Best Fishing in Oregon’s Snake River Country

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

The Snake River Zone includes all waters of the Snake River from the Oregon-Washington border upstream to the Oregon-Idaho border. The boundary between the Snake River and its tributaries is defined as a straight line across the mouths of all rivers. The Snake River Zone includes the portions of the Burnt and Powder rivers downstream of the Huntington-Richland Road near their mouths and includes the portion of Pine Creek downstream of the Oxbow Bridge.

The following are the best fishing waters in the Snake River Zone:

Snake River (from Hells Canyon Dam to the state line)
One of Oregon’s wildest Wild and Scenic River sections, popular with sightseers, rafters and jet boaters, also can offer exciting fishing for smallmouth bass, channel catfish, trout, steelhead, salmon and sturgeon. From the Oregon side, the best access is either at Hells Canyon Dam or at Dug Bar downstream. Smallmouth bass are plentiful, with the best bite from late spring to early fall. Channel catfish to 20 pounds are in this stretch. For rainbow trout to 20 inches, focus on the first 15 miles below the dam, especially at tributary mouths. Best steelheading is from November to February, with some good water below the mouth of the Imnaha River. Spring chinook (and in 2010 fall chinook as well) can return in good enough numbers to support a fishery, particularly between the dam and Dug Bar. All sturgeon must be released here, but monsters to 9 feet offer great sport.

Hells Canyon Reservoir
The lowest and least often fished of three large reservoirs on the Oregon section of the Snake River, Hells Canyon Reservoir has decent populations of smallmouth bass, crappie and catfish. Crappie are often caught from the bridge at Copperfield. Channel catfish are often caught in the 10- to 14-inch range but get larger. Smallmouth bass will readily hit lures. The reservoir also has bluegill, trout and sturgeon. The trout are caught in deep water or near tributaries. Sturgeon must be released. Surplus hatchery summer steelhead also are stocked here when available, and are counted as trout (one over 20 inches may be retained).

Oxbow Reservoir
The middle impoundment of three big Snake River reservoirs on the Idaho border, Oxbow has some very good smallmouth bass fishing, thanks in part to harvest restrictions designed to protect larger fish. Anglers using lures can sometimes tally 100-bass days here, and there are some good-sized fish available to anglers who work at it. Oxbow also has good fishing for channel and flathead cats, crappie and rainbow trout. Channel catfish often get to 15 pounds and flatheads can reach double that size. The best numbers of catfish are caught in July and August, with fresh shrimp a good bait choice. Crappie fishing is best when the reservoirs are high and crappie are flushed downstream from Brownlee. They are in shallower water from about mid-April to mid-June. Also look for them around points. Fishing for rainbow trout can be good near the base of Brownlee Dam at the upper end, especially in spring and early summer.

Brownlee Reservoir
The big, upper reservoir on Oregon’s section of the Snake River is known throughout the western U.S. for its outstanding fisheries for smallmouth bass, crappie and catfish. Many Oregonians fish the Powder River arm, which sticks out like a thumb near Richland. Smallmouth bass are present in good numbers throughout year after year, but the greatest numbers are around rocky outcroppings in the lower half of the reservoir. Big smallmouth bass are available in shallow water during their spawning period, starting in March, but the bigger fish often run deeper later in the season. Crappie are most aggressive in late spring, during their spawning season, when they are in 5 to 6 feet of water. At other times, schools of crappie often will suspend in deeper water. Crappie fishing is very cyclical here: still great some years, but there are more years that are only fair nowadays. Catfishing also is consistently good and is popular in the Powder River arm and from the Burnt River arm up to Farewell Bend. Channel catfish are abundant to good sizes, with some fantastic fishing occurring as the shallow areas flood each late spring and early summer in the upper reservoir near Huntington. Flathead, bullhead and other catfish also are caught. Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegill and yellow perch are additional fisheries here, and infrequent sturgeon must be released.

More: Brownlee Reservoir Fishing

Snake River (above Brownlee)
This shallow, free-flowing section of river, upstream from Brownlee to where it flows entirely through Idaho south of Nyssa, offers excellent fishing for huge catfish. There are more flathead catfish here than down in Brownlee, and the state record for this species, a 42-pounder, was caught in this stretch in 1994. Both the flatheads and numerous channel cats are commonly caught around 5 pounds. The best fishing is in shallow water during the spring, before the late June spawning period. Fish are more dispersed by July, and it’s very hot in this country in mid-summer. Smallmouth bass and crappie are also present in good numbers here. Look for smallmouth bass in current breaks below islands and riprap. Crappie are caught in backwaters and slower pools.

Editor’s note: The state of Oregon has issued health advisories for people who eat fish caught in the Snake River, including Brownlee Reservoir. Follow consumption guidelines listed in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual regulations booklet.

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