Best Fishing in Northeast Oregon

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

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Best Fishing in Oregon’s Northeast Zone (West, Columbia Drainage)

The Northeast Zone includes all waters draining into the Columbia River east of the Deschutes River and all waters draining into the Snake River system up to Hells Canyon Dam. This zone does not include any portion of the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers.

The following are among the best fishing waters that drain to the Snake River on the eastern end of the Northeast Zone:

Grande Ronde River (lower)

The 117-mile section below the confluence of the Wallowa River, which includes a Wild and Scenic stretch, is the most popular and productive area. It is fished most often for steelhead but offers other species.

The river flows into Washington state northeast of Troy before entering the Snake River. All steelhead here are technically summer fish, but the season doesn’t open until September, when they start arriving in the lower river. The season continues through April 15 of the following year.

October and November are usually the peak in the Oregon section, although steelhead can be caught whenever a break in the winter weather occurs. Late winter and early spring fishing can be good, especially higher up in the system if spring runoff isn’t too high.

The lower river is also fished for trout, but unclipped fish must be released. In fact, the fin-clipped “trout” are actually hatchery steelhead that failed to migrate to the ocean and may be harvested below Rondowa. Protected bull trout are present.

Smallmouth bass are in the river near Troy, with the best fishing in summer. The Grande Ronde is on our list of Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Oregon.

Imnaha River

This high-gradient tributary of the Snake River in far northeastern Oregon offers good fishing for summer steelhead (hatchery and wild runs), a modest fishery for fin-clipped hatchery spring chinook, good populations of wild rainbow trout and even a catch-and-release option to chase bull trout.

The river is open to harvest of fin-clipped steelhead up to Big Sheep Creek from Sept. 1 through April 15 of the following year. Harvest opportunities are opened for fin-clipped chinook salmon when the runs justify it, which has been a regular occurrence in recent years.

Look for spring chinook to start arriving in May or early June, with fishing into early July. Wild rainbows and all bull trout must be released; only trout with clipped fins may be retained. Whitefish of good size are plentiful in the river above Big Sheep Creek.

Wallowa Lake

The largest natural lake in northeastern Oregon sits just south of Joseph (near Enterprise), at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains. This is a popular family lake but also holds really big fish.

The world record kokanee was landed here in 2010, and some of its lake trout (mackinaw) have come within a few pounds of the state record mark of 40.5 pounds (from Odell Lake in central Oregon). As if that weren’t enough, the rainbow trout fishing is consistently good.

The kokanee typically bite best from late spring through early summer. The fishing for these landlocked salmon is very cyclical. The 2009 and 2010 seasons were remarkable for giant fish that more closely resembled their ocean-going sockeye kin. Most people troll or jig for kokanee.

Though difficult to find and hook, Wallowa Lake’s mackinaw have been caught well over 30 pounds.

Rainbow trout are regularly stocked during summer and fall. Unlike kokanee and lake trout, which run deep in the summer, the rainbows tend to stick in shallow water close to shore, where they can be fished both from bank and boat. Bull trout are protected here.

Wallowa Lake Kokanee Fishing
Wallowa Lake Mackinaw (Lake Trout) Fishing
Wallowa Lake Rainbow Trout Fishing

Wallowa Mountains High Lakes

The Eagle Cap Wilderness has many nice fishing lakes at high elevations that hold brook and rainbow waiting for anglers willing and able to hike.

Some of the alpine lakes in this area known for larger trout are Aneroid, Prospect and Unit lakes reached by trail south of Wallowa Lake and Frances and Hobo lakes reached by trail south of the Lostine Guard Station. These lakes are snowed in much of the year and are primarily fished in the summer.

Fishing can be especially good in late summer and early fall (about September), and the mosquitoes are gone after the first frost.

Wallowa River

This is a popular and accessible stream that produces trout and summer steelhead. It heads in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, feeds Wallowa Lake and flows to its confluence with the Grande Ronde River northeast of Elgin.

Steelhead take awhile to reach the Wallowa River and generally are caught from mid-February to mid-April as high up as Trout Creek. Fishing is often good at the mouth of Spring Creek and in Big Canyon. Trout fishing is good spring through fall, with the best conditions in September and October.

Most of the trout are rainbows, but brook trout are in the Enterprise and Joseph areas. Bull trout must be released. Fin-clipped rainbow trout (actually hatchery steelhead that fail to migrate) are the only pan-sized rainbows that may be kept from the mouth up to Rock Creek, between the towns of Minam and Wallowa.

Wenaha River

This beautiful stream just below the Washington state line offers catch-and-release fishing for bull trout and wild steelhead. There also are modest harvest opportunities for wild trout and the occasional hatchery steelhead stray that takes a wrong turn where the Wenaha enters the Grande Ronde River at Troy.

However, bull trout must be released but can be fished in the mainstem (not the forks). Fin-clipped steelhead may be retained in the lower six miles (below Crooked Creek) from September through mid-April.

Trout angling is excellent from mid-summer through fall. Wild rainbows are commonly caught from 10 to 15 inches and run up to 20. Bull trout can get really large.

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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