Willamette River Fishing Guide 2024 (All You Should know)

Many hatchery run salmon make the Willamette River one of Oregon’s top spring chinook fishing locations, giving anglers the chance to take home some of the best-eating fish around. Fishing on the Willamette begins in the Lower Willamette in the late winter when springers start making their way to the Clackamas and the Willamette Valley in the spring and into the early summer. In this Willamette River fishing guide, we are planning to share all important information that you need to be aware about it.

Is it possible to do Willamette River fishing?

Most of the year, the lower Willamette is available for the daily collection of two fin-clipped chinook salmon (fin-clipped steelhead you may catch are counted in the same daily limit). As of 2014, in order to fish for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon anywhere in the Columbia River watershed, an angler also needs a specific endorsement in addition to an angling license and harvest tag. Anglers should always check the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website, however, since limitations are sometimes added after the Oregon Sports Fishing Regulations book has been printed.

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Best time for Willamette River fishing

The best fishing seasons on the Willamette are from late February through early May. Sport fishermen and fishing guides on the Willamette River usually begin their trips to the river’s lowest point in late February. This section of the river often has great spring chinook fishing through mid-May. By then, a large number of fishermen are converting to sturgeon fishing.

Following heavy rains up in the valley, fishing for chinook stalls as the Willamette becomes too muddy. The finest bite often happens between an hour before and an hour after a tide change. Seasoned fishermen that fish the Willamette frequently do it during the incoming tide in order to catch springers.

Fishing at Multnomah Channel’s Head

Just below the St. Johns Bridge at the top of Multnomah Channel is a well-liked fishing location on the Willamette River, where migratory springers often gather on their way to the promised land. You should submerge your equipment in this region between 18 and 25 feet deep. You should keep to an area about a half mile above or a half mile below the channel, also somewhat inside the channel, since the fish like to hang out at the bottom through this section of the river.

Sometimes the deeper regions, like the shipping channels, in the lower river will provide greater fishing opportunities. It is advised to fish then in regions upstream from the canal toward the St. Johns Bridge where the river bottom is 50 to 80 feet deep. In the Willamette, below the channel and toward the Columbia, you may fish in water that is nearly as deep, particularly on the Sauvie Island side where the bottom is often 40 to 60 feet deep. The state sometimes allows keep-your-sturgeon fishing in this location, which is also a favorite spot for Northwest sturgeon fishing guides to target catch-and-release sturgeon.

Anglers often have the best luck fishing in the middle range of depths, at 20 to 30 feet deep, in both of these deeper locations.

What is the best lure to use?

Herring has historically been the popular bait for fishing in the lower Willamette. The most typical kind of plug is certainly a cut one, although full bait also works. While some fishermen prefer full baits because they are easier to rig, others swear by cut plugs and won’t fish anything else. Salmon may prefer one over the other on certain days. To find out which works best in the Willamette River region where you are fishing, rig a few rods with both. You’ll be able to determine what the salmon desire that day by doing this. The most common herring size in the spring is green label, while bigger baits work just as well for cut-plug manufacturing.

Game fish native to the Willamette River

Before people began importing new fish species, these species were already present in at least some areas of the system.

1. Chinook salmon

Two spring Chinook salmon taken in Portland’s Willamette River are held aloft by a customer of a fishing guide. The principal salmon fishing in the mainstem and in Multnomah Channel is unquestionably for spring Chinook salmon. The run peaks from late March to May, with April and May often delivering the highest numbers, while the earliest springers arrive in late winter and the lower run. As the run moves upstream, the upper river comes into view a bit later.

However, there are some wild fish in the mix as well, so pay attention to fin markings. To retain chinook salmon, the fins must be cut. The run size is subject to wide variation. Although a run prediction is given each year, the catch will also depend on the magnitude of the flow, the state of the river, and other variables.

While anchor fishing is popular in the Oregon City region and is possible in a few sites above the falls, trolling bait and lures is popular in Multnomah Channel and the Portland Harbor environs. In certain places, shore angling is a possibility. The Clackamas, Santiam, and McKenzie rivers, as well as the Middle and Coast forks of the Willamette, are among the streams where these fish are primarily found.

2. Salmon Coho

Lower Willamette Valley coho fisheries are fairly tiny, although there is a moderate capture of coho above Willamette Falls for fish that began as hatchery runs but are now spawning in some of the valley’s tributaries, such as the Santiam River system. In the months of September and October, anglers often catch these upriver silvers by casting or trolling lures close to the mouths of tributaries like the Tualatin and Santiam rivers.

Because they are connected to previous generations of hatchery fish above the falls, where fin clips are not required, coho must be hatchery-marked in order to be kept in the lower river and channel.

3. Steelhead

There are fish runs in the winter and the summer for these seagoing rainbow trout. The Willamette’s tributaries, particularly the larger streams on the east side of the valley that carry cold water from the Cascades, are where anglers choose to target both runs. There is a tiny but dedicated group of bank anglers in the Willamette River close to the mouth of the Clackamas River, where some of these fish turn, who pursue both summer and winter steelhead. Nearly all year round, steelhead are there, with spring and summer offering the greatest chances.

Steelhead are frequently accidentally taken by fishermen fishing for shad and Chinook salmon in the lower river. A minor winter steelhead fishery and decent to excellent summer steelhead fishing may be found farther up.

Consider the river section through Eugene, where returning adult fish remain from late spring through the summer and into early autumn. Smolts are planted there. To be kept, steelhead must have a hatchery mark (adipose fin removed).

4. Sturgeon

In contrast to other forms of fishing in this river, expert sturgeon fishermen enjoy nonstop activity for fish ranging in size from one to ten feet long during high, muddy water after heavy rains in the autumn and winter. Sturgeon fishing is also excellent in Multnomah Channel, but there are few of them in the Willamette above the falls (but harvest opportunities).

Final words

Based on this Willamette River fishing guide, you can get ready for all your fishing adventures. It will be a fun-filled experience, and you will never regret about coming here for fishing.

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