A Fisher’s Guide to Summer in Oregon

May 25, 2017 (Updated June 1, 2018)
Cascade Lakes by Tyler Roemer

With an abundance of steelhead, salmon and trout fisheries, as well as productive warm-water venues, Oregon may offer up America’s most diverse sport fishery — with equally diverse scenery to match. But Oregon’s also a pretty big state, so where’s a fisher to go to cast a line in summertime? Here we highlight favorite spots all around the state as well as what’s in season. Before hitting the road, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Recreation Report, which is updated weekly with the latest fishing regulations and info on what’s biting where.

Fishing dock in Wheeler by Justin Bailie
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The Coast

Oregon has 363 miles of coastline, and angling opportunities abound the entire length. Last year ocean salmon angling was closed along the South Coast as part of an effort to protect future stocks of chinook (Oregon’s state fish) in the Klamath River, but now ocean chinook salmon season is open from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain, March 15 to October 31, 2018, and Humbug Mountain to the Oregon-California border, May 19 to August 26, 2018.

Charter captains chase salmon, though there are great opportunities offshore along the entire Coast to target halibut, albacore tuna and bottomfish like lingcod and rockfish. (Tuna season hits its peak from midsummer through September.) Anglers who’d prefer to stay on shore can target surfperch from the beach. Many estuaries have crabbing opportunities for Dungeness or red rock crabs. Bay clams are also widely available.

In late August, prolific numbers of chinook and coho salmon begin arriving in the Columbia River near the twin towns of Astoria and Warrenton, sparking one of Oregon’s most popular fishing spectacles. (In 2016 over 26,000 chinook were landed at Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia.) Salmon also appear in North Coast rivers such as the Wilson.

McKenzie drift boat by Eugene, Cascades & Coast

Willamette Valley

The valley is Oregon’s most populated region, yet it still offers anglers many chances to wet a line. While the Willamette’s fabled chinook runs have largely subsided by summer, warmer-water species like smallmouth bass can be had (the Newberg Pool is one hot spot).

Trout and steelhead can be found in the upper (and cooler) reaches of the Willamette closer to Eugene; the Middle Fork of the Willamette (southeast of Eugene) is a fecund wild trout fishery. The North Santiam River, a major Willamette tributary, boasts healthy runs of summer steelhead; fishing is best here in June and July. Perhaps the best-known fishery in the valley is the McKenzie River, which holds rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as steelhead. (The river’s rapid-strewn upper reaches inspired the famed McKenzie drift boat with its “double-ended” design.)

The valley also has many lakes holding a variety of species, including trout, bass, kokanee (a species of landlocked sockeye salmon), catfish and crappie. These include Foster Reservoir, Dexter Lake, Fern Ridge Reservoir and Detroit Lake, which is a popular recreational hub.

Wood River by Justin Bailie

Southern Oregon

June brings trout fishers from far and wide to the waters around Klamath Falls. Anglers on Upper Klamath Lake have a real chance at hooking into a double-digit rainbow; fish are taken to 20-plus pounds some years. River anglers delight in the Williamson, Klamath and Wood rivers, which also hold trophy rainbows. (The Hexagenia mayfly hatch on the Williamson is world famous for fly anglers.) Diamond Lake, near Crater Lake National Park, is celebrated for its rainbow trout and scenic setting.

Angling interest pushes west of the Cascade Range in July, as summer steelhead begin entering the famed North Umpqua river east of Roseburg. Come mid-August and September, steelhead are also on the minds of Rogue River anglers, as half-pounders — steelhead that have spent less than a year at sea — return in large numbers. While they’re a little smaller than regular steelhead, half-pounders are plentiful and aggressive … and weigh closer to several pounds. They’re joined in the Rogue by larger steelhead and chinook later in September.

Lost Lake by Justin Bailie

Mt. Hood & the Columbia River Gorge

While many of the smaller rivers flowing around Mt. Hood shelter trout, anglers tend to focus on lakes … and on Oregon’s biggest river, the mighty Columbia.

Scores of lakes in the Mt. Hood National Forest hold trout, including Lost, Clear, Timothy and Trillium lakes, which are all framed by vistas of Oregon’s tallest mountain; Trillium is wheelchair accessible for those with limited mobility.

On the Columbia, anglers will find smallmouth bass and sturgeon throughout the summer. The waters below Bonneville Dam are especially popular for sturgeon angling; you won’t soon forget the sight of an 8-foot-long sturgeon leaping free of the water. (Sturgeon fishing is currently all catch and release.) Migrating fish join the mix throughout the summer. A late spring favorite is American shad, which arrive near Bonneville in late May and are present through much of June. Summer steelhead begin arriving in July, followed in late August and September by chinook and coho.

Fall River by Tyler Roemer

Central Oregon

The Deschutes River is one of Central Oregon’s defining features, and the river and its main tributaries — the Fall, Crooked and Metolius rivers — make up a grand slam of Oregon trout fishing.

The Deschutes’ different sections — Upper, Middle and Lower — as well as the tributaries each have different personalities and potential for excellent angling. The Lower Deschutes is especially renowned for its hard-fighting native rainbows. As trout fishing on the Deschutes slows in the summer heat, summer steelhead begin to arrive, silver torpedoes that will test the drag of the best reels.

Lake anglers will find many rewards in Central Oregon too; a number of the Cascade Lakes (accessed by the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway) have rainbow trout. East and Paulina lakes (part of the Newberry Crater) east of La Pine have rainbows as well as kokanee. East Lake has some huge brown trout too. Lake Billy Chinook near Madras is another favorite.

Lostine River by Leon Werdinger

Eastern Oregon

Summer fishing in Eastern Oregon is all about variety. The John Day River, from Service Creek to Cottonwood Bridge, offers fabulous smallmouth bass fishing in a rugged canyon setting; several guides lead multiday fishing and camping trips here.

Many Eastern Oregon rivers — including the Donner und Blitzen River in Harney County and the Grande Ronde, Imnaha and Wallowa rivers in Wallowa County — have productive rainbow trout fishing, as do Krumbo Reservoir in Harney and Anthony Lakes in Baker County. (Krumbo fishes best in late spring/early summer.)

Wallowa Lake (near the town of Joseph) is a favorite for many anglers, offering kokanee, rainbows and lake trout. Along the border with Idaho, Brownlee, Hells Canyon and Oxbow reservoirs (and the Snake River, which connects them) offer trout fishing as well as opportunities for warm-water species like crappie, bass, catfish and perch.


 

If you go: Are you planning a fishing trip to Oregon? First, you’ll need to secure a license, which you can purchase online or at official license agents around the state. You’ll also want to consult the detailed fishing resources available from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, including 2018 regulations for sport fishing and a host of educational guides (including beginner info on how to fish, essential gear and a list of easy angling spots). If you’re thinking about joining a charter or guided tour, check with Oregon.gov to ensure you’re booking with an officially registered guide.

About The
Author

Chris Santella
Chris Santella is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Portland. He is the author of 11 books, including the "Fifty Places" series from Stewart, Tabori & Chang, which has 500,000 hard cover copies in print. His most recent book is Fifty Places To Bike Before You Die. Chris is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Trout, Fly Rod & Reel and a number of other fly fishing and golf periodicals. He's a founding member of TheAPosition.com, a golf and travel website.

Trip Ideas

Ask Oregon

When is the best time for charter fishing at the Oregon Coast?

Oregon Coast charters for off-shore fishing start in May and last into October.  There are salmon seasons in the summer months, halibut seasons about every other weekend, tuna July-September and bottom fish year around. Consult Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife for current seasons: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/reg_changes/index.asp

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