The Columbia River Zone includes all waters of the Columbia River upstream from a north-south line through Buoy 10 at the mouth. It includes those portions of tributaries down-stream from the main line railroad bridges near their mouths, except for the Willamette, Sandy, Hood, Deschutes and Umatilla river systems.
The following are among the best fishing waters from the estuary to Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Zone:
Buoy 10/ Estuary
Buoy 10 is a channel marker at the Columbia River mouth, but among anglers it also refers to the larger recreational fishing area from the buoy upstream to a finger of land called Tongue Point on the Oregon side of the river upriver from Astoria. (On the Washington shore, Rocky Point is the upper deadline for this management area.)
The most famous fishery here is the fall salmon season, which generally opens in the Buoy 10 area on Aug. 1. The river’s fall chinook season here usually peaks in the last two weeks of August but is often closed for most of September.
Hatchery coho salmon can be very abundant some years, and fishing for them is usually best in late August and the first half of September. Both species usually appear first from buoys 10 to 14 but also are caught farther upriver to above the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Most anglers troll herring or lures such as spinners and plugs. Watch for in-season regulation changes, as small or large runs can spur changes to seasons or harvest limits (up or down) on the Columbia system. Spring chinook and steelhead pass through the estuary but are more commonly caught upriver.
The estuary also is one of the best places on the Columbia to catch sturgeon, but catch-and-keep fishing for these giants is no longer allowed due to a decline in numbers. Spring and summer are typically the best times to catch sturgeon in the estuary.
Greenling, rockfish, lingcod and perch are caught from the jetties, and flounder are common on sandy flats. Columbia River estuary crabbing can be very good. The beaches just south of the river down to Seaside have the best razor clamming in Oregon.
Charter and private boats based in Astoria, Warrenton and Hammond on the Oregon side and the ports of Ilwaco and Chinook in Washington fish in the estuary and also head across the bar to fish for salmon, albacore tuna, halibut and other fish in the Pacific Ocean.
The Columbia River bar can be very dangerous, so use ample caution.
St. Helens to Tongue Point
This 63-mile swath of big river offers an array of angling opportunities, including spring, summer and fall chinook, fall coho salmon, steelhead, walleye, shad and bass and panfish, plus some catch and release sturgeon fishing. Spring chinook fishing is very popular, and these fish enter the Columbia starting in mid-February.
Fish are present in good numbers in April and May, but how long selective fisheries targeting hatchery fish are allowed depends on the strength of the run. In recent years, a modest fishery also has been allowed for summer chinook, large king salmon (once commonly called “June hogs”) that arrive on the heels of the springers.
Fall chinook and and modest numbers of coho are most often caught in late summer in the lower river, with some of the better fishing in this stretch from boats near the mouths of the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers on the Washington side.
Bank anglers often target summer steelhead, which migrate near the shore from late spring into mid-summer. Winter steelhead run from November into March but are less commonly targeted on the big river.
Shad pass through from mid-May into June. Largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, channel catfish and brown bullhead are all fished in this section. The slough areas are best for many warmwater species.
Bonneville Dam to St. Helens
This 58-mile stretch offers some of the greatest variety of fisheries on the Columbia River. Fall chinook are a big fishery in this area, with peak catches from late August through mid-September. These fish are often around 20 pounds, with 40-pounders caught each season.
The mouths of tributaries, including the Sandy River, and below Bonneville Dam are popular fishing spots. Spring chinook fishing can also be very good in this river section, but pay careful attention to in-season openings and closures for various locations. Sturgeon can be caught in this section year-round, especially in the spring and fall, but retention came to a close in 2013.
In the spring, giant sturgeon to 10 feet or larger are often caught and released below Bonneville Dam; pay close attention to fishing deadlines for bank and boat angling in the Columbia River Gorge area. Summer steelhead fishing can be good in this section, particularly in the gorge below Bonneville.
Shad fishing can be downright fantastic, with most angling in the reach below the dam during late spring. Walleye are caught in this area, especially in the early spring and again in September and October. The gorge plus islands and shelves near Troutdale and farther downriver near Kelley Point in Portland are good spots to try.
Smallmouth bass are plentiful around riprap and other rocky structures. Largemouth bass, crappie and other panfish are more common in sloughs and other backwater areas, including Scappoose Bay.
The Bonneville Power Administration pays recreational anglers throughout the Columbia through an annual reward program for northern pikeminnows (a native fish formerly called “squawfish”), which are voracious predators of juvenile salmon and steelhead, especially after dams were built.
The areas below Bonneville and other dams, plus water behind islands and other structure that breaks current, are usually productive for pikeminnow fishing.
More on this fishery: Columbia River Fishing overview