Columbia River Fishing

Columbia River Fishing With Addicted Fishing’s Nick Perry

If you’re looking for non-stop action, heading out on the Columbia River fishing should definitely be in your plans for 2019.

From the plethora of big fish, to the great scenery, you’ve got to give it a try.

About Columbia River Fishing

The Columbia River is the largest river that flows into the Pacific Ocean from North America. It covers seven states and one Canadian province. It courses through four mountain ranges.

Sadly, though, the river isn’t what it once used to be. Dam and reservoir operations have fundamentally changed the river’s natural flows. Spring run-off is captured behind dams, thereby reducing flows and hampering the migration of young salmon headed out to sea, exposing them to predators in a series of slow-moving reservoirs. Reduced flows have also harmed the health of the Columbia River estuary by shrinking the size of the river’s freshwater plume – an area that hosts a variety of fish and bird species and accommodates the salmon’s gradual adjustment to living in saltwater. Dams have also blocked salmon from thousands of miles in the upper Columbia River system, including tributaries such as the Spokane and Kettle rivers in Washington and numerous rivers in British Columbia.

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This year, the seasons have been closed since September, but have reopened again, January first.

Though that’s true, this river still boasts large numbers of beautiful trophy fish and plenty of on-your-feet angling adventures.

There are all sorts of different species to be had, and fish aplenty for both beginners and pros, alike.

Columbia River Fishing for Salmon

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This river is well-known for the salmon runs. Yes, that “s” is correct. We meant multiple. You have your choice: spring salmon, summer salmon, and the big run of fall salmon. Without question, the salmon are the biggest angling attraction on the river, as there are – count ‘em – five runs of salmon: three runs of Chinook, one of Sockeye, and one of Coho/Silver Salmon.

The Spring Chinook season typically starts in March, ending in April on the lower river, and in May on the upper.

If you’re lucky enough to make it there, you’re in for some of the best tasting and hardest fighting salmon in the world.

Summer Chinook is usually a smaller run than its spring cousin, but the size of the fish makes up for it. They’ll give you two good weeks of excellent fishing at the end of June.  

Fall season starts early, in August when hundreds of thousands of Fall Chinook enter the river from the Pacific at Astoria and Ilwaco to migrate inland. The popular Buoy 10 fishery can actually get quite crowded this time of year. The season runs the month of August in conjunction with the Coho Salmon.

Columbia River Fishing for Steelhead

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This season starts in early June and you can follow the fish all the way to Idaho in August. Almost every tributary on the river gets some action with summer steelhead. A few highlights to try are the Cowlitz River, Deschutes River, Willamette River Drainage, John Day, Snake, and Upper Columbia Rivers.

Early in the season you’ll catch a lot of other species alongside the steelhead, but if you wait until July, you’ll be reeling in mostly steelhead with some Chinook and Sockeye mixed in, but who’s complaining?

If you travel to the Columbia River Gorge, you’ll have the option of fishing from either a boat or off the bank.

Known as “plunking,” the approach requires a heavy casting rod and reel, a rod holder, small assortment of bait and lures, some 6 to 12-ounce pyramid sinkers, and a signal bell for strikes. If you really want to get serious about it, you can employ the use of a plunking rig to maximize your chances of success. Steelhead here run shallow, making them much easier to catch than Chinook.

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Let’s Not Forget About the Sturgeon When Columbia River Fishing . . . .

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You can find some of the best sturgeon fishing here compared to anywhere on the West Coast. In recent years, take-home numbers have been regulated and relegated to an annual season sometime in January, but catch-and-release is always an option. And who would decline when White Sturgeon are known to be spotted at longer than Shaquille O’Neal, up to 12 feet in length! The average weight of these guys is between 50 to 100 pounds, though they’ve been caught weighing in at over 450 pounds.

Last year, Washington opened up a season down in Astoria for sturgeon for the first time since the closure. Anglers were incredibly excited for the season, and it’s expected to happen again in 2019. The 2018 season ran Monday, Wednesday, and Saturdays: May 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26, 28, 30 and June 2nd and 4th. On those dates, any White Sturgeon from 44-50 inches could be kept, one fish per day, two annually. This season was due to the increased legal-size population that has increased dramatically in the past years.

To say the Columbia is the best place to find sizable Sturgeon is an understatement!

Tidal Draw

With such close proximity to the ocean, the lower Columbia is tidally influenced, and so are the fish, so you’ll want to check your reports before heading out. Typically, the best salmon and steelhead fishing is on the outgoing tide, and during tidal changes. That’s not to say you won’t catch fish on the incoming tide, too.  

For sturgeon, look for deeper water when the tide is out.

When it’s in, look in small beds of four to six feet deep. Starting along ledges, small channels, sand flats, and other rocky points can get the action going.

Almost any time of the year, there’s great fishing to be had along the Columbia River. If you’re looking for a confrontation with some fiercely large fish, it’s time for a vacation.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

Become an ANGLR Expert and apply here.

Nick Perry


Hey guys and gals! I’m born and raised in the PNW fishing for steelhead and salmon primarily. But, I love fishing for all species we have here! I’m a member of Addicted Fishing crew located in Washington State. The chase of that next big fish never ends, go get em!

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3 replies
  1. Nathan H
    Nathan H says:

    Well written Nick! I’m too an avid angler in the PNW here. Only thing I disagree on is you said fishing is better on outgoing tide. Its definitely better on the incoming tide hands down. The natural tidal surge of the incoming tide helps push the fish up river. Besides that though,ci really enjoyed your article. Kudos!


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