Fishing in the Pacific Northwest: The Columbia and Willamette Rivers and Puget Sound

The beautiful Pacific Northwest boasts over 112,000 miles of rivers, many lakes, and easy access to the bountiful Pacific Ocean. Keen anglers can look forward to hooking trout, salmon, walleye, steelhead, sturgeon and even offshore tuna. No matter what kind of angling you enjoy, the Pacific Northwest can offer you the best fishing adventure of your life.

Puget Sound

The vibrant fish markets of Seattle have prospered over the years because of Puget Sound, which is renowned for being one of the best saltwater fishing areas in the world. The area between Admiralty Inlet and Vashon Island is known to a great best place to catch king (Chinook) salmon. Other salmon species to catch are silver (coho), pink, chum and and sockeye. Halibut, rockfish, and steelhead trout are other popular catches.

Puget Sound’s many channels and inlets offer year-round fishing. The fishing seasons and regulations on Puget Sound are set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many anglers enjoy wading into the saltwater of Puget Sound for fly fishing adventures with sea-run cutthroat trout.

A professional charter captain can take you further out into the ocean where you can target halibut, rockfish, salmon, or tuna. Deep sea fishing in the Pacific Ocean is an amazing experience that every angler should enjoy at least once in their life.

The Columbia River

Flowing through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, the Columbia River is one of the world’s best fishing spots for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and walleye. It’s the longest river in the Pacific Northwest and offers many fantastic fishing spots for keen anglers.

Scour for fishing spots along the river between dams where you can enjoy year-round angling. The fishing is arguably best along the border between Washington and Oregon and during spring (April and May) and fall (September and October).

In southeastern British Columbia, steelhead trout are found year-round north of the hydroelectric dams. The upper stretches of the Columbia River feature rainbow trout. Further south, toward the border with Washington, the 30-mile free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River is ideal for jet boat fishing.

The upper stretches are ideal for fly-fishing from early May through late October. Insects breed along the Columbia River, and trout that feed on them are easily targeted by patient anglers who choose the right lures.

The lower portion of the river, from Hanford Reach in Washington down to the river mouth at Astoria in Oregon, offers year-round fishing for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon. Salmon is the biggest draw for many anglers, and the Columbia River hosts 5 runs of salmon: 3 runs of chinook salmon, 1 run of sockeye salmon, and 1 run of coho salmon.

Columbia River spring chinook salmon is widely regarded as the best tasting salmon in the world. Contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for information on the fishing season at each fishery.

If you enjoy kayak fishing, head down to the Deschutes State Recreation Area. It’s easy to launch a kayak near Miller Island where the Deschutes River empties into the Columbia River. From there, you have your pick of spots along the Deschutes and the Columbia. However, the Deschutes Rivermouth becomes crowded during salmon season.

Willamette River

The Willamette River is a major tributary of the Columbia River offering fishing adventures in northwestern Oregon. Over 60 freshwater fish species are found in the Willamette River, including bluegill, bull trout, carp, cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, salmon, smallmouth bass, and walleye.

Between May and December, the feisty sturgeon is common in the 26-mile stretch from Willamette Falls to Portland. Steelhead trout are found in the main river as well as surrounding smaller waterways and tributaries year-round. In spring, chinook salmon abound in the lower sections of the river while coho salmon are available year-round.


There is no shortage of lakes in the Pacific Northwest. The construction of many dams along major rivers means that reservoirs are found all over the region. For example, in Washington, you’ll find Potholes Reservoir and nearby Moses Lake, both part of the Columbia River Basin.

The shallow northern side of Potholes Reservoir is perfect for fly-fishing adventures. Expect to catch large quantities of largemouth and smallmouth bass. If you kayak out into the deeper waters or charter a boat, you can catch game fish like bluegill, crappie, and perch. In Moses Lake, you can catch bass, crappies, yellow perch, and walleye.

Headed further inland, C. J. Strike Reservoir in Idaho offers bluegill, bullhead catfish, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, rainbow trout, sunfish, white sturgeon, and yellow perch. Check with the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for seasons and regulations. And Bighorn Lake in Wyoming is renowned for its big skies and fantastic fishing spots. Kayak fishing is popular here, though many prefer to troll for perch or walleye. Go fly fishing along the shore for carp and trout.

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