Six best rivers to fish for salmon in Oregon
When settlers first came to the Northwest Territory they were amazed by the vast bounty the region had to offer. Even though we no longer have to live off the land per say as hunter gatherers one of the main staples of the post still remain. Throughout a large portion of Oregon’s endless rivers and streams salmon steelhead flourish as well as many other species of fish.
Oregon is home to 5 species of Pacific Northwest salmon that have a significant impact on the region’s economy. Both commercial industries and private citizens love to target these mighty fish. While for some Oregon’s fishery is a means of sport, for others it’s a way of like. During the spring is when many of Oregon Fishing Guides start hitting the water, marking fish and ultimately ensuring their clients get the experience they paid for.
6.) Chetco River
The Chetco River is considered by many to be one of the top fall chinook and winter steelhead fishing destinations in Oregon. The Chetco is one of Oregon’s longest undammed rivers which flows through rugged mountain canyons with towering fir and redwood forests. Another great aspect of fishing the Checto is that is well known for producing trophy salmon as well as steelhead.
Each year decent numbers of chinook salmon in the 50 lb. range are caught, as well as several steelhead over 20 lb. Steelhead on the Chetco are both natives and hatchery fish generally averaging around 6 lbs. to 12 lbs. however, there some steelhead available in the 20+ lbs. range. The Chetco River steelhead fishing season usually runs through the winter months, starting in December and fizzles out in March. Since the Chetco River has a great wild steelhead population it’s one of the only rivers you can still retain a wild fish.
After a heavy rain, water levels drop relatively fast on the Chetco offering up optimal fishing conditions for some of the absolute best salmon and steelhead fishing available throughout the river. Another key element that makes Oregon’s Chetco River an upper tier fishery is that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains a wild brood stock program on the Chetco. For about 30 years, ODFW has been releasing around 50,000 steelhead smolt annually. The majority of the returning hatchery steelhead stay within the lower 8 miles of the river, providing excellent winter steelhead fishing opportunities throughout the winter into the spring.
One of the main draws to the Checto river is the trophy class Chinook runs. The Chetco River has some of the largest Chinook salmon in the state averaging 20 lbs. with opportunities for fish in the 50 lbs. range. There are solid runs of both native and hatchery salmon on the Chetco river beginning in October through November. During this fall season anglers form around the world descend upon the Chetco to target these larger than life fish. During the late part of the run the trophy class salmon show up producing some of the largest salmon caught in the Pacific Northwest.
The Chetco river is without a doubt one of the top salmon fisheries in the state and is more that worthy of our top 6th.
5.) Rogue River
Another premier Salmon fishing destination and our number five is the Rogue River located in southwest Oregon. First and foremost we have to mention is that the world record for the largest chinook salmon caught on a fly was achieved on the Rogue River. The beast weight in at a whopping 71.50 lbs. and is not far behind the state record 83 lb. Chinook caught on the Umpqua back in in 1910.
The Rogue offers up fishing opportunities pretty much year round for both salmon and steelhead. The action begins in the spring with ultra bright spring salmon and summer steelhead entering the river running through summer. Later the fall season kicks in as well as trophy class chinook fishing opportunities. As the fall salmon season finishes off, the winter steelhead season kicks off.
Known for their table fair, chinook salmon enter the Rogue as early as March and run till June. these fish are generally targeted in the lower to mid sections of the river unless your have a permit to fish the upper sections within the national forest. From August through September the magic happens on the Rogue as the big boys enter the river system. These fall Chinook average anywhere form 20lb. – 40lb. with fish hitting 60lbs. and up. Summer runs of steelhead can also be targeted during this time as well with the best fishing taking place on the upper river. by August there are very good steelhead numbers plus fall Chinook show up as well. September is all about Coho. Silvers run from middle of September through the end of October with the best fishing taking place in the section of river from the old site on the Gold Ray Dam to the deadline just below Lost Creek Dam. These areas produce decent salmon and steelhead catches through the summer and into fall and in some cases the steelhead can be caught into December or January.
There is no denying the Rogue is a upper tier fishery in Oregon and is a shoe in for our top 5 best salmon fishing destination in the state.
4.) Umpqua River
The world renowned Umpqua River in Southwest Oregon consists of several small streams and tributaries, but is primarily fed by the North and South forks of the Umpqua River. Approximately six miles outside of Roseburg the forks join to form the Main stem of the Umpqua. This section of the river is known as the Umpqua Valley and provides some of the best salmon fishing available in the state of Oregon.
The North Umpqua is about 106 miles long and flows through chiseled canyons and lush green forests. Well known for its emerald green waters and scenic beauty fishing in this part of the river is productive for fly fisherman and traditional hook and line fishing as well. However, over the years the North Umpqua has been considered one of the best fly fishing streams in the Pacific Northwest.
The North Umpqua has been considered a world-class steelhead fishery for decades. It’s deep green waters and steady flows a continuous supply of clean water all year round fed straight from the Cascade Mountains snow caps. Unlike the South Umpqua where the flows drop significantly in the summer, the North Umpqua continues to flow at levels sometimes as high as 20 times that of the South Umpqua.
