Kilchis River Fishing for Salmon, Steelhead and Trout

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This Tillamook Bay tributary offers fair to good fishing for a variety of species, including fall Chinook, winter steelhead and cutthroat trout available for harvesting.

The Kilchis also is one of the best places in Oregon to catch (and release) mighty chum salmon.

The Kilchis is a mid-sized stream entering Tillamook Bay between the cities of Tillamook and Bay City.

Its tidewater intertwines with the larger and much more intensely fished Wilson River. Its headwaters are in the Tillamook State Forest.

The river can blow out of shape quickly with a hard rainfall, but it is short and often drops into a beautiful green ideal for fishing before its longer neighbors return to prime condition.

While lots of the lower river is bordered by private property, restricting access, there are some notable spots for bank anglers to get to the river to cast.

Two public places to start your bank fishing are at the launch at Mapes Creek (more often known as the Logging or Logger Bridge) and upriver at Kilchis County Park on the north side of the river on Kilchis River Road.

There also are a couple of landowners who may provide fishing access, sometimes for a small fee.

Access farther upriver into the state forest is much more open, but this area is of more interest to steelhead and trout anglers than salmon fishers. Much of the upper mainstem is closed to salmon fishing anyway.

Use Kilchis River Forest Road to reach holes up to the fishing deadline at the forks.

Drift boats have good access to the lower river. There are launches at Mapes Creek or at a county launch a few miles upriver.

Boaters also can get into the tidewater (or take out from a drift below Mapes Creek) from the launch just above Highway 101, accessed from Alderbrook Road.

What follows is a quick look at the best Kilchis River fishing options.

Chinook Salmon

Fall Chinook, or kings, are the undisputed kings of the Oregon coast’s fishing scene, and the Kilchis is a nice spot to have in the arsenal for any north coast angler.

While the annual catch rates here are somewhat modest, often well below 1,000 fish tagged, at times this is the best option in Tillamook country.

That is particularly true when the larger rivers are still recovering from a heavy rain and the smaller Kilchis has dropped into shape.

Several guides who spend most of their days drifting for Chinook on the Trask and Wilson will switch over to the Kilchis at times, such as when conditions on those larger rivers aren’t ideal.

Salmon fishing here is best in the lower river, with most opportunity from the county park down into tidewater.

At this writing the river is closed for salmon fishing above the bridge near Tilden Bluffs and Purcell Creek roads, just off Kilchis River Forest Road upriver from the county park.

Like Chinook salmon fishing in the Wilson, the Kilchis River run tends to come on the late side.

Start looking for Chinook in October, with the tidewater areas the best bet before significant fall rains come.

However, the river sections often produce the best catches in late October through November, and good fishing can be had up close to the end of the Chinook season on Dec. 31.

Although there technically is a season for them, spring Chinook salmon are quite rare in the Kilchis, but a few do stray in from the larger rivers, where hatchery smolts are planted.

We can’t really recommend the Kilchis for springers, though, due to low returns and low reported harvests.

In the spring, focus your north Oregon Coast spring Chinook salmon fishing on Tillamook Bay and the Trask River or farther south in the Nestucca system.

Coho salmon also are present in coastal rivers, and their spawning runs overlap with fall Chinook. But these “silvers” must be fin-clipped fish of hatchery origin to retain, with exceptions made by special regulations for some coastal bays and rivers when run forecasts are strong.

Hatchery coho smolts are not planted in the Kilchis, and it would be a fairly rare occurrence to catch a clipped coho that strayed from one of the streams that do have hatchery runs, such as the Trask and North Fork Nehalem.

Our best advice is to study up on species identification and regulations, including in-season updates, on ODFW’s website before fishing any river for salmon.

Chum Salmon

Say what you will about these greenish-hued, wolf-jawed salmon, they know how to fight like crazy and keep at it longer than most other salmon and steelhead.

Those anglers who choose to go into battle with them, or do so by accident while trying to catch something else, often have stories of snapped rods and ruined reels.

And one thing is clear: In Oregon, the Kilchis River is one of the best places to catch these fish, which are more common farther north into Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

In fact, the Kilchis and nearby Miami River are the only two Oregon steams where it is legal to specifically target chums, which must be released unharmed here and anywhere they are caught in the state.

Chum salmon are an incidental catch in other rivers, including lower sections of multiple tributaries of Tillamook and Nehalem bays and other north coast and lower Columbia River streams.

Chum salmon (a.k.a. dog or keta salmon) tend to have the strongest returns in the lower sections of rivers without many rapids.

On the lower Kilchis, these fish some years can number into the thousands during the peak of the run, with the best fishing typically found from Mapes Creek downriver to the head of tidewater.

