Sherman County may be one of the smallest east of the Cascade Mountains and one of the least populated across Oregon, but what anglers might want to know is that its bordered on three sides by tremendous fishing rivers. The Columbia, Deschutes and John Day are among the most productive fishing rivers anywhere in the state.
The purpose of this article is simply to introduce some of the finer fishing areas within Sherman County. For more, try following links in the article text, at the bottom of the page and in the blue box. You’ll find even more fishing waters in this region by clicking the neighboring counties immediately below the main body of this article.
When double-checking fishing regulations before heading out, you’ll find the waters of Sherman County in three of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s zones. The big river is in its own Columbia River Zone, the Deschutes drainage is within the Central Zone, and the John Day drainage is in neighboring Northeast Zone.
Incorporated cities in Sherman County include Grass Valley, Moro, Rufus and Wasco. Unincorporated areas include Biggs (Biggs Junction) and Kent. One of Oregon’s newest state parks, Cottonwood Canyon, is located on the banks of the John Day River near the Highway 206 bridge.
Listed alphabetically, here are the best fishing spots in Sherman County:
Columbia River (The Dalles and John Day Pools)
Sherman County’s stretch of Columbia River includes some very popular fishing in upper The Dalles Pool, from the mouth of the Deschutes River up to the John Day Dam. The lower John Day Pool also can be very productive, including the John Day Arm. For migrating species, these pools are most heavily fished for summer steelhead and fall chinook salmon, both of which are running through here in top numbers from the end of summer into early fall. There are smaller catches of spring chinook and fall coho salmon. Both pools also have fantastic warmwater angling, especially for smallmouth bass and walleye. The Columbia is often recognized as one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the West, often drawing good-sized tournaments. For some regional smallmouth bass info, check this article. And walleye angling can be superb in both pools. We have an article on this fishery in The Dalles Pool, and fishing is particularly good in Sherman County below the dam, launching from the Rufus area. You will find at least fair fishing for other species in these pools, including some crappie. Shad fishing can be good below the dam. There is a seasonal sturgeon fishery with modest retention. Catching northern pikeminnows can earn you a few bucks in season. For more on mid-Columbia River fisheries, check this article. A broad look at the river’s angling opportunities is here: Columbia River Fishing.
Deschutes River (shared with other counties)
Sherman County borders the lower Deschutes from the mouth at the Columbia River up to near the Sherars Falls area, downstream from Maupin in neighboring Wasco County. The lower river is particularly productive for summer steelhead, which duck into the cold Deschutes in large numbers during the late summer and early fall. Fishing can be awesome here in August and September. Access is very good at the mouth, where there is a state recreation area, boat launch, riverside trails (especially east bank) and camping. Spring chinook and fall chinook can be taken when run forecasts allow it. Watch for announcements from ODFW. The three miles below Sherars Falls is best for this. Trout fishing is legendary in the Deschutes, although it’s more popular farther upriver into Wasco and Jefferson counties. The lower river is tinted by the glacial waters of the White River just upstream from Sherman County, and trout angling is better in the clearer water above, but there still are good numbers of fish in Macks Canyon and near the mouth, along the county line. For more about the Deschutes and other great rivers in the region, check out this article. Also check out Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Oregon. Overview of this fishery: Deschutes River Fishing.
John Day River
The lower John Day River bordering Sherman County is famous for its huge population of smallmouth bass, including fish over 20 inches. The boat takeout at Cottonwood Canyon (near the new state park) is a popular ending point for multi-day bass-fishing floats, and there is bank access here. For tips on how to catch smallmouth bass in season, read our spring and summer articles. You also will find the John Day in our article about the best smallmouth bass fishing in Central and Eastern Oregon. Steelhead also return to the John Day in good numbers, passing through the lower river in good numbers during the fall. You must release the majority wild run but can keep the occasional fin-clipped hatchery fish that strays upriver. The John Day Arm, where the Columbia River backs in about 10 miles to Tumwater Falls, has its own fisheries. Smallmouth fishing is still good here, but add crappie, channel catfish and other warmwater species for a nice variety of fishing. The arm also can be pretty good at times for summer steelhead, which actually arrive in the middle of fall and are typically taken by trolling. There is bank access at Le Page Park at the mouth (west bank), or launch your boat here to get to more spots in the arm or Columbia. The John Day is among the best fishing spots in the Northeast Zone (Columbia drainage).
Fishing in Neighboring Counties
Gilliam County: To the east, another small Oregon county but with excellent angling in the Columbia River and lower John Day.
Wasco County: To the south and west, this larger county offers access to much of the best trout, steelhead and salmon fishing on the Deschutes River plus good fishing in the Columbia River near The Dalles.
More Fishing Resources:
In addition to other sources, the following websites were very helpful while compiling these county fishing pages, and the information there is valuable to all Oregon anglers.
For current regulations, trout stocking, weekly angling reports and more, find links on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fishing Resources Page.
For boating information about these waters, see the Oregon State Marine Board’s launch locator map.