There’s a 33.8 mile stretch of the upper North Umpqua that has been designated as a fly fishing only section, but the lower portion of the river is where the majority of the action takes place when anglers are targeting spring and fall salmon as well as trout and steelhead. From the Swift Water Park to the confluence of the North and South Umpqua, it’s all about fall salmon and winter steelhead. However there are ample opportunities for Spring Chinook and summer run steelhead as well.
The South Umpqua is around 115 miles in length and is also fead by the Cascade Range southeast of Roseburg, OR. This section of the river begins in a remote canyon area with no access, running southwest to where it eventually emerges in the South Umpqua Valley near Canyonville. From Canyonville the South Umpqua flows in a northward path along Interstate 5 into Roseburg where it meets up with the North Umpqua and dumps put into the Main Stem Umpqua River. Due to low river levels in the summer, the South Umpqua is mainly known for winter steelhead and bass fishing. Winter steelhead usually make their runs from December through February while the bass action takes place during the months of May through August.
Main Stem Umpqua
The main stem of the Umpqua River is about 111 miles of pristine waters flowing from the town of Rosenberg the way to the Pacific Ocean. This section of the river offers prime fishing opportunities year round whether it be small mouth bass, salmon or monster sturgeon the Umpqua is the place to be. From March to the middle of June Spring Chinook is as good as it gets and later in the fall from July to November the fall chinook actions rules the river. Steelhead can be fished year round in the Main Umpqua River and provides some great fishing opportunities for these renowned hard fighting fish.
The upper river, from Elkton to Roseburg provides the best areas for bass and shad. Small mouth are targeted between the months of May and September while the best Shad fishing happens from April through the middle of June. Sturgeon fishing is as its best in the spring between the months of February and April, but if the rivers are high enough sturgeon can be caught year round.
Between Reedsport and Winchester Bay, fishing is good for salmon, sturgeon, and believe it or not surf perch. Surf perch has a very small window for targeting, starting from the beginning of June and petering out in mid-July. If you enjoy a fast paced, never a dull moment kind of fishing surf perch are the way to go. Not just that they’re second only to Walleye in regards to a mild, flaky, delicious flavorful fish.
As you can see it’s easy to understand why this is our top four in regards to not just salmon fishing, but multi species fishing as well.
3.) Wilson River
The Wilson River boasts excellent runs of both Spring Chinook and Summer steelhead. With the bulk of the springer actin taking place in April all the way to June. Summer run steelhead show up in June as well and can be caught right up until when the winter steelhead runs enter the river system. Largely due to the brood stock program the Wilson offers killer runs of both hatchery and wild fish with steelhead being caught in the 5lbs. to 20lbs. range all season long. The Winter Steelhead runs fire up in the end of December and run hot and heavy all the way till April.
When it come to salmon fishing look out. October through November fall Chinook salmon fishing is the name of the game with 20lb fish being common catches. In addition the Fall Coho season takes place as well served up via the brood stock program providing opportunities for some of the larger coho available in the Pacific Northwest.
2.) Willamette River
The Willamette River is known for being one of Oregon’s best spring chinook fishing destinations, not necessarily for the size of the fish but rather the sheer quantity that enter the river system. The Willamette boasts anywhere form 60,000 to 100,000 salmon returning every year with plenty of hatchery run fish available for retention.
The Spring chinook season starts in lower portion of the Willamette in late February and runs strong until the middle of May. These are among the most sought after salmon on the Willamette as they a exceptionally good eating and can be caught into early summer as far up as Willamette valley and the Clackamas. The lower portions of the Willamette are generally open all year but if you wish to fish up river consult the Oregon fishing regulations for areas below the falls at Oregon City and the West Linn Paper Company tailrace.
During the fall the Willamette offers up a small Chinook salmon run the real deal is the silver salmon that come up the river. This is definitely a decent place to be for targeting Coho with thousands of Coho showing up every year, but it’s somewhat of a unknown fishery as most Oregon Fishing Guides are targeting salmon elsewhere.
1.) Columbia River
It’s undeniable that the Columbia River is the first and foremost best place to target salmon in the state of Oregon as well and Washington state. Millions of salmon enter the Columbia on their journey to the spawning grands every year. The epicenter of this activity takes place when spring chinook enter the river in the early spring at the mouth during the Buoy 10 and Astoria fishery. These fish move up river fast headed to the Cowlitz and Willamette rivers while the rest push on the the mid section of the Columbia. During this time as well Sockeye enter the Columbia but not many are caught in the lower sections as these fish tend not to stick around on their way to the upper Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam as well as in the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers in north central Washington.
These fish can number in the millions and are targeted in Pateros and the mouth of the Okanogan. As the spring runs push on from March to June the Anglers tend to chase the fish up river until around the middle of July when the first of the fall salmon begin to show. This is by far the largest Chinook and Coho fishery in Oregon more like an event really with Anglers coming form around the world to target these fish. In between the salmon action anglers can target multiple species such as sturgeon, walleye, shad, and even bass. The sheer number of salmon alone that run the Columbia River make it our undeniably number one salmon fishing destination with guided fishing trips offered year round all the way form the mouth to the upper reaches. If your looking to catch some salmon without a doubt the Columbia River is truly your best bet.
This Guest Post is courtesy of Buddy Dupell of Columbia River Fishing Adventures. Offering Oregon Guided fishing trips on the Columbia river, Willamette, Sandy and more. Give Buddy a call at (503) 490-3099 and book your fishing adventure today.