Best Fishing in Oregon
Willamette Zone (Portland and North Valley)
Photo courtesy of Oregon Bass and Panfish Club
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 close to Portland in the northern Willamette Zone:
Clackamas River (below River Mill Dam)
This section of the lower Willamette River’s major tributary stream is near the Portland area and boasts good runs of summer and winter steelhead, spring chinook and coho salmon. Spring chinook get things started in about March, with best catches in May and June. Summer steelhead arrive and peak about the same time, but some will still be caught well into fall. Fin-clipped hatchery coho salmon (along with some wild fish that must be released) arrive with the first rains in September and are fished through October. The first wave of the winter steelhead run arrives around Thanksgiving, and winter steelhead continue to show into early spring. Eagle Creek, a tributary downstream from Estacada, offers good fishing for hatchery winter steelhead and hatchery coho, and it clears faster after a heavy rain than the much larger Clackamas. For a more detailed overview of this fishery, read Clackamas River Fishing.
Clackamas River, Oak Grove Fork
This major tributary of the upper Clackamas River feeds Timothy Lake and Harriet Lake and contains native cutthroat trout, lots of invasive brook trout (which may be kept in any size and number) and some brown trout that swim upstream from Harriet. Anglers must use artificial flies and lures. See ODFW’s regulations booklet for other harvest restrictions.
This reservoir south of Forest Grove, an easy drive from Portland’s west side, has produced several Oregon state fishing records for smallmouth bass (including the current one) and even the state’s largest bullhead catfish. It also has a very popular fishery for stocked rainbow trout and plentiful panfish. The lake opens to fishing in early March and closes before Thanksgiving; see regulations booklet for exact dates. At Hagg Lake smallmouth bass are located throughout the reservoir, with the rock face of Scoggins Dam and other hard structure good places to find them. There are decent populations of largemouth bass, often caught near grass and woody structure in the shallow creek arms. Crappie fishing is improving here; look for structure. Yellow perch and bluegill are abundant and fun for kids to catch, but they are usually small. The creek arms are best for numerous bullhead catfish. Trout fishing draws lots of anglers in the spring, when the lake is cool and heavily stocked, but deep-trolling boaters and bank anglers casting bait near the dam catch rainbows in hotter weather.
This small hydroelectric reservoir on the Oak Grove Fork of the upper Clackamas River system receives generous plantings of hatchery rainbow trout and also hosts some lunker Oregon brown trout as well as brook trout. Fishing is best in the spring, but late plantings of large rainbows in the late summer can perk things up again.
This natural channel of the lower Willamette River, which forms Sauvie Island, has a very popular fishery for spring chinook salmon. It also is fished for sturgeon, walleye, bass, panfish and shad. The first springers pass through the channel in January, but fishing is usually best from late March through May. Walleye are fished around Rocky Point, Brown’s Landing and Coon Island to the mouth of the Gilbert River. Shad are fished near Coon Island from May until July. The channel has populations of smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, yellow perch and bullhead catfish. Look for bass and crappie around structure such as pilings, docks and log rafts and at stream mouths. Most warmwater fishing is done from spring to early fall. See Willamette River and Multnomah Channel Fishing.
Salmon River (Sandy watershed)
This tributary of the upper Sandy River, entering near Brightwood (west of Zigzag), offers good catch-and-release fishing for wild cutthroat trout and a renewed opportunity to harvest summer steelhead. Anglers must use artificial lures and flies, and fly fishing is popular. Wild trout must be released unharmed – except that brook trout may be harvested in any size and number. Steelhead and salmon fishing is no longer allowed here.
This is another great salmon and steelhead fishing river in Portland’s backyard, flowing past the towns of Sandy, Gresham and Troutdale on its way to the Columbia River at the western gateway to the Columbia River Gorge. Sandy River spring chinook fishing is popular, usually getting underway about April and holding up at least until July. The fall chinook run is smaller and less intensely fished here than in the nearby Columbia. This run first appears in late August and peaks in October. A strong hatchery coho run usually fishes best in September and October. Steelhead are in the river year-round. The Sandy River winter steelhead run is larger, consisting of both hatchery and big wild fish. It gets going in late November and keeps producing through April. The hatchery summer steelhead arrive in fair but not huge numbers by April and May and can provide good fishing early, until glacial melt clouds the river, and then again in the fall. Smelt occasionally appear but are currently closed to harvest unless opened under emergency rules, as occurred in 2014. There is excellent access, including at Dabney, Oxbow and Dodge parks and upstream at the Cedar Creek Fish Hatchery and Revenue Bridge.
Willamette River (Oregon City to Columbia River)
The lower Willamette through Portland and several suburbs is one of the few rivers in the world that offers salmon and steelhead fishing in a big city. This is Oregon’s top producer of spring chinook and at times offers some very good fishing for smallmouth bass and panfish, sturgeon, shad and other fish close to the metropolitan area. The first spring chinook is usually caught in January or February, but the run comes on better in March and peaks in late April and May. Popular (and often crowded) spots include areas near the mouth of the Clackamas River and upstream below Willamette Falls at Oregon City and West Linn. Clackamette and Meldrum Bar parks at the Clackamas mouth in the Gladstone area offer some of the better shore angling, but boat anglers dominate the catch. Coho and steelhead are less commonly caught in the Willamette than its tributaries, but Meldrum Bar produces catches for an enthusiast group of regulars. Sturgeon numbers are highest in fall and winter but ODFW stopped harvests below the falls in 2014. Shad fishing can be hot in the Willamette from early May into early July, with a peak in June. Shad fishing is best below the falls and near the mouth of the Clackamas. Bass and panfish are spread throughout the lower river. Look for plentiful smallmouth bass around rocky banks and riprap. Crappie are often found among pilings. Note: The state advises anglers not to eat bass, catfish and carp caught in the Portland Harbor within this section of river. See the ODFW annual regulations booklet for details. Learn more from our Willamette River fishing overview.