Springers ticking up-slowly, steelhead peaking–sort of-and trout fishing still very good. Sturgeon retention to open May 10.
Vancouver Metro Area
Springer fishing in the Columbia is starting to pick up, and catch rates, while still very low, are getting better. Lower Columbia bank anglers are getting a surprising number of bright steelhead from the beaches. Also, fisheries managers recently set a few retention days of sturgeon in the lower Columbia for later this spring.
Trout fishing continues to remain good, although stockings of excess steelhead into local lakes seem to have dropped off. Low steelhead returns may be affecting the availability of these fish.
Warm water species, including bass and walleye, are biting in the Columbia, and panfish are starting to bite in local lakes.
“Dark Chins” Starting To Show; Mainstem Season Still Set To Close On April 4th
Columbia River Fishing Report – Well, it’s underway. Although anglers can never expect limit results for Columbia River spring Chinook, reports of better fishing are happening through verbal reports, and scientific creel census too backs up the fact that the fish are coming.
Yea, it’s still early, but it’s cool that catch rates are improving and a bit surprising to me that more “dark chins” (Upper Columbia River bound: Idaho) fish are starting to show in the catches. ODF&W Columbia River manager Jimmy Watts summed up the creel check this way, “Last week on the lower Columbia, anglers made 3,332 trips and caught 73 adult spring Chinook (66 kept and seven released) and 66 winter steelhead (25 kept and 41 released). Based on preliminary VSI sampling, upriver spring Chinook comprised 48% of the retained catch.”
Well, catch rates are improving at least but one Chinook for every 45 rods still sounds like a daunting day. These Columbia River spring Chinook are something to behold however. Their deep red flesh and purple backs make for some memorable eating if you get lucky.
For Oregon boat and bank anglers, the lower reaches of the river keep proving to be the most productive. One boat, a proven avid angler reported a 5 springer day out of Cathlamet on Wednesday. That is by far an anomaly as most boats are struggling for just a single bite. That source has neither confirmed or denied that report… I simply got an “LOL” after asking directly. A 5-fish day this time of the season seems a bit April-foolish… This just in! I got a phone call from this un-named avid angler, confirming that they actually caught 4 keeper adult springers at Cathlamet, and released another two jacks to boot. He is a very skilled fisherman but this is an impressive catch for anyone, no matter how good they are. The angler mentioned with a grin, that’s his best day ever for Columbia River spring Chinook!
The tides this week weren’t all that conducive to bank fishing, but that will change this weekend. We’ll cover that in the forecast section. Herring is the tool of choice for trollers working this area and although some anglers found a stash of green labels or had some from last year, most trollers are having to work with orange label herring, yea, those are small.
Trollers are running the whole herring, mostly behind triangle flashers. It may be a bit early for Pro Trolls since those need to be trolled fast to be most effective. In the colder flows, slower is often better. It’s definitely a good idea to rig those baits whole, an orange label herring is pretty darned small to plug-cut.
With most of the action downstream of Longview, trollers working the airport reach or Davis or Frenchman’s Bar are far from impressed. These fish are slow moving in these temperatures so they’ll likely continue to migrate slowly over the next few weeks.
Anglers are also still dealing with high densities of smelt in the region. One angler reported 12 smelt in the stomach of one springer he caught, talk about unlucky number 13…
It’s all going to get better and counts at Bonneville are finally trending up. Thirty-six springers are now on the counting board at Bonneville, here we go!
Steelhead numbers are not all that bad either. In fact, they are keeping pace with the spring Chinook in the system although there are more wild fish than hatchery at this point. There’s a good chance that if you are catching a hatchery winter steelhead, it’s likely a summer-run, and they’re darn tasty this fresh from the salt. The wild fish are likely winter steelhead, destined for the Willamette, Clackamas or Sandy River systems.
Anglers got a bit of good news this week, about a retention season for sturgeon downstream of Wauna forthcoming around mid-May. The official press release is below, but in short, there’s a dozen days on the table, let’s hope we get through them all. Two September dates were adopted for the fishery upstream of Wauna as well.
