The Columbia River is renowned for its salmon and steelhead runs. In a year of good returns, over 1 million Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, and summer steelhead travel up the river to spawn in its tributaries. Less known are the river’s excellent smallmouth bass and walleye fisheries.
Columbia River salmon, steelhead and sturgeon fisheries are very dynamic — with season details varying from year-to-year (depending on run sizes and population estimates) and frequent in-season changes. It is VERY IMPORTANT to check the Columbia River section of the Recreation Report for the current regulations before fishing.
Salmon and Steelhead
Special regulations for salmon seasons and bag limits are set each year based on the size of the estimated return for each species and run. Special regulations for spring fisheries are announced in February and go into effect in March; summer and fall fisheries begin in June.
Below Bonneville Dam: Catch-and-release only, unless otherwise announced
Above Bonneville Dam: Sturgeon retention seasons open Jan. 1 and continue until quotas are reached
No bag limit, open year-round
No bag limit, open year-round
Fishing the Columbia River
Spring Chinook is the most highly anticipated fishing season of the year. Anglers may enjoy eating these fish as much as they enjoy catching them. On June 15, the spring Chinook season transitions to summer Chinook; the fall Chinook season kicks off on Aug. 1. During the spring and summer seasons, anglers can keep only hatchery fish in order to protect ESA-listed wild stocks. During the fall run – which can be three to four times larger than the spring return – anglers can keep both hatchery and wild fish.
In addition to Chinook, coho salmon make up a good part of the popular Buoy 10 fishery in August near the mouth of the river. Sockeye salmon can sometimes be caught in spring/summer as they travel the Columbia on their way to spawning grounds in Idaho.
These ancient-looking fish have changed little in the last 175 million years – earning them the reputation as a “living fossil.” These are the largest fish in North America. In the Columbia River oversize fish can reach 6 to 12-feet long and weight up to 800 pounds.
Sturgeon fishing below Bonneville Dam is generally catch-and-release only, but the chance to hook and fight a four-foot fish (or larger!) is still an exciting experience. Even smaller fish are known as “head shakers” due to their enthusiastic response. In the pools above Bonneville, you have a chance to keep a sturgeon during spring and/or summer retention seasons.
The Columbia River has developed a nationwide reputation for excellent smallmouth bass fishing. Professional bass tournaments have been held in the upper river, and amateurs can enjoy the same quality fishing from a boat, or along the rocky shorelines.
You can fish for walleye almost year-round on the Columbia, though many anglers choose not to brave the frigid temperatures and gorge winds during the worst winter months. Some of the most popular fisheries are in the gorge, where the best fishing begins in May. The bite can slow during the warm summer months but pick up again come October.