residential fish, preparing to spawn in that reach of river. For that reason, fish have been there a while and the quality of their flesh is deteriorating. Backtrolled plugs are taking a few of those fish with some fish, even some fresher fish, still falling to Pro Trolls and spinners or super baits just downstream of Beacon Rock.

Upriver of Bonneville, the creel check speaks for itself, fishing is tapering. The mouth of the Klickitat and to a lesser degree, the mouth of the Deschutes should remain viable options for another few weeks as late-returning coho come back to those systems as well. Bonneville passed over 4,000 coho adults on one day last week, October 16th.

Effort for sturgeon and walleye is low right now.

The Guide’s Forecast – For lower Columbia salmon trollers, the season is largely over. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring trolling gear this weekend if you plan on crabbing. The low tide exchange would prove best around Buoy 10 as the soft tides don’t often move fish upstream very far on the soft push. The winds may be your biggest factor, the weekend outlook is “iffy.”

FRI  S wind 15 to 20 kt, becoming SW 20 to 25 kt in the  afternoon. Gusts up to 30 kt in the afternoon. Wind waves SW 5  ft at 6 seconds. W swell 5 ft at 8 seconds. Rain.  

FRI NIGHT  NW wind 20 to 25 kt with gusts up to 30 kt. Wind  waves NW 5 ft at 5 seconds. NW swell 8 ft at 9 seconds.  

SAT  N wind 20 to 25 kt, becoming NE 15 kt with gusts to  20 kt in the afternoon. Wind waves NE 4 ft at 5 seconds. NW  swell 8 ft at 9 seconds.  

SAT NIGHT  E wind 20 to 25 kt with gusts to 30 kt. Wind waves  E 5 ft at 6 seconds. NW swell 5 ft at 9 seconds.  

SUN  NE wind 20 to 25 kt. Wind waves 5 ft. NW swell 3 ft.  

SUN NIGHT  NE wind 15 to 20 kt. Wind waves 4 ft. W swell  4 ft.  

MON  N wind 10 to 15 kt. Wind waves 3 ft. W swell 5 ft.  

TUE  N wind 5 to 10 kt. Wind waves 2 ft. W swell 4 ft.

FishWeather indicates the winds will be the worst on Saturday and may lighten up by Sunday but ALWAYS check the weather before you go.

Crabbing should be excellent when it’s safe to do so on the lower Columbia. Bring good bait, and you’ll be rewarded accordingly. Watch that east wind however!

Upriver, anglers still targeting Chinook will see their chances decline even further. Chinook passage is falling fast and fish are losing their quality almost faster.

Bonneville will remain the strongest option but between dropping air temperatures and potential whipping winds, the gorge won’t be a fun place to fish. Again, check weather before you go.

Backtrolling plugs for resident Chinook will likely be the best option, close to the deadline, but Pro Trollers should also stand a rare chance at a Chinook downstream of Beacon Rock. Regardless, expect to see diminishing returns and diminishing quality as we enter late October.

Longview Area

Cowlitz and Kalama Rivers Fishing Report—Thompson reports that anglers are doing well in the Cowlitz River, with the lower river clearing a little below the Toutle. Few creel surveys were carried out in the river this week, with only six bank anglers being surveyed below the I-5 Bridge. Those anglers had no catch.

The B-run fish are making a strong showing, and there are still many early run coho and Chinook still in the river. Anglers may now keep fin-clipped hatchery Chinook. There has been good fishing to be had at the mouth of the river, and there are schools of salmon holding near the Barrier Dam as well.

The upper river is producing well, as returns to the hatchery have remained strong. Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 3,930 coho adults, 2,852 coho jacks, 477 fall Chinook adults, nine fall Chinook jacks, and 924 cutthroat trout during seven days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

You can check the full Tacoma Power Cowlitz River report HERE

Fishing in the lower Kalama River picked up nicely this week, according to Sportsmen’s warehouse’s Thompson, a fact that is backed up by recent creel surveys. 30 bank anglers kept nine coho and three coho jacks, while 11 boats/23 rods kept 12 coho, six coho jacks and released two Chinook and one steelhead.

Cowlitz River below Mayfield Dam

The Guides Forecast– River flows at Mayfield Dam were approximately 3,590 cubic feet per second on Monday. Water visibility is 9 feet and the water temperature is 54.3F. River flows are expected to remain steady through the weekend and anglers should find stable conditions. Fishing should be good for coho and Chinook in the river through the next week.

With the good visibility twitching jigs should work well for the coho, while fishing bait will entice the Chinook to bite. There should be fresh fish moving in ahead of the weekend with rains predicted for this Friday. Anglers can also expect to find a few bonus cutthroats, too.

Cowlitz River at Kelso

The lower river may not fare as well depending on how much rain the region receives, although the river is supposed to remain steady at a little over 11 feet. The Toutle River may blow out again if there is too much precipitation. If the rains are light, though, fishing in the river could be very good, especially for fish that are on the move. Action at the mouth of the river has been good, which means that fresh schools are still showing up and passing into the Cowlitz. Just about any method should take fish if the river does stay in good condition, including fishing bait, twitching dark colored jigs, or pulling plugs.    

The Kalama River should benefit from the forecasted rains, which could compel schools of coho to pull up into the river following the freshet. The action should be good in the lower river below the WDFW fish collection weir. Anglers that target the deep holes should do well by twitching jigs or fishing bobber and bait, and in the tail-outs and sections with faster water swinging spinners should draw strikes. Even if the river dirties up following the rains there should be aggressive fish available. Remember that this narrow river can get crowded if there are lots of boats, so weekday anglers may fare better.

Local Lakes Fishing Report—Trout are still biting at Mayfield Lake and at Riffe Lake. Riffe is also producing good numbers of coho salmon and smallmouth bass. Crappie fishing is picking up at Silver Lake, where anglers are also finding some largemouth bass. Bluegill and other panfish are still going strong in Kress and Sacajawea lakes.

Columbia River Gorge

Drano Lake and Wind River Fishing Report—Both of these fisheries are slowing down, although Chinook continue to be caught. Most of the fish are beginning to turn dark, and the numbers of fresh fish arriving are slowing down. More and more Chinook are being released as a result. Trolling with 360 flashers and bait or spinners is still working for boat anglers and most bank anglers are fishing bobber and bait.

The Guides Forecast—Look for the fishing to continue to slow this weekend and into next week as the fisheries begin to wind down. There will be fish available, but anglers will have to pick through their catch to find bright fish to take home. As November approaches expect the fishing to continue to slow.

Klickitat River Fishing Report—While the Chinook fishery here is slowing and the fish are turning dark, there are a few good fish still available. Anglers in the lower river are beginning to do well with the B run coho. Below the Fisher Hill Bridge, the WDFW surveyed 51 bank anglers that kept three Chinook, 17 coho and released three Chinook. Above the #5 Fishway six bank anglers had no catch.

According to Carl Coolidge of the Klickitat Canyon Market, (509-369-4400), conditions in the river have improved markedly, with the visibility increasing to 18 inches or more. Steelheading in the upper sections is good, with conventional anglers getting bites with bobber and jigs or spinners, and the fly guys are drawing strikes with a stone fly and bead combo.

Coolidge runs a shuttle service on the Klickitat and offers a daily fishing report on the market’s website. He strongly suggests anglers call the Canyon Market before heading out to fish to see if the river is in good condition.

Klickitat River near Pitt

The Guides Forecast—With the river running at about 800 CFS the fishing should improve for both coho and steelhead this weekend. Coolidge reports that cold weather forecast for this weekend should bring even better river conditions. The B run coho numbers should continue to grow, although the gill nets in the river are taking a serious toll on the numbers reaching the Klickitat. Coho anglers would do well to twitch jigs and fish bobber and bait in the deep holes of the lower river canyon, while anglers above that reach could do well by drifting bait or corkies in fast water, or twitching jigs and fishing bait in the slow sections. What Chinook there are in the river will continue to turn dark, although a few bright ones may still be found.     

Clear water should be the norm for the weekend and through the month of November, which is always a good month for steelhead. Coolidge reports that the steelheading is definitely better than it has been the last couple years.

Local Lakes Fishing Report

Goose Lake continues to produce good trout fishing for fat rainbows and cutthroat trout. Anglers are taking the fish with a wide variety of baits. Fishing may slow as cold weather moves in, and weekend forecasts for freezing overnight temps may negatively impact the fishing.