Big Creek, in the Clatsop County community of Knappa along Highway 30, offers good and sometimes excellent fishing for winter steelhead and fall and spring salmon.
The creek is located about 20 miles east of Astoria and an hour and a half northwest of Portland.
The Big Creek Hatchery and nearby net pen operations provide these fisheries will plenty of big fish available for harvest.
The creek has long had an unusual September closure, which can at times be extended. Always double-check the latest regulations before fishing and note that the creek is regulated within the Northwest Oregon Zone while Knappa Slough at the mouth falls under Columbia River Zone regulations.
While there is private property bordering much of this stream, there are four significant public access points.
There is lots of space to fish (and in peak seasons lots of people fishing) at the hatchery, located south of Knappa using Hillcrest Loop Road to Ritter Road.
Another popular spot is the Big Creek County Park, located just south of Highway 30 off Hillcrest Loop.
Downstream, there is state property with stream access and a gravel parking lot just north of Highway 30.
Finally, there is access at the mouth of Big Creek where it runs into Knappa Slough, which can be productive for salmon. From Old Highway 30, use Waterhouse or Knappa Dock roads to reach this area.
The Big Creek Fishing Club offers some paid fishing access off Waterhouse Road.
Fall Chinook Salmon
There are both hatchery and wild runs of Chinook salmon here, including some of the Lower Columbia River system’s tule Chinook, which tend to run darker. While some of the hatchery fish are developed from local stocks, the hatchery also uses a Rogue River strain that tends to run brighter and is more prized by sport and commercial anglers.
The wild tule populations have suffered and at times have been protected with mandatory release rules. Look for current regulations, including mid-season updates that might prohibit harvest of salmon that don’t have hatchery-clipped and healed fins.
Depending on water conditions and regulations, chinook can be caught here in August and October in the mainstem, on either side of the September closure. Note that there are special anti-snagging rules in place during the peak of salmon fishing in an effort to cut back on unsportsmanlike anglers who have taken to illegal tactics to land big fish from this small river.
The slough area remains open during September (though angling from the railroad bridge also is closed in September) as well and can produce some fall catches at times as the fish gather up before heading upstream, according to Robert Bradley, an ODFW fish biologist.
Spring Chinook Salmon
Springers aren’t planted in Big Creek, but they are known to stray up into this stream and nearby Gnat Creek each year due to net pens in the sloughs and a spring Chinook hatchery program on Gnat Creek, Bradley said.
On Big Creek, straying fish can be caught at the river accesses but Knappa Slough near the mouth can sometimes be the better bet during April and May, when there are lots of returning fish that mill around this area and can be caught by bank anglers, Bradley said. In either place, springer fishing can be very hit or miss, he said.
There also is a hatchery run of coho salmon, or silvers, into Big Creek during the fall. At times, for short bursts, this can be a very good local fishery, even though coho have a reputation for “lock jaw” in fresh water. For example, in 2014 there were about 600 coho caught in Big Creek on their return trip to the hatchery. Look for a clipped fin to harvest these salmon.
Most coho are caught in the weeks after the creek typically reopens in October, although catches can extend a bit into November. Silvers tend to race up to the hatchery when the stream level swells with fall rains, so time your trips right after decent rains. Fishing will be tougher during dry spells or right after a deluge.
Big Creek is a local favorite for winter steelhead fishing. Its hatchery and relatively small size make for decent catch rates up at the hatchery and at those access points closer to Highway 30.
The first steelhead are likely to appear in late November on the heels of the coho salmon run, but there are likely to be more fish and better catches during the months of December and January. A few late-arriving hatchery steelhead might be available into February.
Like coho, the steelhead here must have a clipped and healed fin identifying them as hatchery fish. Fish without those fin clips are considered wild and must be released here.
Big Creek (and Gnat Creek) recover quickly after heavy rains that leave larger rivers too muddy to fish, which is why these creeks are on our list of best small winter steelhead fishing rivers in northwest Oregon.
Big Creek has cutthroat trout, but the fishery draws relatively little attention, Bradley said.
A handful of searun cutthroat might be found in the lower river during the late summer months, and there is some catch-and-release trout fishing available in the creek above the hatchery, where only artificial lures and flies may be used.