The Portland area is known for its cool, rainy weather. But that’s what fills the region’s many rivers with water — and salmon and steelhead.
But the area also has the most pleasant summer weather you’ll find anywhere, and there are still fish to be found. Among them: the mighty summer steelhead, a warm-season version of the ice-in-your-rod-guides winter steelhead.
For summer steelhead near Portland, try these rivers:
One of the state’s better all-season steelhead rivers is right outside of town, flowing out of the nearby Cascade Mountains and joining the Willamette River just upstream from Portland.
The summer steellhead catch often hits 2,000 or better. The first summer steelhead are typically caught here in March, which is when fishing is at its peak for winter steelhead. The number of summer steelhead builds in April and is often at its very best from May into July. The season tends to parallel the spring chinook run, and many anglers use methods that will take either species. Usually by August, catch rates for summer steelhead start to fall off (and the chinook are turning dark), so fishing pressure declines. However, anglers who stick with it often catch fair numbers of summer steelhead into the fall.
The Clackamas River is open to steelhead and salmon fishing from North Fork Reservoir down to the mouth. Milo McIver State Park offers loads of bank access near Estacada. The mouth of Eagle Creek (Bonnie Lure), Carver Park, High Rocks (Gladstone), Riverside Park all have bank access. Summer steelhead also are available below River Mill and Cazadero dams.
Boat launches and take-outs include Feldheimer’s Road and at McIver, Barton, Carver, Riverside and Clackamette parks.
The mighty Columbia River gets a might run of summer steelhead, and anglers are increasingly targeting these fish before they get to popular tributaries like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
The lower section of the river, below Rainier, starts producing good summer steelhead about May or June and holds up through mid-summer. If you’re going to fish between Portland and Rainier, there will be plenty of fish around from June to August. Above Portland up to Bonneville Dam, fishing is best in July and August.
Note that the summer steelhead run overlaps with the wildly popular spring chinook salmon run on the Columbia River, so some of the catch is due to the fact that both fish will fall for similar angling methods and require the same tags.
If you’re targeting summer steelhead specifically, use smaller plugs, spinners and lures such as Spin-N-Glos from boats or bank. Bank plunking is popular with lures and/or bait. Steelhead often migrate in fairly shallow water close to shore. Some anglers make the mistake of fishing water that is too deep.
There are numerous sandy beaches for bank angling for summer steelhead (and springers) on the lower river, including Prescott and Dibblee beaches near Rainier and Willow Bar and other beaches on Sauvie Island. The Columbia River Gorge has several bank access points below Bonneville Dam.
For a broader look at fishing here, read Columbia River Fishing.
The Sandy flows along the eastern edge of the Portland metropolitan area, originating on the flanks of Mount Hood and flowing past the cities of Sandy, Gresham and Troutdale before entering the Columbia River.
The Sandy’s run of summer steelhead is more modest than the Clackamas River, but it’s also a smaller water with reasonably good access, and nearby city life seems to vanish in its canyon.
Look for the Sandy run to lag a little compared to the Clackamas. While the first fish will show up in March and April, catch rates tend to be far better between May and July. Steelhead will continue to be caught in modest numbers into the middle of fall, sometimes seduced by anglers trying for the coho salmon that appear in September and October.
For early action, try fishing from the lower parks (Lewis and Clark, Dabney and Oxbow). A good number of summer fish will past quickly through this lower section.
As the summer season progresses, larger numbers of fish will be holding higher up in the system closer to the city of Sandy, particularly from Dodge Park up to about the mouth of the Salmon River. Besides Dodge, there is popular bank access at Cedar Creek (Sandy Fish Hatchery), Revenue Bridge and the former Marmot Dam site.
The Sandy River is open for adipose fin-clipped steelhead below the mouth of the Salmon River. Above that point, the mainstem, Salmon River and other tributaries are closed to steelhead and salmon angling all year. A previous summer steelhead fishery on the Salmon River has been eliminated.
The parks have boat launches, but the water below Dodge is trickier and often better for experienced rafters. Also, in the river above the Oxbow ramp, which includes the river below Dodge, anglers must step out of their boat to fish.
The biggest river that runs only in Oregon flows through the heart of downtown Portland has a modest summer steelhead fishery, although its tributaries are more popularly fished for this game fish.
Much of the Willamette’s summer steelhead harvest is caught during the popular spring chinook salmon fishery. The best steelhead catches get going in April, often peak in May and continue to offer decent catches in June and July. A smaller number of summer steelhead are caught here in the late summer and early fall, sometimes by anglers targeting the coho salmon run that shows up in September and October.
Anglers who target summer steelhead on the lower Willamette often plunk from the bank. The most popular spots are Meldrum Bar and Clackamette Park, both near the mouth of the Clackamas River (which has a good summer steelhead run).
Learn more about Willamette River and Multnomah Channel Fishing.
For more summer and winter steelhead fishing hot spots: