Sandy River Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing

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Source: Jack Glass

The Sandy River is a gem of a salmon and steelhead river, with strong runs of coho salmon and both winter and summer steelhead to go along with a solid run of spring Chinook – one of Oregon’s most-prized game fish.

The Sandy is in Portland’s backyard, flowing off the flanks of Mount Hood and passing Gresham before spilling into the Columbia River near Troutdale.

By the Book – Sandy River Angling Regulations

The mainstem Sandy River is now open for year-round fishing for fin-clipped salmon and steelhead below the mouth of the Salmon River, which enters the mainstem near the community of Brightwood, located upriver from the city of Sandy. An exception to the mainstem fishery is a two-month angling closure (mid-September to mid-November) in a posted area at Oxbow Regional Park, where protected fall Chinook spawn. The main river and tributaries above the Salmon River junction are closed to salmon and steelhead fishing. Consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website or current Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet for additional rules and updates.

The Sandy is closed to angling from a boat upriver from a point just below the ramp at Oxbow, but some anglers fishing farther upstream use drift boats and rafts to travel to good holes and then get out at fishing stops.

Timing Your Trip – Mid-Spring Run

While a few fish will sneak through earlier, the bulk of the Sandy River run of springers occurs from late April through early June. Some of the upper holes can be fished successfully through July.

Fish Finder – Most Boaters Stick Below Oxbow Park

Bank access to good spring Chinook fishing is reasonably available on the Sandy, especially at the major parks. Some of the better bank fishing is around Oxbow and Dodge parks, and even farther upstream. As they near the upper river, the salmon slow their migrations and linger in deeper pools, where they wait out the summer months before spawning in the fall.

The three lower parks (Oxbow to Lewis and Clark near Interstate 84) have good boat ramps that offer access to excellent pools and drifts. Launching at Dodge will take anglers through highly technical water suitable for experienced boaters only. Even then, that section is known to eat drift boats. Rafters have better success in this area, Glass suggested.

The stretch from Oxbow to Dabney offers drift boaters access to less technical water and some excellent holding spots for springers. Glass most often fishes below Dabney Park, where he can run his power boat. In the very lowest reach, below I-84, trolling often is possible in the second half of May, when most years the Columbia runs high enough with snow melt that it backs up the lowest reach of the Sandy into a long pool.

As you fish the Sandy, remember that springers can bolt three to five miles a day through the lower river. Glass says a spring chinook can reach Dabney on its first day of travel up the Sandy, so if you have success one day and not the next, it may be that the majority of fish in the river at that time are farther upstream, where they will slow their upriver progress.

Secrets to Success – Bait and Plugs for Sandy Spring Salmon

Glass will often go after springers with baits, typically a combination of salmon roe and sand shrimp. He back-bounces or side-drifts these with the boat, or while casting he will use drift- or float-fishing techniques.

From the boat he also often backs downstream with plugs. His favorite lures for Sandy springers include Brad’s Wigglers, Storm Wiggle Warts and Luhr Jensen Kwikfish (sizes 13 or 11). In shallower water, try a Luhr Jensen Hot Shot in a Size 30.

Glass likes the blue and green pirate patterns or similar color combinations. Metallic blues, other greens and silvers are also effective. Some days copper hues can be your ticket.

If All Else Fails

If you are having a tough day, it may be that the fish are hunkered down in the deep pools. Sometimes they will be gathered in big numbers in the holes around the Dodge and Oxbow park areas.

This is great water to use a bobber that will allow the line to slip through the bobber and sink the bait to 10 to 20 feet. An egg cluster and sand shrimp combination is effective here.

Resources
ODFW weekly recreation report and regulation updates
ODFW annual fishing regulations
National Weather Service forecasts

Jack Glass is one of Oregon’s best-known guides. He started fishing the Sandy River in the 1960s and has been guiding there since 1983. He now operates Team Hook Up Guide Service with his son, Brandon, and fishes for salmon, steelhead and other species on the Sandy, Columbia and Siletz rivers. He’s also very active with in the sport-fishing community.