Oregon Fish and Wildlife
John North (971) 673-6029
Adam Baylor (503) 930-7116
March 24, 2021
States approve 2021 sturgeon retention seasons below Bonneville Dam
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington recently adopted two recreational white sturgeon retention fisheries for the lower Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam.
The first fishery will occur from the Wauna powerlines (at river mile 40) downstream to Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth, including Youngs Bay and adjacent Washington tributaries. During this fishery, anglers will be allowed to harvest legal-sized white sturgeon three days a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May 10 through June 5. On all days open to sturgeon retention, fishing (including catch and release) is prohibited after 2 p.m.
The season will be managed to a harvest guideline of 2,960 fish, which could require in-season fishery modifications if catches are higher than anticipated.
The second fishery will occur from the Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam, including the Cowlitz River in Washington. During this fishery, sturgeon retention will be allowed on September 11 and 18 (both Saturdays) with no additional time restrictions. The fishery will be managed to a harvest guideline of 1,230 fish.
For both fisheries, the daily bag limit is one legal-sized white sturgeon, with a statewide annual bag limit of two fish. Legal-size white sturgeon are those measuring a minimum of 44 inches and a maximum of 50 inches fork length, which is measured in a straight line under the fish from the tip of the nose to the fork in the caudal (tail) fin with the fish laying on a flat surface. Retention of green sturgeon is prohibited and single point barbless hooks are required when angling for sturgeon. All other permanent regulations remain in effect.
ODFW fishery managers did not recommend a sturgeon season for the lower Willamette River at this time but indicated a mid-June fishery as occurred in 2020 is being considered.
Catch and release fishing is open year-round except as noted above and during specific spawning sanctuary timeframes. Current regulations are available at: https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/columbia-zone
The Guide’s Forecast – Afternoon tides will improve for bank anglers working the lower Columbia for spring Chinook and steelhead, and the corresponding strong incoming tide will bolster catches for spring Chinook anglers as well from Tongue Point to Longview. Anglers have some advantages on their side.
Besides the tide, we’re moving more into the migration season, anglers will only have until April 4th to strike chrome on the mainstem Columbia, even though peak passage happens closer to mid-May.
This week anglers will be working with a stronger tide series so if you’re fishing the mainstem, it would be wise to consider anchor fishing with plugs or a rolling herring to entice biters. Herring, if properly worked where it spins in the outgoing tide, can be quite effective. Of course plugs remain a favorite too and if you happen to have some smelt from the recent season, why wouldn’t you wrap a fillet of smelt on the underside of a plug anyway? Just sayin…
Although the lower river, downstream of Longview will likely remain one of the better bets for anglers, those fishing upstream to the airport or even in the gorge, should start to realize improving odds in the coming weeks. It may still be a bit too early to consider your odds high, but there should be some biters available, especially if you fish that reach with more confidence than say, Westport in Clifton Channel or Tenasillahe Island.
In short, troll whole herring behind triangle flashers on the flood tide, anchor fish with plugs or herring on the outgoing tide.
Bank anglers should stand a fair chance in the ripping afternoon outgoing tide, using green, purple, pink or orange for both spring Chinook and steelhead, which should be fairly responsive this weekend and into next week. Don’t overlook the value of scent for this fishery. Plunking is the only technique where fish have to come to you, so scent can play a key role in success.
And just because the better tide is in the afternoon, doesn’t mean the fishing won’t be productive. The early “morning bite” is far from consistent so treat it that way.
If you’re going to fish the airport reach, anchor fishing will be the best option, especially with a strong outgoing tide and the spring flows starting to show. The water will likely be moving too fast to have a high degree of confidence trolling downstream, like we always do in this reach. Save this section for when the incoming tides are stronger, but maybe more importantly, when there’s more fish around.
As we’ve indicated before, the gorge is an option, but not maybe your best one. Flows will be running hard here too, but there seems to be some slower lanes where trollers can be more successful too, around Multnomah to Horsetail Falls. It’s important to reiterate however, there aren’t an abundance of fish around, there’s only been 36 cross Bonneville Dam to date.
It really comes down to where you have the highest degree of confidence, but look at it this way, what do you have to lose in learning a new spot if yours isn’t going to produce all that well anyway?
Lewis and Washougal Rivers Fishing Report—The North Fork Lewis River is not receiving much fishing pressure at all. Most anglers seem to have given up on the winter steelhead for the year. A few fish are still around, mostly in the reach from Merwin Dam down to the hatchery. Beads and bait are working for the few anglers out there when the river is low, but pink worms and larger baits work when the river is high. River conditions have been good, although the flows, at below 10 feet, are a little low for this time of year.
Very few bank anglers are trying for the fish, and bank ops are poor right now.
The Washougal River has risen following the recent rains, after a long stretch of low water and poor steelheading. It rose to a peak of about 1700 CFS on Monday, and then started to drop. There should be another burst of steelhead pulling into the river as the runs are peaking right now, but reports on angling success have been few.
The Guides Forecast—The Lewis River has been holding at just below 10 feet all week, and should be at about that level through the weekend. There is very little pressure on the river right now, so anglers that do get out should find plenty of room if they go this weekend. There are still some wild steelhead getting around, but most local anglers are waiting for the arrival of spring Chinook. For the first time in two years, anglers can fish for springers in the Lewis itself up until April 30. About 2,400 adults are expected. Those fish will show first in the troll fishery at the mouth of the river, and should do so during the first couple weeks of April. Anglers are reminded that after April 4, anglers trolling at the mouth will have to stay above the Lewis River fishing deadline since the Columbia will be closed.
Anglers targeting the Washougal should find the weekend levels at a about 1300 CFS and there should be a few late arriving winter steelhead in the river. At some point soon the first summer steelhead should arrive, but that may not be for some weeks yet. Weekend anglers should look to the lower three miles of the river, fishing with a drifting or bobber presentation. Beads are a good bet, and bait should work, too. Access is best in the lower three miles of the river, and Hathaway Park and the Washougal River Greenway offer good public access.
Merwin and Yale Lakes Fishing report–Kokanee are biting in both lakes, although the WDFW reports that the fish have been fussy, and have been mixed in different depths. As has been the case all winter, some anglers are doing well each time out, but others are struggling. The fish are biting in an inconsistent manner, and fishers have had to change baits and depths often to keep a bite going.
Fishing is a little tougher on those days when the squall lines keep moving through, followed by sunny breaks. The fish do not like it when the barometer bounces around on those kinds of day.
The Guides Forecast—Weather conditions are supposed to be warm and stable this weekend, which should result in a good bite. Consistent conditions play a big role this time of year, and things are lining up well for the weekend, especially on Saturday. However, angler numbers at Merwin are climbing, so expect plenty of competition if you go there.
Remember that if the bite stops you may have to switch up colors and depths to keep the bite going. Usually, the fish are in the top 20 feet, but you can’t count on that right now. You may have to adjust the fishing depth as the day goes on. Flat-line trolling with dodgers and pink or orange hootchies tipped with corn should produce well, but once again, be prepared to adapt.
Salmon Creek Fishing Report–Nothing new here. Steelheading is still very slow, even as the run should be peaking. The creek is open for steelhead through April, but with the action as slow as it is, anglers might want to try elsewhere. The Kalama and Cowlitz Rivers are much better bets.
Local Lakes Fishing Report—Trout fishing is good just about anywhere, and Lacamas Lake is producing yellow perch and a few largemouth bass.
