Best Fishing in Oregon
Willamette Zone (Salem and Mid-Valley)
Photo courtesy of Pop-A-Top Yarn
Source: Fishing in Oregon: The Complete Oregon Fishing Guide (11th Edition) by Madelynne Diness Sheehan
The Willamette Zone includes all waters draining to the Columbia River between the city of St. Helens and Bonneville Dam, except for those portions of tributaries east of the Sandy River that are downstream from the Union Pacific Railroad line. It includes all waters on Sauvie Island except the Columbia River.
The following are among the best fishing waters in the middle of the Willamette Zone, including around Salem, Corvallis and Albany:
The most heavily stocked trout lake in Oregon also offers quality fishing for kokanee, landlocked chinook salmon and brown bullhead catfish. It is located on the North Santiam River about 50 miles east of Salem on a popular route to Sisters and Bend. Stocked rainbows are the primary quarry, with great fishing in the arms and shoal areas in the spring and again after Labor Day but reliable fishing most of the year. Still-fishing with bait catches good numbers of trout, but trollers get bigger fish. Trollers also account for many kokanee and chinook. Brown bullheads are easy to catch in the summer, especially at the shallow north side. There are some largemouth bass as well. Detroit is hugely popular with campers and power boaters, so expect busy summer weekends.
This 30-acre lake in the Eight Lakes Basin of Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, reached by a three-mile hike from the Duffy Lake Trailhead on Forest Road 2267, consistently produces brook trout and also features stocked rainbow trout. Packing in a float tube will improve your odds.
Green Peter Reservoir
This large flood-control reservoir near Sweet Home is one of the most productive kokanee fisheries in Oregon, allowing anglers to keep 25 of the landlocked sockeye salmon a day. Trollers and jiggers catch lots of kokanee in the spring and summer, following them deeper with warmer weather. Catchable rainbow trout are stocked in the spring but take a back seat to kokanee here. Green Peter also has both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with the latter quickly becoming a popular secondary fishery.
Lost Lake (Santiam watershed)
This lake near the summit of Santiam Pass is restricted to catch-and-release fishing using only artificial flies and lures, but it’s a good place to play rainbow and brook trout to fair size. Trolling with oars or kicking a float tube (motors are prohibited) is effective early in the year, and fly fishing is good in summer and especially in the fall. Water leaks through lava cracks, so the 50-acre lake can get very low by late summer. Although open year-round, it’s covered in ice for much of the winter and spring.
This large hike-in lake boasts both stocked and wild trout to 4 pounds. There are brook and rainbow trout in fairly equal numbers, plus a small population of cutthroat trout. Shore angling is good, but packing in an inflatable craft gives anglers an advantage. The trailhead to begin a two-mile hike is near the Marion Forks Ranger Station, about 16 miles southeast of the town of Detroit at Detroit Reservoir. Wildfire scorched this area in 2003 and destroyed many larger trees on the lake’s eastern and southern shores, but it is beginning to recover.
Santiam River, North
This popular river, within an easy drive from Salem (Oregon’s capital), has productive fisheries for summer steelhead, spring chinook salmon and trout, and its fall coho salmon runs present a growing fishery. Adult salmon and steelhead turn into this fork at its confluence with the South Fork near Albany, and they migrate upstream through Stayton, Mill City and to Big Cliff Dam, which doesn’t have fish passage. Summer steelhead numbers peak in June and July, then fishing often slows during the hottest months before picking up again in the fall. A small winter run of steelhead is all wild but may be fished catch and release. Spring chinook generally reach the river about mid-May, with peak catches through June. Coho, which naturalized in the valley after a hatchery program, may be fished below Stayton. The best coho angling is from mid-September through October. Trout anglers find mostly wild fish below the reservoirs, with a decent catch-and-release fishery for rainbows and cutthroats below Big Cliff. Above Detroit Reservoir, the North Fork is stocked with rainbow trout, and there are some cutthroat and brook trout in the upper river.
Santiam River, South
Like the North Santiam, the South Santiam is most often fished for summer steelhead, spring chinook and trout, with an early fall coho salmon fishery. From the forks near the town of Jefferson, salmon and steelhead swim up the South Santiam past Lebanon and Sweet Home to the dam below Foster Reservoir in Linn County. Hatchery summer steelhead are available year-round, with best catches starting about April and continuing through October. Peak catches are usually in June and July. Spring chinook salmon are present from April through the fall spawning period, but the fishing season for them closes Aug. 15. Best catches are often in May and June. Coho salmon are usually caught from mid-September into October. Fin-clipped rainbow trout drop down from Foster Reservoir and may be kept, but wild trout must be released. Some seasonal trout stocking occurs in the upper watershed, such as Quartzville Creek above Green Peter Reservoir. There are some smallmouth bass in the lower four miles of the South Fork (below Thomas Creek) and in the mainstem Santiam River.
Willamette River (McKenzie River to Oregon City)
This 100-mile stretch of the Willamette serves as a highway for migrating spring chinook, summer and winter steelhead and a growing coho salmon run. It also has resident smallmouth and largemouth bass, panfish, a modest number of channel catfish and sturgeon, as well as trout and whitefish in the upper section. Salmon and steelhead fishing isn’t as popular here as it is in the lower Willamette or in the valley tributaries, but they are caught by anglers who learn the water. Spring chinook passage often peaks in May. Coho salmon run upriver in late September and early October. Summer steelhead pass through in spring and early summer. Smallmouth bass appear to be growing in number in this part of the river and often prefer rocky cover. Largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill are most common in quiet sloughs. There is a small sturgeon fishery in this section focused on deep holes and eddies. Trout can be caught in the Corvallis area, but the best trout fishing is upstream from Peoria (between Corvallis and Junction City), including the Harrisburg area. Cutthroat trout 14 to 15 inches are not uncommon, and redsides also are present. Trout fishing is best in the spring, especially near tributary mouths. Whitefish can be caught in the same places as trout all year.