Best Fishing in the Columbia River – Above the Dams

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Source: Fishing in Oregon: The Complete Oregon Fishing Guide (11th Edition) by Madelynne Diness Sheehan

Also see:
Best Fishing In the Lower Columbia River (Below Bonneville Dam)

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 downstream from the main line railroad bridges near their mouths, except for the Willamette, Sandy, Hood, Deschutes and Umatilla river systems.

The following are two of the better fishing pools behind large hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Zone:

The Dalles Pool (Lake Celilo)

This 15-mile reservoir above The Dalles Dam, which includes the mouth of the Deschutes River, offers some of the most productive fishing of the four power impoundments on the Columbia River, which forms part of the border between Oregon and Washington.

Fisheries include salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, shad and abundant smallmouth bass and walleye.

Fall chinook seasons vary year to year, depending on the predicted run size. Spring chinook may also be fished some years. Summer steelhead are often caught off the mouth of the Deschutes, starting in July.

Salmon also gather there. Boaters fish for sturgeon throughout the pool; bank anglers target them at Giles French Park below the John Day Dam. Sturgeon retention is governed by annual quotas.

Walleye is a big fishery year-round, except during harsh winter weather, and big fish are often caught in February and March. The mouth of the Deschutes and the islands and shelves around Rufus are popular walleye spots.

Find smallmouth bass throughout the main river around rocky structure and also in ponds along the river.

Try fishing for shad below the dam in June and July.

Bonneville Power Administration funds a sport reward program on the Columbia River that pays anglers who turn in northern pikeminnow, a native predator that has taken advantage of the dams to prey heavily on salmon and steelhead smolts, including threatened and endangered species.

More: Walleye Fishing in The Dalles Pool (Columbia River)

John Day Dam Pool (Lake Umatilla)

The next pool up has some of the best fishing for walleye on the Columbia River, which many people believe will one day produce a world record. The state record is just shy of 20 pounds and was caught in this pool in 1990.

Catches are common between 3 and 13 pounds.

Walleye are available throughout this pool, but most angling for them is from Arlington upriver to Umatilla.

Smallmouth bass fishing is also popular in this reservoir, and tournament catches here are on par with the best in the United States.

Umatilla Park has good bank fishing for smallmouth and other warmwater species. Salmon and steelhead fishing can be good at the mouths of the John Day and Umatilla rivers and close to McNary Dam.

Steelhead are present from September through January.

A shad run is fished near Umatilla in late spring and early summer. Crappie fishing can be good in the fall, particularly from docks in the boat basins.

Northern pikeminnow, which are worth cash during a sport reward program (see entry above), can be caught around structures on bait and bass lures.

The John Day Arm is popular for warmwater fish during the summer and steelhead in the fall.

More on this fishery: Columbia River Fishing overview

Find fishing spots in all 36 Oregon counties

Oregon Resources

ODFW Weekly Fishing Report
ODFW Trout Stocking Schedule
Oregon Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service

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