Bank anglers can try Mapes Creek or pay to gain access to private riverfront for prime chum fishing.

Boat anglers will have many more opportunities, especially by floating down from Mapes, which will take anglers through prime chum waters.

It’s also possible to get into chum by launching upriver at the park and floating down below the mouth of Clear Creek on the way down to the Logging Bridge.

Clear Creek is about the upper limit for most chum in this system, ODFW fish biologist Robert Bradley said.

To reiterate, chum salmon fishing is strictly catch and release here. And to be honest, chum are not nearly as good eating as other salmon or steelhead species anyway, even if it were legal to keep them.

Try to be kind to these fish by not trampling their spawning beds.

At this writing, the season begins in mid-September, but the worthwhile fishing almost always has come in the final weeks leading up to the closure after Nov. 15.

Typically it will take some decent rains in late October or early November to draw them into fresh water, so if you want to battle chum, jump on this fishery soon after that good rainfall occurs.

Use stout equipment, line and tackle for chum.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Casting Corkies and yarn, bobbers with jigs, or lures including spinners and spoons are common ways to hook them. And fly anglers get in on the fun as well.

Definitely have some green or chartreuse colors among your terminal tackle, because chum often attack those hues. But “hotter” colors like bright pink also can really work well, so don’t be afraid to change things up.

Steelhead

The Kilchis had historically been planted with hatchery-reared winter steelhead smolts every year.

However, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife already has phased out the hatchery steelhead smolt planting here and redirected those smolt plantings to the Wilson River and to the Nestucca River, two of the area’s premium hatchery steelhead rivers.

Honestly, the Kilchis hasn’t been as good for hatchery steelhead in recent years as old-timers will remember, and harvests were frequently below 200 steelhead per year even before the smelt plantings ended.

Even with the end of the hatchery program here, Bradley said a few larger fish and some hatchery strays will continue to find their way into the Kilchis, which enters Tillamook Bay alongside the heavily planted Wilson River.

The Kilchis hatchery fish were like the Wilson’s returners, meaning the first catches often occur around Thanksgiving, with numbers building into December and into January, the two best months for catching a keeper.

If you’re trying to target a rare fin-clipped stray steelhead, those early months are an option, but remember not to expect any significant numbers of these fish.

Like other coastal rivers, the Kilchis also has a run of wild steelhead that tend to return on a later schedule.

Look for the best catch-and-release fishing for wild fish to be from mid-to late winter and the first weeks of spring.

The Kilchis was not planted with a hatchery strain bred from wild brood stock, as is the Wilson, which meant there has never been many fin-clipped steelhead in bright condition after February, unless it’s the odd stray.

Winter harvest here is far lower than for steelhead fishing in the Wilson River, which now has become the only Tillamook Bay tributary stocked with hatchery winter steelhead and has tons of access.

But as with salmon, the Kilchis offers some less-crowded angling and is among smaller winter steelhead streams that recover quickly when heavy rains blow out larger rivers, so looking for wild steelhead here and in the neighboring Miami can help salvage your trip if the Wilson is a mess.

Summer steelhead are not planted in the Kilchis, but these fish are introduced into the Wilson and Nestucca rivers on the north coast and a very small number of them stray into the Kilchis.

There are so few here that they understandably attract little attention, but a rare summer fish surprises trout or salmon anglers, usually in the fall.

Cutthroat Trout

The Kilchis can offer pretty good fishing for native cutthroat trout, with a modest seasonal harvest limit available here and many coastal streams.

The trout season begins in late May, and at that time of year fishing can be good for resident fish.

While these fish are dispersed, spring trout fishing in Oregon Coast streams is often quite good in the upper reaches of rivers and creeks.

It might be quite worthwhile to consider a trip up Kilchis River Forest Road during the first few weeks of the season, while the water is cool.

Remember that all fishing is closed above the junction of the North and South forks and in all other tributaries. Check the regulations before fishing.

By July and August, searun cutthroat trout (which behave like steelhead trout but certainly not as large) are coming back into the tidewater sections and will begin working their way into the lower reaches of the free-flowing river section through the late summer.

More silvery and often larger than other cutthroat trout, after fattening up on shrimp and other saltwater foods, searuns can be aggressive toward flies and small lures.

In the stream section, cast into riffles and also in the tail-outs or edges of deeper pools.

Note that the Kilchis is among rivers closed to bait fishing until September, when fall salmon fishing gets underway.

So spring and summer trout fishing in the stream is all about artificial flies and lures. You can use bait for the searuns in tidewater, where trolling a worm or spinner or combination rig can be deadly, as can casting lures and flies.

Find more fishing spots in Tillamook County

Oregon Resources

ODFW trout stocking schedule
ODFW weekly recreation report and regulation updates
ODFW annual fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts