The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Northwest Zone includes waters draining to the Pacific Ocean north of (but not including) the Umpqua River drainage.
It also includes tributaries of the lower Columbia River downstream from the city of St. Helens, Ore. (except sections of tributaries below the railroad tracks near the mouth of each stream, which are included in the Columbia River Zone).
The following are among the best fishing waters in the northern half of the Northwest Zone:
Nehalem River, North Fork
Though an easy drive from Portland via highways 26 and 53, the North Fork hosts some of the coast’s better hatchery runs of coho salmon and winter steelhead; it also has wild chinook for harvest and wild steelhead to catch and release. The “silvers” (coho) arrive with the first fall rains and are caught through October. Fall chinook are caught regularly in October and early November. Hatchery winter steelhead first show up in November and peak in number during December and January. Wild winter steelhead continue arriving into March, with good fishing above the hatchery. Cutthroat trout are available spring through fall, with sea-run cutthroat (also known as a “searun” or “blueback”) returning to tidewater in late summer. The hatchery has fishing access, including a hot spot for people with disabled angler permits.
Also known as the Big Nestucca, this river entering the ocean at Pacific City is a real gem. Its runs of spring and fall chinook salmon and winter and summer steelhead mean something is available for harvest most of the year. There is plentiful access along Highway 101 from Cloverdale up to Beaver, and a good county road accesses the upper river to Blaine and beyond. Spring chinook enter in April and peak in early summer. Bigger runs of fall chinook arrive at Pacific City in August, and fish push into the river with good fall rains in late September into October. (Note: Recent fall chinook runs have been down, prompting additional harvest restrictions in 2010.) Coho salmon must be released. Hatchery summer steelhead arrive in April and are fished into early fall. Winter steelhead first arrive in November or early December, and thanks to a wild broodstock program, the hatchery run stretches to early spring. Good fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout starts in the second half of summer. A sizeable number of spring chinook and winter and summer steelhead turn up Three Rivers, a tributary entering the Nestucca near Hebo, on their return to Cedar Creek Fish Hatchery. Three Rivers offers good angling for these species and recovers much faster than the Big Nestucca after heavy rains.
This large bay, about an hour and a half from Portland, offers a renowned run of big fall chinook, plus a decent bay fishery for spring chinook, good sturgeon angling and lots of other fish and shellfish. The bay serves as an estuary for five productive streams: the Miami, Kilchis, Wilson, Trask and Tillamook rivers. The first fall chinook appear in late summer, but fishing usually is best in October. There also is a fall run of coho salmon, including hatchery fin-clipped fish that may be retained. Depending on the tide, salmon fishing can be good from inside the jetties, through popular spots like the Ghost Hole and Sheep Corral, and up into tidewater areas. Spring chinook fishing is usually best from April to June. Sturgeon fishing is best for keeper-sized fish from late winter into spring, with the West Channel a popular spot. Lingcod, rockfish, greenling and perch are commonly caught from the jetties and rocks near the port city of Garibaldi. Crabbing from boats and the Old Coast Guard Pier is popular, and clammers do well. Boats also fish offshore, especially for salmon, halibut and albacore tuna.
The Trask is best known for its chinook salmon, with both spring and fall runs, but also hosts a hatchery coho salmon run and is excellent for wild winter steelhead. Fall chinook come in with the first big autumn rains, with the best fishing often in October but holding up into November – with occasional bright fish into December. A run of fin-clipped coho races to the hatchery with the first couple of fall rains but fades quickly. Spring chinook fishing can be good, often peaking in June. Cutthroat trout fishing can be good up into the forks, and sea-run cutts return in mid- to late summer. Wild winter steelhead offer exciting catch-and-release fishing from mid-winter into early spring. Hatchery steelhead (summer and winter) are known to stray into the Trask from other rivers and can be harvested if they have a healed-over spot where a wild fish’s adipose fin would be.
This Tillamook-area river is always one of the top producers of salmon and steelhead on the Oregon coast, with excellent access along Highway 6 west of Portland. Fishing for steelhead is year-round. Hatchery (fin-clipped) summer steelhead start showing in May and are fishable into early fall, when rains perk them up again. An early hatchery run of winter steelhead arrives in late November through the holidays, and a second hatchery run bred from wild Wilson fish often peaks in February and March. The first spring chinook arrive about April, with springer fishing best in June and July. Fall chinook fishing peaks in October and November but late arrivals keep bright chinook available until the season closes Dec. 31. Fishing also can be good for resident and sea-run cutthroat trout.