Portland Fishing Report: Smelt, Sturgeon & Chinook

Fishing Report Portland

The rain is once again falling here in the Portland metro area and our waterways are on the rise once more.

Along with the substantial rainfall, our freezing level is climbing, as well. Although this rain event will be brief and the amount of precipitation is not out of the ordinary, there will be significant snow melt in addition to the rain to substantially raise our rivers. that is the bad news. However, this system is expected to pass us by quickly and our rivers should be dropping in to shape over the weekend. Hopefully.

So this begs the question: “What are our options to enjoy the outdoors this weekend?”

We are on the front end of a fantastic run of spring chinook, Smelt are in the Cowlitz River, catch and release sturgeon is still in full swing on the Willamette and the coastal streams will be fishable by Saturday! The weekend is expected to be decent weather so let’s talk about how to get out this weekend and enjoy what the Northwest has to offer!


These chrome missiles are still piling in to our local rivers and streams. Pretty soon, Summer Steelhead will be joining the ranks of their Winter counterparts, increasing opportunity! Looking to the Clackamas and Sandy Rivers, they are forecast to remain fairly high and off color. This should minimize boat traffic.

If you enjoy bank angling, Friday and Saturday should offer fantastic opportunities for plunking. In these high water conditions, keep your spin n glo and bait close to the shore (within 10’) in shallow, slow moving water. The fish that are currently in the water will congregate along the shore to avoid the high flows and all of the sediment moving downstream.

Moving west to the Coast, look to the Wilson, Trask, Nestucca, Siletz and Nehalem Rivers. They all have smaller catch basins and will clear quicker as the weekend approaches!

For those that are looking to get out of town, this is the ideal time to head North to the Olympic Peninsula in search of monster 20+ pound Steelhead! The Queets, Hoh, Sol Duc and Quinault Rivers, among others should be in prime shape this weekend and reports have been quite good as of late! The fantastic aspect of the Olympic Peninsula is that most of these rivers are within less than an hour from each other, offering the angler the opportunity to target several rivers each day, searching for ideal conditions. There are several great places to stay in the area with some beautiful options. A good centrally located spot fit for the entire family is called Kalaloch Lodge, offering rooms and standalone cabins for those looking to get out of town for the weekend! Whether you fish your favorite coastal river, plunk on our rivers close to home or head out of town to start Spring “early,” there will be some willing biters as our waters warm!

Spring Chinook

This Spring Chinook season is expected to be one of the best we have seen in the last decade. That being said, the catch rate has been quite slow. With high water, and a large smelt run at the mouth of the Cowlitz slowing up the Salmon’s upstream movement, it may be a week or so before they start being caught on a consistent basis.

The Columbia River is scheduled to Close on April 7th for Salmon angling. With that being said, keep focus on the Columbia until after the closure. Will salmon be caught on the Willamette between now and then? Absolutely. But the Willamette fishes well until the end of June for Springers! So, enjoy the Columbia while you can and then we can shift focus to the Willamette!

Plunkers off of Sauvie Island casting Spin N Glo’s and prawns, or fishing Mag Lip 4.0’s will see the best success in these high waters. Boat anglers should focus on anchoring in less than 20’ of water with Mag Lips wrapped with sardine or Tuna Bellies.


Catch and release Sturgeon fishing on the Willamette River is still strong. However, with the smelt arriving, at the mouth of the Cowlitz, this has transitioned many Sturgeon out of the Willamette and back into the Columbia River. Best baits to use are Smelt (obviously), Squid and Sand Shrimp.


In Washington, contact Bob’s Sporting Goods for up-to-date information on the smelt run. It will be open on the Cowlitz river this Saturday, March 8th, from 6am to Noon! There is NO FISHING LICENSE REQUIRED for dip netting smelt and it is a great outing to do with the family! Although it will be open on the Sandy River this weekend as well, the Smelt really have not traveled that far upstream as of yet. If you are looking for an opportunity to bring home either bait, or some good fish to pan-fry, definitely look to this fishery!

As always, in these adverse conditions, please be safe and enjoy our beautiful outdoors!

Cody Herman
Cody has been a part of the outdoor industry for over a decade. He currently hosts the live TV show “Outdoor GPS” on Comcast. He has appeared in several shows airing on ESPN, WFN, Outdoor Channel as well as many local networks and has participated in two USO/AFE tours to Iraq supporting our Troops.