Cowlitz and Kalama Rivers Fishing Report—There are decent numbers of steelhead in the Cowlitz River, and Dave Mallahan of Dave’s Guide Service (360-201-9313), said he continues to hook and land a few fish every day, but he stops short of calling the fishing good. Pressure has been high, and most weeks the fishing builds during the week, but weekend anglers hit it pretty hard. By Monday most of the biters have been caught, and the fishing slows. By midweek the bite starts to build again. Mallahan has been getting fish by bobber-dogging all year, with beads and salmon eggs both drawing bites. The reach below the Blue Creek is the best place to be, and bank anglers are getting some of the fish, too. They are doing best along the west bank below Blue Creek. Creel surveys above the I-5 Bridge showed 24 bank rods keeping one steelhead, while 37 boats/134 rods kept 78 steelhead and released one steelhead.
The lower river is producing some fish for boat and bank anglers. Stationary fishing has been working well, so many bank anglers are plunking for the fish. Boat anglers are using a variety of methods. Creel surveys below the I-5 Bridge shows that 84 bank rods kept eight steelhead and released one Chinook and one steelhead. Two boats/three rods had no catch.
Anglers are reminded that the Cowlitz River is closed to the retention of spring Chinook, as is the Columbia at its mouth, and the Carrolls Slough.
The Kalama is still fishing decently for steelhead, with anglers continuing to find numbers of steelhead in the middle sections of the river, according to John Thompson of Sportsman’s Warehouse in Vancouver, (360) 604-8000). The floats from the Red Barn to the Modrow Bridge have been a good bet all year. Bank anglers in this reach are doing well, but they must contend with the drift boats going through. Up in the canyon the anglers are doing okay, and there are no boats to contend with. All year just about any method has been taking fish, from beads to plugs to hardware.
The Guides Forecast–Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 118 winter-run steelhead adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator. River flows at Mayfield Dam were approximately 6,520 cubic feet per second on Monday, March 22, 2021. Water visibility is 9 feet and the water temperature is 43.2 F. The river is expected to remain at about that level through the weekend. Conditions are good, but anglers that fish lighter lines may have an advantage in the clear water, especially with the river being crowded on weekends. Bobber-dogging in the first few miles below Blue Creek is the best way to go, and bank anglers can drift bait or gear, or fish bobbers with jigs or beads. The run is peaking, so the next two weeks should see the best action. It will also be crowded on the weekends, so anglers fishing the early part of the week may have a tough go.
The lower Cowlitz should be stable with good conditions this week, with the river staying a little above the 35-foot stage at Castle Rock through the weekend at least. Stationary fishing may be the best way to target the fish as they move through the lower river. Anglers may stumble across an early spring Chinook or two, and they must be released. Warm weather this weekend may warm the river and improve the bite.
Anglers should be able to find a few steelhead in the Kalama this week and into the weekend, since rains early in the week are supposed to be over. River conditions will be good, and with a decent bite, anglers should find some fish. There will be plenty of boats working the middle sections of the river, so bank anglers might want to think about fishing the canyon, were drifted baits, bobber and beads, and hardware are effective. Boat anglers should try to get out on the river early, since the best spots will be taken quickly. However, another good bet would be to fish later in the day, when the pressure eases.
Local Lakes Fishing Report—Coho and trout in Riffe Lake are being caught, but have been found to have worms in them, which is usual for this time of year as the water warms. The state reports the fish are safe to eat, if anglers remove the organs and cook the fish thoroughly. Smallmouth are biting well in Riffe, too. Kress Lake has been stocked with brown trout, and is fishing well in spite of issues with vegetation. Horseshoe lake has slowed for steelhead. Silver lake is good for crappie and bass.
Columbia River Gorge
Drano Lake, Wind river, Klickitat River
Angling is open on the Wind River and Drano Lake for spring Chinook as of March 16. The Klickitat will open for spring Chinook April 1. However, fishing rarely picks up until mid-April in all three fisheries. According to the Fish Passage center, there have been 36 adult Chinook pass over the dam as of Wednesday.
The Klickitat is expecting a return of 1,500 adults, the Wind River is looking at a return of 1,200 adults, and Drano should see about 3,900. Anglers are reminded that fishing in Drano is slated to close after May 5.